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Political Analysis for Friday, March 8, 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 string of retirements among Republican state legislators, public appearances from both Governor Northam and Attorney General Herring following the blackface scandals from last month, and potential statehood for Washington D.C.

CC: From WCVE News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper. Joining me now is political columnist and WCVE’s political analyst, Jeff Shapiro. Jeff, good morning.

JS: Hi there, Craig.

CC: Jeff, all of a sudden we are seeing a lot of Republicans announcing retirements. This is surprising because they were feeling momentum post-scandal.

JS: And of course that blackface scandal in the eyes of Republicans was going to diminish Democratic enthusiasm in these make-or-break legislative elections in November and drive up Republican enthusiasm. That said, everyone seems to be racing to the exits. Now, three Republicans announced this past week that they are departing - Frank Wagner, a Republican senator from Virginia Beach, Bill Carrico, a Republican senator from Grayson County in southwest Virginia, and on the House side, Steve Landis, who's the Chairman of the House Education Committee and is one of the budget writers. The Wagner seat is one of about a half-dozen that has been trending Democratic, carried by statewide Democratic candidates, including Ralph Northam, Hillary Clinton, and Tim Kaine. This is all very encouraging to Democrats, but of course running in a low-turnout legislative election year is a very different exercise, and those trends notwithstanding, Democrats presumably are going to need some quality candidates. Now there are two that have announced for the Waggoner seat, but it's safe to say that both of them are distinguished by their inexperience. The Republicans may have a really logical pick for that seat. Chris Stolle, who is a Republican delegate from the City of Virginia Beach in the House, if he were to run and were he to win, he would be potentially seated in the Senate with his sister, Siobhan Dunnavant, but she representing the Henrico County area here in the Richmond region is also holding one of those Democrat-trending seats, and she is among the candidates targeted by the Democrats. Landis seems to be running for the big bucks. He has announced that he wants to run for a court administrator. The official title is Clerk of the Circuit Court. He would have to win this seat, but presumably he has the advantage of name recognition, and we assume a relatively robust treasurer. This position pays about $140,000 a year. It's quite an increase from the roughly $18,000 he's making as a member of the House of Delegates. But the big payday comes when one retires, and under the state retirement system your benefit is driven by an employee's three highest salary years, and $140,000 a year over three years makes for much fatter benefits than roughly $18,000 a year over three years.

CC: And just over a month into the blackface scandal, Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring emerged this week from self-imposed protective custody.

JS: The governor was at an Ag conference here in Richmond. He was welcomed to a standing ovation, and what a change, what a relief that must have been for him, given the pounding he's taken over the past month. Northam did not take questions from reporters and stuck with his script, which was talking about global trade and its importance to Virginia farmers. Those raising soybeans have been locked out of the big China market because of this tariff war between Beijing and the Trump White House. Mark Herring was on a radio show in Washington, D.C. Remember he outed himself saying that he’d attended a party at UVA disguised as a, as a rapper or masquerading as a rapper that included blackface. He said it was all a misguided attempt at fun, and he's sorry to have done such a hurtful thing. And he's going to be spending the next years of his term and presumably as a candidate for governor making up for this transgression. He tried to explain somewhat awkwardly why he insists Northam should still resign. It had to do with the, “Yes, I did. No, I didn't. Yes, I did. No, I didn't.” attempt by the governor to explain his situation. But Herring danced around whether he should resign essentially for doing the same thing, and a couple of listeners tried to call him out on that, Republicans looking for a chance to have at least some fun at the Democrats’ expense and maybe get the grass roots a little bit more invigorated. They are now offering a $1,000 reward for someone who can come up with a photograph of Herring in blackface.

CC: And what a difference a few decades makes. All nine Democrats and the Virginia congressional delegation are endorsing statehood for Washington, D.C.

JS: And while that is very much, very much a long shot still, particularly because of the divided Congress - Democrats in control of the House, Republicans in control of the Senate - it was an article of faith for a politician, regardless of party in Virginia, to oppose statehood. The big fear was a commuter tax - how all of these suburbanites who were driving into the District for jobs would be milked by the District. There is a racial dimension to this, of course. Four decades ago when this was very much a hot button issue in Virginia politics, the district was 70% African American. It is still majority minority, but African Americans are in the plurality. But that it is a more diverse setting is a reflection really of the larger Washington region. That, I think, is contributing to the Democrats’ comfort with this. Also, because jobs continue to grow in the suburbs, and as they grow, more and more people are commuting to jobs in the suburbs rather than into the District. And that means a lot of that money is going to stay right where it's earned, further undercutting the likelihood of some type of a commuter tax, which is actually technically illegal. Republicans remained adamant against statehood for purposes of arithmetic. The District is one of the most reliably Democratic places on the planet and would likely send two Democrats to the Senate and another Democrat to the House of Representatives.

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

JS: Have a good weekend.

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