Political Analysis for Friday, May 10, 2019
Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE's News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a problem for the GOP in a Hanover House of Delegates district, the unclear path for a Democratic takeback of Virginia's legislature, and a new coalition aimed to opening up the energy market.
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 Shapiro. Jeff, good morning.
JS: Hi there, Craig.
CC: Jeff, there is a local nomination fight for a Republican-held House of Delegate’s district anchored in Hanover that highlights a larger problem for the GOP.
JS: Yes, this is in Hanover County, and if I may site a headline in the Times-Dispatch on Thursday that, excuse me, accompanied a column I wrote, “Is Hanover a Republican suburb or a banana republic?” And this fight between the incumbent Chris Peace and challenger Scott Wyatt is, as you say, emblematic of a larger challenge for the Republican Party, a reminder of the Republican Party's fading appeal to suburban voters who are increasingly Democratic. And while that may not be the case in Hanover, which still delivers some very substantial margins for Republicans, it is nonetheless a reminder that the turf on which the Republican notions of government have appeal are fading, and this is also a reminder of the consequences of one-party rule. The 97th House district in which Peace is standing for re-nomination is solidly Republican, and it is within the GOP that the issues of the day are debated, and they are debated between those on the right and those on the hard right. And if this were a Democratic district, a lopsidedly democratic district, the affliction that the Republican's face would be very much the same, but a fight between the left and the far left. And one should note that Peace is in trouble with Scott Wyatt, a member of the Board of Supervisors, because he broke with the party orthodoxy to support this full expansion of Medicaid, a maneuver that brings Virginia fully under the umbrella of Obamacare. Now to this point about banana republic, there is a good deal of to-ing and fro-ing over the nominating process. The convention that had been planned was canceled, though Wyatt’s people went ahead and held a convention anyway and declared him the nominee, even though the state party says that’s anything but kosher, and there will be a firehouse primary. This is sort of a mini primary, strictly controlled by the party. That'll be on June 1 st, and that should be a friendlier process for Chris Peace, because it will bring in more outsiders - Independents, maybe even a few nominal Democrats.
CC: Meanwhile, before the scandal trifecta earlier this year, Democrats, chances for taking control of both chambers of the General Assembly were looking pretty good. The demographics in these districts are still favorable, but the path for a Democratic takeback is not completely clear, or should we say not clear yet.
JS: In the Virginia Senate things look a little bit more promising at this point, and of course they can change for the Democrats. The Democrats are particularly optimistic about a seat in the outer suburbs of Washington, an open Republican seat that has been tipping Democratic in statewide elections – president, U.S. Senate, governor - for some time. And then there are about four or five other Republican Senate seats that are similarly inclined to tip Democratic in statewide elections. There are two in Virginia Beach, one in the Richmond suburbs, another up outside of Fredericksburg. And there is this sense that at least one, maybe two of those are doable for the Democrats. Long story short, should the Senate tip Democratic, it would probably be no more than a 22-18 Democratic Senate. Right now it is a 21-19 Republican Senate. In the House, however, things look a little bit more difficult. The Democrats and not only have to win seats, they have to protect seats. Remember those 15 seats that they picked up in ’17, largely because of that anti-Trump tsunami, many of those winners were pretty, shall we say, underwhelming candidates, not particularly strong, not particularly well-financed, but helped along by this great wave of hostility for Donald Trump. And so the Democrats not only have to protect those seats, then they have to pick up two more to install a majority. So things might be a bit trickier for the Democrats, and that's even with this new map, one imposed by the federal redistricting court.
CC: And Dominion Energy is in the cross-hairs again from consumers, regulators, and a bipartisan coalition of Dominion critics, including staunch conservative Republican ex-Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
JS: Cuccinelli also an unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor in 2013 and consistently an outspoken critic of the utility industry in this state. He is part of this bipartisan coalition that is arguing for basically full-on re-regulation of electric utilities, saying only that will cut the costs, the rising costs they contend, for electricity customers. And remember over 20 years now and under pressure primarily from Dominion, Virginia has deregulated the utilities, re-regulated the utilities, and re-re-regulated the utilities, and always putting in place rules favorable to the company. This new coalition suggests that perhaps they are anticipating a Democratic takeover of the General Assembly that might be more favorable to more disciplined oversight of Dominion. By the way, the Corporation Commission, largely neutered at the insistence of Dominion, is increasingly belligerent with the company, and this past week it told Dominion that it, the Commission, did not believe that the company had been straight with regulators here in Virginia, telling Wall Street one story and leaving out some of the details about future investment with state regulators. And these are investments that they state regulators point out could drive up the bills of consumers.
CC: And Governor Ralph Northam is hiring an equity officer in an effort to redeem himself in the eyes of the public following the blackface scandal.
JS: Equity officer, a fancy way of saying that Ralph Northam wants someone on his staff, a highly visible staff person, who's going to advise him on these equity issues. That would include, among other things, ways to promote diversity within the state workforce. By the way, that is an idea that some editorial pages are questioning. Not that they aren't all in on diversity, it's just that they say a number of entities already exist within state government to promote that. That would include the state Personnel Office. But remember, Ralph Northam is doubling down on ways to mend his image with minorities, and that includes putting in place someone who would have a particularly high profile.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times- Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Have a great weekend.