FRIDAY, JUNE 8, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include Governor Northam’s signing of a state budget that includes Medicaid expansion, what comes next, and Tuesday’s upcoming Virginia primary.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I’m Craig Carper. Joining me now from the Richmond Times Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Good to see you, Craig.
CC: Jeff, yesterday Governor Ralph Northam signed a two-year budget that come January, if everything goes as expected, would grant hundreds of thousands of additional low-income Virginians access to health care.
JS: The principle feature of this 115 billion dollar two-year budget is about 2.5 billion dollars from the federal government to finance this expansion of Medicaid. Medicaid of course is a program largely federally financed that provides health care for the poor and disabled, but by expanding Medicaid and becoming the 33rd state to do so, Virginia is now fully complying with Obamacare. Ralph Northam, a new governor, has pulled off in five months what his fellow Democrat and predecessor, Terry McAuliffe, could not accomplish in four years. One would argue that this is clearly a reminder that elections have consequences. In addition to that Democratic sweep at the statewide level, the House Republican majority was nearly wiped out. And what did the new speaker do? Kirk Cox came out in favor of expansion with this work-for-benefits requirement that was resisted by Senate Republicans, but is not deemed terribly arduous by the new governor. It would apply to those able-bodied Virginians, those who could work or are seeking job training. This, by the way, is a feature of red-state Medicaid expansion. Similar programs have been adopted in Arkansas and Kentucky. Of course all this is going on as the Trump administration continues its efforts to kill off Obamacare, but one would note that many states, Republican states among them, have embraced expansion and have shown no interest whatsoever in giving it up.
CC: And this of course now has everyone asking, “What will Governor Ralph Northam do for an encore?”
JS: A big win means big expectations for Ralph Northam. There’s been a lot of chatter about perhaps another push in the area of pre-K. Governor Northam also has been talking about big things in workforce development. That’s sort of code for job training. The new administration and the Republican legislature have to figure out what to do with the state tax law to see if it should be conformed with the newly rewritten federal tax law. In terms of political challenges, the governor has to deal with this very restive environmental wing of the Democratic Party. It’s quite angry over his seemingly cozy relationships with the electric utilities and his squishy stance on those new natural gas pipelines.
CC: And Jeff, late last week the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled against a challenge to eleven House and Senate districts held by both Democrats and Republicans for being drawn, shall we say, creatively.
JS: Yes, simply put the Supreme Court of Virginia, an adjunct of the Republican-controlled legislature of Virginia, has affirmed legislative gerrymandering. This decision is perhaps another example of what is known in legal circles as legislative deference. This lawsuit was brought by a redistricting reform group, OneVirginia2021. It was an appeal of a trial court decision here in Richmond. This was a chance for the court to more crisply define one of the most important standards under the state constitution for redistricting, and that is whether a district is compact – that it’s tidy and geometric, that it doesn’t resemble a squashed bug on a windshield. There’s a lot of disappointment over this decision, and to the skeptics it seems yet another example of the court deferring to the legislature under Chief Justice Don Lemons. This is the court that stopped the Democratic governor from restoring en masse the civil rights and voting rights of 200,000+ felons. This is the court that said it was okay for state senators to keep their emails secret. This is the same court that affirmed a Republican written law that even state regulators said undercut the government’s ability to regulate electric utilities, one of which of course is Dominion Energy, the biggest source of political cash in the state. Bottom line now on redistricting – the push is on for a constitutional amendment to strip the legislature of its hand in this activity. It will be the last chance that anything can be done before the next redistricting in 2021.
CC: Jeff, Tuesday is primary day here in Virginia, and the main event on the GOP side is the question of who will go on in November to challenge sitting U.S. Senator Tim Kaine.
JS: Is it going to be Corey Stewart, Nick Freitas, or E.W. Jackson? The early line seems to be that it will be Corey Stewart who ran of course for governor last year and nearly knocked off Ed Gillespie for the Republican nomination. These candidates are for the most part little-known beyond the Republican Party, and shall we say, poorly financed. Tim Kaine has raised over a million dollars this spring, and he’s already piled up eleven million. Those three candidates have raised a total of about $521,000 in this campaign, and they’re trying to make up for that lack of money by throwing, if you will, rhetorical grenades at each other. And this week Nick Freitas, a member of the House of Delegates, basically said that Corey Stewart is a bigoted white supremacist, and Freitas went on at some length about Stewart’s ties to the racially tinged violence in Charlottesville last August. The broadside certainly got a lot of attention. I would point out that Freitas himself has been somewhat Stewart-like. Remember that very incendiary floor speech he gave in March tying Democrats back to the segregationist days. But the bottom line here is that Freitas’s attack generated a response from the state Republican Party, a defense of Corey Stewart, and one wonders if that’s perhaps a suggestion that what passes for the Republican establishment these days thinks that Corey Stewart’s going to be the nominee on Tuesday.
CC: And Democrats are encouraged by a blue tsunami last November and think they can pick up possibly three House seats.
JS: There are three Republican-held seats for which Democrats will be choosing nominees in primaries on Tuesday - the 7th district here in the Richmond area, that’s Dave Brat’s seat; Scott Taylor’s in the Hampton Roads 2nd district; and in Northern Virginia, Barbara Comstock’s seat in the 10th district. It is looking increasingly likely that all of the Democratic nominees for those seats will be women, and that’s consistent with the national trend. All across the country women running in Democratic congressional primaries are out-voting or out-polling men. And this is evidence of that push-back to Trump in part because of his allegedly abusive behavior toward women, and that this push-back is rooted in gender. One note on the Republican side – Denver Riggleman, the Nelson county distiller who briefly ran for governor in 2017, is the substitute Republican nominee in the 5th congressional district anchored in Southside. Tom Garret who was in and out, and then out again, stunning everyone announcing that he would not run for a second term, but acknowledging or announcing that he is an alcoholic and will be seeking treatment. And of course in the 5th district the Democrats have selected their nominee, that’s Leslie Cockburn, a woman, a former broadcast journalist.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Good weekend to you.