FRIDAY, MAY 4, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times Dispatch joins 88.9 WCVE’s Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis. Topics include turmoil within the state Republican primary for Senate, a Democratic push for Medicaid expansion, and more drama over gun control.
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, happy birthday!
JS: Why thank you. I choose not to think of this as my birthday. Actually it was yesterday, Thursday, but it’s the 63rd anniversary of my involuntary arrival.
CC: (laughing) Well, we’re glad you’re here. Jeff, the Senate Republican primary is heating up and we’re learning a lot about the personalities involved, but not as much about the issues.
JS: And I suspect this will be the course of this primary campaign through the primary on June 12. Corey Stewart, that Trump mini-me has been complaining again that somehow the party establishment is massing against him, that it is attempting to wire up the nomination for Nick Freitas. Of course he’s that state legislator from horse country who jump-started his campaign with that raucous floor speech back in early March in which he attacked Democrats over, you name it, guns, abortion, segregation. Got a lot of attention and got a lot of traction in a very short period of time. Stewart’s campaign, adopting the candidate’s smash-mouth style, has been making fun of Freitas’s name saying that it conjures images of tacos. By the way, Freitas is a Portuguese name. And Stewart says that Freitas’s reaction to this, his sensitivity, is proof that he is insufficiently tough to take on the de facto Democratic nominee. As the Democratic incumbent, Tim Kaine, he will be seeking a second term. Then there is a legal dimension to all of this Republican to-ing and fro-ing. A Republican who did not get on the Senate primary ballot is in federal court. He is suing the state of Virginia, election officials, and the Virginia Republican Party. The plaintiff is Ivan Raiklin. He was turned down as a prospective candidate because he didn’t produce the necessary signatures, but he is saying that he was unfairly treated by the state party and that the state party’s chairman, John Whitbeck, seemed to be suggesting that he, Raiklin, should be supporting Freitas. All of this is the deepest of inside baseball. One would suggest that it’s perhaps an argument among passengers on what seems to be a sinking ship. Remember Republicans have not won a Senate seat or any office decided by statewide vote since 2009. And of course, they could lose the legislature to the Democrats next year, and if that happens, the Republicans will have lost their last redoubt of power.
CC: And Jeff, the Democratic PR campaign for Medicaid expansion is shifting into high gear again.
JS: And the politicians are huffing and puffing, and while they do so there is a group of lobbyists, political strategists, and communications people who have been meeting off and on to plan and execute the pro-Medicaid messaging. There has been a wave of editorials and commentary pieces in the newspapers. The editorial page of the Times-Dispatch the other day told Senate Republicans, of course they make up that last line of opposition to Medicaid expansion, to surrender. That this fight which goes back to 2014 is over. Governor Ralph Northam has just posted a fresh video on Twitter urging his supporters to keep the pressure on the Senate. Of course the Senate will be back on May 14, that’s a week from Monday, perhaps to take some steps on the House-passed budget which includes Medicaid expansion, but with a work-for-benefits requirement. But of course there have been enough Republicans switching on this issue that it’s a done deal on that side of the Capital. And despite Governor Northam’s opposition to this work-for-benefits requirement, he is suggesting that he can work with Republicans on this. That all seems to be a code for saying this supposed requirement would be anything but ironclad.
CC: We saw more political gun theater this week in northern Virginia.
JS: Yes, there is a must-win congressional district up there for Democrats. It’s the 10th district and there are six candidates, six Democratic candidates who want to take on the Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock. This is a district in which Comstock was comfortably reelected in 2016, despite the big Hillary Clinton wave that swept through the district. Dan Helmer, who is an Army veteran, he served in Iraq, he’s trying to call attention to Virginia’s lax gun laws. And so recently he went to a gun show in Chantilly and said it took him only ten minutes to purchase an assault rifle. This in particular calls attention to the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows people to purchase firearms privately without going through those instant background checks that would be required for a gun store purchase. The presumed frontrunner for the Democratic nomination is Jennifer Wexton. She’s a state senator from Loudoun County. That is the fast-growing, increasingly blue heart of the district. Comstock, who is a very cagey survivor, does have primary opposition but is likely to win. Her concern should be whether that challenge by Shak Hill could threaten Republican unity for November.
CC: And Jeff, a smoking ban in restaurants, microbreweries everywhere with the ability to serve their product to patrons onsite, and casino gambling – all things that Virginia lawmakers could not imagine a little more than a decade ago. Yet all have become or soon could become a reality.
JS: Well, casino gambling is something that is going to require a bit of a long haul by its advocates, most recently the Pamunkey Indians. The federal recognition that the tribe received several years ago allows it to get into the casino business. But federal law also requires that Native American tribes abide by state law, and until the ban on casinos in Virginia is lifted, the Pamunkeys who have been talking about building a resort with a casino in eastern Virginia are going to wait. But there are probably several reasons why they are optimistic. One of which is political change. The Democrats are ascendant. The Republicans, whose coalition includes the cultural conservatives who are typically opposed to gambling, are very much in retreat. The Republicans could lose the legislature next year. There are cultural changes afoot in Virginia as well. The majority of people who live here moved here from other states. Some 30 states have casino gambling, and while these newcomers may not care for gambling, maybe their view is sufficiently libertarian that they believe people understand the risks, and so they should be free to take them. A third factor is, of course, the state always needs money, and the taxes that a casino or casinos could generate would be arguably voluntary. And if we know anything about politicians, they don’t like to take unnecessary gambles, and that would include another general tax increase as we’ve seen in 2013 and earlier in 2004. This might be a way of, shall we say, minimizing risk.
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.