FRIDAY, JUNE 1, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment’s attempts to block the expansion, and Tom Garrett’s decision not to seek a second congressional term.
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 morning, Craig.
CC: Jeff, much like Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner Senate Republicans tried repeatedly this year to kill Medicaid expansion to no avail, and now after five years of trying Democrats have succeeded in expanding access to healthcare to roughly 300,000 low-income Virginians.
JS: Well, precisely. This fight has been going on for four years and five months. A big win for the new governor, Democrat Ralph Northam, and a big loss for the Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment. To some degree this victory was fated some months ago, actually in January, when Kirk Cox, the new Republican Speaker of the House, indicated that he was prepared to support Medicaid expansion. This would bring Virginia fully under Obamacare on one condition, that there be a work-for-benefits requirement. The governor went along with that. That alliance isolated Senate Republicans. Suddenly Senate Republicans were dealing with a problem that was similar to the problem faced by House Republicans, a House divided, a Senate divided. Four Republicans defected on Medicaid expansion, two of course that were known a good deal in advance of their defections which were largely expected. That would have been the Co-Chairman of the Finance Committee, Emmett Hanger from Augusta County, and Frank Wagner from Virginia Beach, a member of the Finance Committee and also the Chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee. But they brought over two more Republicans, Jill Holtzman Vogel from Fauquier County and Ben Chafin from Russell County in the coal fields of southwest Virginia. One of the big concerns, of course, is will this auger a primary opposition for Republicans deemed insufficiently soft on Medicaid expansion. Of course that would mean the Messrs. Wagner, Hanger, Chafin and Ms. Vogel. But the defense is, at least among those Republicans who have strayed to the pro-Medicaid side that as Ben Chafin put it, “No” was no longer an option. Ben Chafin said in a floor speech, a very quiet and very reflective set of remarks, that this was going to make a big difference in his deeply impoverished area of the state. The eight hospitals in his district would get a welcome handout through the billions, the 2.5 billion dollars that will initially flow into Virginia under this expansion, but one should perhaps point out as well that maybe Ben Chafin got a friendly nudge from Governor Northam when he signed a piece of legislation prized by the senator that would preserve a tax break for the coal industry that was strongly opposed by Democratic green. Now the big question is, “How will this program be set up? How will it operate?” and the onus will be on this young Democratic administration.
CC: And Jeff, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, who is experienced to say the least in parliamentary maneuvers and procedures, pulled out every trick in order to try to slow the Medicaid expansion machine down.
JS: Norment with nearly 30 years in the Senate qualifies as a rascally fellow. He knows the rules. He knows the procedures. He knows the protocols. And he and the Republican caucus tried everything to slow down this bill, if not wound it, and they did not succeed. The number of complaints raised about this bill and the maneuvers attempted to underscore them included additional steps to strengthen the work requirement, also to make sure that that was overseen by the Virginia Employment Commission. There were concerns about access to abortion. There were concerns as well about an unrelated amendment involving two million dollars in public money that would go to a private university in Hampton Roads that is adjacent to an area where there could be a big transportation improvement. That was represented as a distasteful quid pro quo to get a particular Republican senator, in this case Frank Wagner, to go along. Right now what we’re seeing and hearing from Republicans on the losing side is a lot of thunderous rhetoric, largely to reassure the base that, well, they tried.
CC: And Jeff, starting late last week and a bit into this week we watched Congressman Tom Garrett publicly wrestle with whether he would run or not for another term in Congress. And late last week he forcefully replied, “Yes” he’s running, and then within three days reversed his position and announced he’s an alcoholic and not running for Congress and seeking treatment.
JS: Tom Garrett saying he will not seek a second term in the 5th District. That is that south side anchored district that actually runs almost to the edge of the Washington area, taking in parts of Fauquier County. Had he stood for reelection, there’s a good chance he would have been returned to Washington. This is a deeply red district, one in which Donald Trump piled up an 11% point majority, however, the concern before Garrett pulled out was that if this were an open seat, and now it is, that may give the Democratic nominee Leslie Cockburn something that passes for additional traction. So right now all eyes are on the 5th District Republican Committee which this weekend will select a replacement nominee, and there are lots of names being battered about. The one name that seems to be a favorite for a lot of Republicans is Bill Stanley, a state senator from Franklin County who was also the Chairman of the 5th District Republican Committee when the Republicans took back that seat from Tom Perriello in 2010. The way would seem to be clear perhaps for a Stanley nomination when his good friend Bryce Reeves indicated that he, a state senator from Spotsylvania, would not run. He does not live in the district and clearly was concerned about the old carpetbagger label, but of course candidates for Congress don’t have to live in their district, they only have to live in the state that they represent.
CC: Not illegal, just frowned upon.
JS: Well put.
CC: And Jeff, this week the Virginia Supreme Court ruled against redistricting reform advocates who had challenged eleven House and Senate districts held by member of both parties for failing a compactness test.
JS: This independent redistricting reform organization OneVirginia2021 initially challenged these districts in the Richmond Circuit Court. There Circuit Judge Reilly Marchant affirmed the disputed districts, by the way held by Democrats and Republicans. The case then went to the Virginia Supreme Court, keeping in mind of course that the court is an adjunct of the General Assembly. All of these justices are elected, and that’s the word the Constitution uses “elected” by the legislature. The concern raised by OneVirginia2021 was tailored under the Virginia Constitution, the very narrow standards for redistricting, that districts must be compact, contiguous, reflect shared interests. According to OneVirginia2021, all that was cast aside to gerrymander districts, to make them safe for incumbents, and to discourage competition. This would be a win for the former Democratic majority that drew the Senate districts, and a win for the now dramatically-papered Republican majority in the House of Delegates, but while this is a separate challenge from some of the litigation that is still working its way through the federal court ahead of the 2021 redistricting, one wonders whether whichever party is drawing the lines then will be on better behavior than both parties have been in previous redistricting.
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.