Jeff Schapiro joins WCVE's Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a federal court rejecting a state redistricting plan, an early look at the Kaine-Stewart Senate race, and state attorney general Mark Herring's lawsuit against Purdue Pharma.
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 to you, Craig.
CC: Jeff, there have been multiple challenges to the 2011 House of Delegates redistricting plan, and this week one succeeded in front of a three-judge panel in federal court, perhaps accelerating the possible take-back of the chamber by Democrats.
JS: A three-judge panel this week ruled that 11 majority African American districts drawn by the Republican majority in the House of Delegates were illegal in that the Republican majority, with the consent of African American legislators who are Democrats, were stuffed into these districts making them blacker, if you will, to create whiter, if you will, surrounding districts that were presumed to be friendlier to Republicans. The court’s decision, it was a 2-1 decision, underscores that race was overemphasized in drawing these districts. Now the upshot of all of this – it’s amazing to think that this is litigation that’s been in the pipeline it seems forever. Here it is 2018, and these are boundaries that were drawn in 2011. The upshot of all this is that the General Assembly is going to have to come back to town and draw new boundaries that pass constitutional tests. Now if you are the Republican Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, this is not a happy outcome. And the speaker’s indicated that the Republicans will take this case back to the Supreme Court. One wonders whether there will be much success there given that it’s already gone to the Supreme Court, was sent back to the trial courts and very narrow standards were set by the Supreme Court, and the trial court acted under those very narrow standards. But if you are a Republican and your majority is now only two seats because of that anti-Trump tsunami last year, and new boundaries will have to be drawn before the 2019 elections to decide control of the House, that means Republicans are going to be defending their shrinking majority on a new and greatly changed landscape. So it’s quite clear the nerves of Republicans have been jangled by this decision. They are clearly hoping to run down the clock and see if it’s possible somehow to stand in these existing districts, but of course they’re facing an October 30 deadline to get new boundaries to the court.
CC: Jeff, there’s a domino effect here. These eleven districts could potentially affect a much higher number of adjacent districts.
JS: Yeah, so when one falls, others do. Our friends at the Virginia Public Access Project were circulating a visual aid earlier this week that suggests that perhaps 33 districts could be affected by this. And you know, yes, redistricting is inside baseball and a lot of the procedural intrigues that surround this might make one’s eyes glaze over, but they’re very important. And one of those is what if for some reason the General Assembly couldn’t come up with a map that it could get to the court on time? Then it would fall to the courts to draw the boundaries, and of course that happened before because of a challenge to congressional boundaries, and as a result Democrats picked up a congressional seat, the 4th congressional district anchored in the Southside and represented by Democrat, Donald McEachin.
CC: Jeff, as we’ve said many times, polls are snapshots in time. We are seeing our first snapshot of the Kaine-Stewart senate race, and it is not pretty for the GOP.
JS: Quinnipiac University in Connecticut which polls in a number of swing-states, Virginia among them, found this week that Tim Kaine is up over Corey Stewart by 18 percentage points. What’s very interesting about Quinnipiac findings is that there is clearly a perilous anti-Republican downdraft that could tip congressional seats to the Democrats. And of course there are three seats in particular – here in the Richmond area, Dave Brat’s, in Northern Virginia, Barbara Comstock’s, and in south Hampton Roads, Scott Taylor’s. Other findings within that poll that underscore this peril for Republicans: By a margin of 53% to 39% Virginians want Democrats controlling the House of Representatives; and half of all voters are less likely to support candidates who strongly support President Trump, whose approval rating in Virginia is pretty much unchanged since 2016, 37%. Just a reminder of the perils that congressional candidates face in this anti-Trump state, running with a pro-Trump senate candidate Corey Stewart. In Barbara Comstock’s district, again up in Northern Virginia, a separate poll by Monmouth University in New Jersey shows her 10 percentage points behind Jennifer Wexton, the Democratic nominee and a state senator from Loudoun County in the heart of that must-win district for Democrats.
CC: And Virginia’s two U.S. senators weighing in on the largest political story of the week and that is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire at the end of this term.
JS: And of course the battle over Kennedy’s successor. President Trump is indicating that he wants to install a young conservative to push the court further to the right, Kennedy of course a swing vote on the court. The Virginia story here is that Tim Kaine, running for a second term in the U.S. Senate, has said he thinks that the senate should do with the Kennedy seat as it did with the seat that was ultimately filled by Neil Gorsuch. Remember when Antonin Scalia died Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican Majority Leader, intentionally held open that seat, Democrats would say stole that seat, until after the presidential election when of course a Republican was elected to succeed Democrat Barack Obama, assuring that a more conservative justice would be named. Of course that’s how the court ended up with Neil Gorsuch and now could end up with another Gorsuch-like figure succeeding Mister Justice Kennedy. And Mark Warner, the senior senator from Virginia, is also among those arguing for a delay. This is pretty much the Democratic Party line.
CC: And of course, Jeff, everyone is speculating on how this to-be nominated justice would affect the future of abortion rights in America.
JS: Well, of course there is this great concern that a more conservative court would ultimately overturn the landmark decision Roe v. Wade which made abortion legal in this country, however, think about the near-term politics of this. There is a prize vote this political cycle, the woman’s vote, the suburban woman’s vote. This is a slice of the electorate that’s very concerned about issues such as abortion rights, and no doubt we’re going to be hearing a lot about this, particularly from Democratic congressional candidates. Similarly there are going to be a lot of Republicans talking about this too, because they’ll be making the argument with a more conservative court the likelihood that Roe could be overturned or further weakened increases.
CC: And Virginia’s Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring is going after prescription drug maker Purdue Pharma alleging in a lawsuit that the company lied about the danger of painkiller OxyContin to preserve its profits.
JS: Herring, in announcing this action in southwest Virginia in an area hit by the opioid epidemic, especially hit hard by the opioid epidemic, this means that this state, Virginia is at least the sixth to take action against this big drug maker. The lawsuit, filed in Tazewell County, in the heart of southwest Virginia. In Virginia there have been nearly 5,000 deaths since 2007 attributed to prescription medicines and another 4,000 deaths attributed to overdoses of heroin and fentanyl. Herring’s lawsuit alleges the company violated the Virginia Consumer Protection Act. The state will be seeking yet to be specified financial damages. And there are separate independent actions pending in a number of Virginia courts as well, filed by some of the local governments that feel their populations have been unfairly hurt by the use of these drugs.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: See you on Friday.