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Political Analysis for Friday, January 25, 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 the redistricting of Virginia, the bipartisan deal for Dominion to clean up coal ash ponds, and Senator Mark Warner's introduction of a bill aimed at preventing future government shutdowns.

CC: From the State Capitol in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper. Joining me now is Richmond Times Dispatch columnist Jeff Shapiro. Jeff, it's been a busy week. How are you?

JS: I am well. Good to see you, Craig.

CC: Jeff, this week a federal court opted for a redistricting plan that improves the chances of a Democratic take back of the House in November. That's assuming the plan is in place in time for the election.

JS: And of course the Republicans continue to play defense. It's their hope that the U.S. Supreme Court will block this plan, which was selected by the trial court here in Richmond. And these would be boundaries that would be in place for the 2019 election. Now, of course, the Republicans are gambling that a new Supreme Court will somehow protect them and their fast-fading majority from this clearly hostile plan. Now, how bad are things for Republicans? We've been talking about this for a long time. The Democrats need only three seats to take back the House, two to take back the Senate. A Republican retirement in the Senate appears to have put it in play. But of course the boundaries that are under discussion by the courts are in the House, and the boundaries that have been recommended by the court, these are changes forced by a decision by the court that the Republicans resorted to racial gerrymandering to create a Republican friendly map. These altered boundaries would include those of the Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights, and the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee and kind of the mastermind of House Republican redistricting, Chris Jones from Suffolk. They will be planted in districts that could charitably be described as hostile to Republicans. It needs to be pointed out that the games that the Republicans apparently played with redistricting, Democrats clearly played with redistricting when they were in charge, resorting to hyper-partisan gerrymandering to create the friendliest, lopsidedly friendly districts, if you will, for their parties. One needs to point out as well that friendly boundaries, notwithstanding, the quality of candidate is very important, and they're going to be lots of challenges, and perhaps the outcomes are going to surprise a lot of people. Candidates, incumbents in particular, deemed vulnerable, especially Republican incumbents, could be coming back, largely because the caliber of the Democratic challenger might be questionable.

CC: And in a rare kumbaya moment yesterday, the Northam administration, a bipartisan coalition in the narrowly Republican-controlled legislature, and Dominion Energy announced a deal to clean up millions of tons of coal ash.

JS: And of course coal ash is a toxic spent coal that Dominion used to fire plants in the Richmond area, South Hampton Roads, and Northern Virginia. The stuff has been piling up for decades. It is unfriendly to the environment, has been leeching into the Potomac, the James and the Elizabeth Rivers. This deal clearly qualifies as a political harmonic convergence. Governor Northam wants to look stronger on the environment, clearly in hopes of calming Democratic Greens who are not happy about his support of those Dominion-financed natural gas pipelines. Republicans, worried about their majorities in the General Assembly, are looking for something that somehow makes them look committed to the interests of suburban voters. Quality of life issues, environmental issues are very important, we're told, to suburban voters. And then there's of course Dominion. It doesn't want to always be seen as the 800-pound gorilla around here that tends to bully or at least is seen as bullying the legislature into passing bills that make it even easier for the utility to keep more of its millions. What Ralph Northam said a couple of weeks ago, that he was all in on a cleanup deal, you remember he did not say at the time who would actually be paying for it. The fine print suggests that a good bit of this expense is going to be borne by, surprise, Dominion rate payers.

CC: And something that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, an increase in the age to purchase tobacco appears to be on the fast track.

JS: Yes. Bipartisan legislation that would increase the age to purchase tobacco and tobacco products, and that's important, would increase from 18 to 21. A lot of this has to do with, of course, the popularity of vaping, the e-cigarettes. They are particularly popular among younger smokers, maybe those perhaps not old enough to purchase tobacco products. But this is also an example of how the tobacco industry and that would include the local giant, Altria, that when they're on the defense, they take the offense. And so they have been pushing a lot of this along largely to keep the government off of their back. And another part of this also being pushed by Altria is figuring out ways to tax these e-cigarettes. Again, this is an example of big tobacco taking the offense as it did with restrictions on smoking in public, as it did with that master settlement, as it did in expanded restrictions on smoking in public.

CC: And lawmakers love to have fun with acronyms and naming their legislation. Mark Warner is certainly doing so with a package of legislation he's introduced to ban future federal government shutdowns.

JS: And this bill is not likely to go anywhere in the Republican Senate. He is nonetheless getting an enormous amount of traction online. The name of the bill is the Stop STUPIDITY Act. Stupidity is an acronym for Shutdowns, Transfer, Unnecessary Pain and Inflicting Damage in The coming Years, not entirely clear where the C worked its way in or how the C worked its way in. I posted something on Twitter about this the other day and at least 2,000 people have “liked it” or retweeted this. This is all part of a much larger and more serious concern, and that as the impact of the continuing partial shutdown of the federal government on Virginia's economy. Moody's, the credit rating agency, was out at week’s end with a snapshot of the shutdown’s impact on the D.C. area. At this point, it doesn't appear to have wreaked havoc. There are a lot of related businesses, restaurants, gasoline stations, mass transit that are clearly seeing the effects of the shutdown. Moody's worry, like that of the governments of Virginia, D.C., and Maryland, is that what appears to be comparatively minor aftershocks could be much more severe if this shutdown drags into February or even March. One effect might be that those jurisdictions would have to take over the management of what had been a federal food assistance program, one that is increasingly assisting idle federal workers.

CC: Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

JS: Roger that.

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