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Political Analysis For Friday, February 22, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a possible investigation into Lt. Governor Justin Farfax, tweaks to the two-year budget, and other topics as the 2019 General Assembly session draws to a close.

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. Good morning, Jeff.

JS: Good morning to you, Craig. And tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, if I may quote the late great Senate Democratic Majority Leader, Hunter Andrews, “We will return to the bosom of our families.”

CC: That’s right. This is my 14th session, and I can safely say this has been the most bizarre that I have ever seen. You've witnessed a few more than that, but safe to say that the GA readying for their scheduled adjournment on Saturday is concluding an election year session like no other.

JS: For sure, and of course we approach adjournment with the Democrats troubled a troika front and center. Heading in to the session this morning, there is this dispute between House Democrats and House Republicans, again Republicans barely in the majority, over an idea that Speaker Kirk Cox from Colonial Heights is advancing for some type of investigation by the legislature, by the House specifically, into those sexual assault allegations against the lieutenant governor. We can't forget, of course, the blackface scandal that has exploded bringing, shall we say, difficulty on the, on the governor and the attorney general. All of this of course has overshadowed and reshaped the course of business in the legislature this year. And there's still plenty going on, and there is still plenty that could derail the worthies. Michael Martz, my colleague at the Times Dispatch, shared reports that the budget negotiators seem to be clawing their way towards some consensus on tweaks to the two-year $115 billion budget. Among the issues on which they have apparently come to terms - additional dollars for impoverished schools, an additional pay raise for public employees, 1% to top the 2% they're supposed to get, and throw in another 2% for a merit raise. We'll be looking at maybe 5% over the course of the spending cycle. Still no fix on legislative gerrymandering, and of course, if there isn't agreement between the House and Senate, the status quo will endure in 2020. And if the Democrats were in charge after the election, what's to stop them from doing to the Republican's what the Republicans have been doing to them for 20 years and what Democrats did to the Republicans for nearly a century before that? And of course the additional complication is that there are six redrawn districts, court redrawn districts, that went from Republican-friendly to Democrat-friendly, and that includes the speaker's district and the district in Suffolk of the House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, who's also the mastermind of the last two House Republican maps.

CC: And Governor Ralph Northam is continuing to keep a low profile but gradually raising that profile, not quite as low as a week ago.

JS: Yes, and he is a relying, it seems, on Twitter, how Trump-like, to communicate a bit. He signed into law legislation that will push the age to purchase tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. And I say tobacco and nicotine because we're talking about cigarettes, as well as e-cigarettes, which are increasingly popular with young people. This legislation was pushed by the tobacco industry, of course tobacco a historic product here in Virginia. Virginia becomes the seventh state to push its purchase age from 18 to 21. And of course we had this episode at Virginia Union, a historically black school where Northam was supposed to make his first appearance in this so-called “apology tour,” though the administration doesn't care to describe it as such. He dropped out when a student leader objected. However, one of the Richmond 34, those campus civil rights activists who nearly 60 years ago this day staged a sit-in at a whites- only lunch counter in downtown Richmond, Elizabeth Johnson Rice said she would've liked to have seen the governor at that event. She's going to have her chance to speak with his Excellency this morning, the governor playing host to some of the 34 at the Executive Mansion.

CC: And the, and as if Governor Ralph Northam hadn't had enough difficulties in the racial realm, Vice President Al Gore traveled to rural Buckingham County to put the governor on the spot over Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

JS: And this is all about what one hears described as essentially environmental racism. Union Hill, a historically black community, this is where Dominion wants to build a compressor station to push all that natural gas through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The company has thrown millions of dollars, or offered to throw millions of dollars at Union Hill to strengthen community services, that includes emergency services. But this pipeline issue has been a big problem for Northam and the environmental left in the, in the Democratic Party. And now of course, there is this unsettling racial dimension, which really is bringing this back to full boil.

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

JS: See you then.

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