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Political Analysis for Friday, January 4, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE's Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a look at the upcoming General Assembly session, optics issues for Governor Northam after a fundraiser with Dominion Energy, and Abigail Spanberger's first day in Congress.

PL: Now here’s WCVE’s Craig Carper and Richmond Times Dispatch Jeff Schapiro with this week’s commentary. Good morning, gentlemen.

CC: Thanks, Phil and good morning, Jeff.

JS: Good morning, Craig, Phil. Happy to see . . . Happy New Year to you both.

CC: Thank you. Jeff, next Wednesday the General Assembly will convene for the 2019 session with the November elections looming, when all 140 of them are on the ballot.

JS: There is little that delegates and senators will do in January and February that won’t be viewed through the filter of those November elections, of course both chambers on the line, Republicans desperately holding on to power or are desperate to hold on to power. Democrats need only two seats in the House and the Senate to regain absolute control of the legislature. And were that to occur it would mean that one-party control of Virginia government had been restored, would be restored to the Democrats for the first time in 26 years. The big issues – the budget, taxes, gambling – these are the marquee issues that we’ve been hearing a lot about in the run-up to the session. There’s going to be a budget fatted by about 1.2 billion dollars. This is a consequence of this growing economy and the favorable aftershocks, I guess some would say, of the Trump tax cut. Governor Northam wants to spend a lot of that money on elements, on programs that are important to elements of his coalition, again with an election in mind – pay raises for teachers, more school counselors, clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay. He’s talking about a coal ash clean-up. Now we should explore that issue a bit more fully. The timing of that announcement is curious. The Republicans are thinking of their base too. They would like to see tax cuts. They want to make sure that Virginia taxpayers are not “punished,” a word that the Republicans use, by the state from not conforming Virginia tax code to the Federal tax code, of course one that has been fully redefined by the Trump tax cuts. So we have a 46 day session ahead. Look to the administration and the Republicans to paint the brightest lines possible. I guess there will be some attempts at common ground, but the stakes are so high for both parties that it seems that altruism is unlikely.

CC: And Jeff, you alluded to this. There’s some troubling optics for Governor Northam who had a fundraiser last night at the offices of the lobbying firm that represents Dominion Energy.

JS: Yes, and this is the shadow government as we call it, McGuire Woods. It was a fundraiser there for the Northam PAC. Among the hosts were former and current Dominion execs. There was a bit of a kerfuffle on this ahead of last night’s soiree, and perhaps it was not a coincidence then that several hours before clinking glasses with big dollar donors, the governor announced this attempt at a coal ash clean-up, of course that coal fire plant down on the James River. Big question is who is going to pay for it, Dominion or the taxpayers or Dominion’s customers. There was a protest outside of the McGuire Woods offices by anti-Dominion activists. They see Northam as rolling over for the utility, and that most recent bit of evidence, of course, is Northam booting from the Air Pollution Control Board two members who have expressed opposition to Dominion’s natural gas pipeline.

CC: Virginia’s freshmen class of congressional reps was sworn in yesterday, including locally Abigail Spanberger, who defeated Dave Brat the two-term Republican congressman, casting her first vote against Nancy Pelosi for leadership.

JS: Ah yes, Abigail Spanberger now officially the gentlelady from Virginia. She had said she would oppose Nancy Pelosi for the speakership. She cast a vote for Cheri Bustos, a Democratic congressman from Illinois who’s been in the House since 2013. It was important that Spanberger do this, and one suspects that Pelosi was aware of this during the campaign when Spanberger was saying she would oppose Pelosi. Remember Spanberger defeated a Republican in a Republican-friendly district. Opposing Pelosi was important, publicly opposing Pelosi was important to assure and reassure anti-Brat Republicans. Of course Spanberger blew out Brat with that big, big majority out of Chesterfield County. But perhaps more to the point, Spanberger is going to be a reliable vote, and certainly was last night for Pelosi on those first few bills to reopen the federal government. Of course the shutdown has consequences for Virginia’s economy. Our senators, Warner and Kaine, and one of our congressmen, Don Beyer, are introducing legislation to make whole federal workers who are idled by this shutdown.

CC: And Jeff, just about 30 seconds left, but we’ve seen a blast from the past in the headlines, Jim Webb being considered as a possible Defense Secretary.

JS: The New York Times reporting yesterday that he’s under consideration to run the Pentagon. Of course it was Webb who refused to run for a second term in the U.S. Senate in 2012, now Trump’s pick, perhaps Trump’s pick to run the Pentagon in 2019. An odd match, maybe not – Webb of course has been very outspoken on things like these endless wars that Trump says are grinding down our troops. Webb is a China-skeptic, and he’s also been hostile to Iran over its nuclear program.

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.

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