Political Analysis for Friday, May 3, 2019
Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include Governor Northam's completion of the state budget, a fight over a House of Delegates seat in Hanover, and Governor Northam's rejection of mandatory minimum sentences.
CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper, and joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Shapiro. Jeff this week Governor Ralph Northam completed his action on all legislation passed this winter, including the state budget.
JS: Yes, and what the governor didn't do is the news, and it also kind of falls into this broader category of party cannibalism. But we can get to that in a moment. The governor refused to veto language in the budget, folded into it by Republicans, that short circuits two things - a McAuliffe era executive order and decisions by the Air Board to commit Virginia to cap and trade greenhouse gas restrictions. Virginia would have been the only state to embrace them. Now, the environmentalists, who are big Democrats and big donors to Democrats, they're very angry over this. They see this as a retreat by the governor. They wanted a veto. The governor balked because of some sticky procedural questions. This language was folded into the budget, largely as a bow to coal field legislators. And it was done by Republicans in such a way that it was, it was beyond the reach of Northam’s veto. And that's because the language was not paired with an appropriation. Case law rulings by the Supreme Court affirm a constitutional prohibition on a governor using his veto to essentially make editorial tweaks in a budget. He can only do so if they are tied to spending, and this language was not tied to spending. Now had the governor vetoed this language, there would have certainly been a court fight. The Supreme Court is likely to have sided with the Republicans, and a hostile decision would have meant further restrictions on executive power. So I guess the argument can be made here that Northam is taking a stand for the office. It's now a talking point for Democrats and presumably will be. The argument now will be - install Democratic majorities in the House and the Senate in November, and those Democrats could vote this language out of the budget. Yes, this is inside baseball, but of course the Republicans are in retreat. They are reduced to a legislative party, and they are using every trick in the book, parliamentary and procedural, to work their will and trip up Democratic governors.
CC: And the Republican nomination fight for a House of Delegates seat in Hanover, held currently by a Republican delegate, Chris Peace, gets, to quote Lewis Carroll, “curiouser and curiouser”.
JS: Ah, yes. And this is an example of Republican cannibalism. There was supposed to be a convention Saturday up in Hanover to determine the nominee, whether it'd be Chris Peace or challenger Scott Wyatt. He's a member of the Board of Supervisors. It is now off, and instead the nominee will be selected at a yet to be determined date at a firehouse primary. That in effect is a mini primary open to all voters who agree to take a loyalty pledge to support the Republican nominee. Now that may be a little friendlier environment for Chris Peace, given his difficulties with the conservative hard kernel of the Republican Party, a lot of that as a result of his decision to support Medicaid expansion to bring Virginia fully under the umbrella of Obamacare. This is still an open question. There are appeals and some procedural steps that need to be taken. It ultimately could be before the state Republican Party, and that could mean that there might be a convention, which presumably is a more hostile setting for Chris, that's, excuse me, Chris Peace. The bottom line is that in this nomination fight, much like that budget fight that Northam has had with Republicans, this is all about procedural arcana. But in the case of the Hanover Republican nomination, it will also determine the next delegate from the 97th House District because the Democrats will not have a candidate.
CC: And Governor Ralph Northam is saying “no” to future expansions of mandatory minimum sentences.
JS: Yes, and translated, he's picking a fight with conservative law and order Republicans, and that could help extract Northam from this black face fiasco. The governor wrote this Op-Ed for the Washington Post. It says judges need more flexibility in sentencing, and as a consequence he is going to resist further mandatory minimums. Virginia now has 200+ of them covering crimes, minor and major. This is also paired with the no parole policy on which George Allen was elected governor in 1994 and led to this big prison construction program and the appointment of lots of “lock 'em up” judges. Minority legislators are very happy with all of this. It was paired with a couple of vetoes - one of a Democratic bill that would have set a new minimum for sexual assault, individuals convicted of sexual assault, also a bill that would have a set a minimum sentence for those who kill or injure police dogs. The Republicans are not happy with this. As Todd Gilbert, the House Republican leader put it, it's all about, his words, “political rehab,” rather than concerns for victims.
CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times- Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.
JS: Great weekend to you.
CC: You as well.