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Political Analysis for Friday, February 2, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a stumbling defense of an abortion law by Democrats, a likely delay in casinos and gambling in Virginia, and three competing budget plans making their way through the General Assembly.

CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper, and I’m joined now by Richmond Times Dispatch columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Shapiro. Jeff, good morning.

JS: Hi there, Craig.

CC: Jeff, this week Democrats are dealing with some, let’s say, unartful comments by their own members, including Governor Ralph Northam, who Republicans suggested yesterday favors infanticide.

JS: A remarkable charge given that our governor in private life is a pediatrician, specifically a pediatric neurologist. A long story short, we’ve had this running kerfuffle over abortion. It started at a hearing, a subcommittee hearing on a bill introduced by Kathy Tran, a first-termer from Northern Virginia, first-term House member from Northern Virginia. The somewhat awkward defense of this bill which addressed complications in the third-term, trimester abortion law, if I may put it that way, gave Republicans a chance to go off and depict the Democrats as extremists, perhaps supporting abortion to the moment of birth. The governor on a Washington radio station tried to defend this, that it was nothing more than a lot of Republican hyperbole, all blown out of proportion by the opposition, and then he conjured this somewhat unfortunate image of a badly deformed baby surviving birth but not likely to survive. The Republicans pounced depicting the governor as somehow an advocate of infanticide. Among the pouncing Republicans was the President of the United States joining this pig pile, if you will. And really lost in this debate, which clearly is an opportunity for the Republicans who have avoided talking about abortion to talk about it, if only to energize their base ahead of these make-or-break elections. Lost in this debate is a point that the Times Dispatch’s Bridget Balch makes in this morning's paper and this is that since 2016 in Virginia, there have been no, zero, nada, confirmed third-trimester abortions in Virginia.

CC: And Jeff, an expansion of gambling, including casinos in Portsmouth, possibly Danville, and Bristol is likely off the table for a year for further study on revenue, taxes, and oversight.

JS: And you can gamble that this issue will definitely be back next year, if only as a full employment program for all those lobbyists there (laughing), 40+ or so who had been retained by the gaming interests to put Virginia on the map as the 39th state to have casino gambling. The reason this is all slowing down in part is because of the governor and interests within the legislature who feel that this is maybe a little too much too soon, the big regulatory and tax questions that haven't been settled. Remember, Virginia hasn't really done this. Vegas has been doing it since the end of the Second World War. So, on the Senate side to this week we saw things kind of come to a grinding halt with a suggestion that the legislature’s investigative arm, JLARC, should look into this. That's consistent with what the governor had proposed in his budget, almost $200,000 for some type of, some type of inquiry. This is not off the boards yet; again, you can bet on it.

CC: Jeff, we're seeing the outlines of now three competing budget plans. Senate Republicans introduced key elements of their 2019 tax cut plan. It has no overlap with the House proposal or a vague Governor Northam preference for tax relief for low income taxpayers.

JS: And we've talked to a number of times about this big surplus attributed to the growing economy and the tax cut, the Trump tax cut. The Republicans, again terrified they're going to lose their majorities, are looking for something to run on as opposed to something to run against. They want to give a lot of this money back. There are very different ideas on the House side and the Senate side about how this should be done. One of the things that is included in the Senate Republican bill is that everyone will apparently get a check, at least every taxpayer would get a check for at least $100, and it would arrive rightly about just ahead of the election, talk about campaign advertising. This issue has to be settled relatively soon because of the revenue obstacle that it creates. If there isn't any agreement on how much money is going to be given back, it's going to be difficult to determine how much money can be spent in the budget or through the budget, and if all these disagreements are still on the table perhaps the legislature won't be able to get out of town on time, February 23 rd.

CC: And Jeff, we've got just about a minute left, but we're seeing some more judgeship games, as we see every year.

JS: Yes, this is the judicial patronage. It is fervently protected by the majority party, now of course the Republicans. There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Virginia and a southwest Virginia Senator Ben Chafin would like to see his sister installed as the next justice. By the way, with the retirement of Liz McClanahan, the court would be without a southwest Virginian, so presumably one of Ben Chafin’s talking points is that by installing his sister, Teresa, who's on the Court of Appeals, that geographic balance would be restored or maintained. There are a lot of Republicans who are very nervous about it. They think the optics are unfortunate, more so after that fast one the Republicans pulled in installing a new judge on the Corporation Commission, that's the entity that polices industry and business, that the Republicans somehow look more interested in jamming the courts with their own than perhaps emphasizing quality.

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

JS: Good weekend to you.

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