Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE's Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include developments in the efforts to redraw district maps across Virginia, Governor Northam's issues with changes in the state's air board, and national Democrats begin the process to elect a new Speaker of the House.
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: A couple of big developments in redistricting this week – one, the independent reform group OneVirginia2021 has announced their plan to depoliticize redistricting. Meanwhile, House Republicans are asking a federal trial court to push the 2019 primaries to September from June.
JS: OneVirginia2021 is that reform group that you may remember unsuccessfully sued in state court to have thrown out as unconstitutional House and Senate districts drawn by both parties. The organization is proposing, and this has been expected for some time, a constitutional amendment that would effectively strip the legislature of its redistricting duties, turning it over to a bipartisan committee – 10 members, 3 R’s, 3 D’s, 4 Independents. We’re going to see other redistricting reform schemes, so stay tuned. The OneVirginia2021 plan already has senate sponsors, Republican Emmett Hanger and Democrat Mamie Locke – no house sponsors and no surprise there. Remember, House Republicans, despite their big losses in 2017, are barely holding on and they have every intention of holding on to their power to control legislative and congressional boundaries. Even in this blue-trending state, Republicans know that as long as they can bend those lines to their will, they can harness and magnify what is clearly a diminishing Republican vote. The Democrats keep talking about reform, largely as those on the receiving end. They could very well be in the majority after the 2019 elections in both the House and the Senate. One wonders, will the reform impulse diminish if suddenly the Democrats find themselves in control again after roughly 20 years. In the wilderness in the House and as far as that rescheduled primary goes, that is a request that Speaker Cox is making to the U.S. trial court here in Richmond who threw out eleven racially gerrymandered districts, allegedly racially gerrymandered districts. This would push the primary to September from June. The idea here is to give the Supreme Court room to consider the Republican challenge to that trial court decision. Remember the Republicans have in the House only a one seat advantage. Understandably they’re very nervous about the map that the trial court is drawing, and which we may get a peek at next week.
CC: And Governor Ralph Northam’s political headache over the Air Board is getting worse.
JS: Yeah, bad enough that he bounced two members of the Board who have doubts about a component of that Dominion Energy financed pipeline, in particular a compressor that would go into a majority African American community in rural Buckingham. This is conveying to the Greens, certainly a big component within the Democratic Party, that Ralph Northam is rolling over for Dominion. And of course Northam was, at best, squishy on this proposal as a candidate for governor. You know, he didn’t want to appear hostile to the business interests in the state. He didn’t want to appear to be kowtowing to the environmentalists either. Now he’s clearly getting it from his left. As I said, they’re accusing Northam of essentially playing lap dog to Dominion. But one of the other points about the Air Board, and Patrick Wilson from the Times-Dispatch reported this earlier this week, there will be one other vote missing on the Air Board because it turns out that one member claims he has a conflict of interest, working for an environmental group that was party to a $7 million settlement between the state and Dominion Energy over the pipeline and the deforestation attributed to the line.
CC: And, Democrats were in Washington this week, including many newly elected Democrats, to cast a preliminary vote on the House speakership. There’s no opposition candidate currently for Nancy Pelosi among the Democrats, but we presume that Abigail Spanberger was not one of them.
JS: Spanberger, who defeated Dave Brat here in the Richmond area 7 th District, said she would not vote for Pelosi for a second go as Speaker. She says the House needs new leadership. This was clearly a calculated move on Spanberger’s part to appeal to moderate Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents. I think it was also intended to sort of inoculate her for 2020 when she will be standing for reelection. But what will she do when the whole world is watching and the House, sitting as a whole, Democrats and Republicans have to vote for a speaker? She has said she would not support Pelosi. She’s trying to, I would argue, divert attention from this discomforting issue by announcing this week she’s joined the Blue Dog Democrats. This is a group of fiscally conservative Democrats, folks big on balanced budgets and not big on deficits. Clearly when the going gets tough, the tough change the subject.
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.
CC: You as well.