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Finalize this years General Assembly legislation; Ralph Northam continues his reconciliation tour


Jeff Schapiro of the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include an approaching deadline to finalize this years General Assembly legislation, an attempt to connect state House Speaker Kirk Cox to the shooter in New Zealand, and Governor Ralph Northam continues his reconciliation tour in the wake of last month's blackface scandal.


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

JS: How are you Craig?

CC: Doing well. Happy Friday. Jeff, with less than a week to act on legislation passed by the General Assembly Governor Ralph Northam still has to sign, veto, or recommend changes to about 200 bills.

JS: The governor has until midnight Tuesday to complete his bill review. The legislature will return a week later on April 3rd to vote up or down the governor's recommended changes. He needn’t worry about the few vetoes that he has issued, roughly six. Republicans just don't have the votes to override them. We'll get back to that in a moment. The House and Senate have sent the governor 880 bills or so. This week he's been signing some of the most closely followed pieces of legislation, and that includes a measure allowing all public schools in Virginia to open before Labor Day. That reverses a prohibition that was put in place more than three decades ago by Democrats. It was a bow to the business interests in this state, primarily the tourism and hospitality businesses that were worried about losing their young employees before that last Labor Day push. The legislator who carried this bill at the time, a guy by the name of Al Smith, last Democrat to represent the Winchester area by the way, said it was important that Democrats support this. That business was depending on Democrats’ support, and that Democrats should, as he put it, lean to the green. Governor Northam also signed legislation authorizing the cleanup of coal ash at Dominion plants in the Richmond area, Hampton Roads and Northern Virginia. Coal ash is of course a byproduct, a toxic byproduct of burnt coal. A good deal of this cleanup is going to be paid for by Dominion's customers. That was something on which the utility insisted. The governor also signed legislation cutting taxes on feminine hygiene products and strengthening insurance coverage for autistic children. And back to vetoes - the governor’s latest includes one creating a carve-out that allows a sale of switchblade knives. The Republicans who sponsored that bill, by the way, said it was an economic development measure. That it was all about protecting jobs for a Charlottesville area company that actually makes these knives.

CC: And in a controversial fundraising appeal, Henrico Democrats linked Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox to the alleged shooter in the mass slaying at two mosques in New Zealand.

JS: Both parties were yelling “foul” over this, and the Henrico Democratic Committee took down this online appeal. The Democrats paired an eight year old photograph of Cox in which he appears to be flashing “okay” with his right hand, pairing that with a snapshot of the suspected gunman doing the same. However, in the case of this suspect, an avowed racist, the gesture has been interpreted as a hand sign for white supremacy. Now, this is not the first “thick” appeal ever in Virginia politics. I'm reminded of one in particular, I'm dating myself, that I covered back in 1981 when in behalf of the Republican candidate for governor that year, an ad the union organization sent out, a direct mail piece that was thick with fictional headlines, warning of labor violence in the coal fields. Labor, of course, is a greatly diminished quantity in Virginia these days, as of course are the coal fields. But these appeals are largely intended to stir up the true believers, the base. And that's clearly who Democrats had in mind with this. That though presumably worries someone like Kirk Cox, and that's because with his seat having been redrawn by a federal court in this continuing kerfuffle over redistricting and hyper-partisan gerrymandering, Cox may be standing for reelection in a district with a Democratic performance that has been dialed up by 32 percentage points, so one could presumably understand the speaker’s concerns.

CC: And spurred by the blackface scandal, this week Governor Ralph Northam’s reconciliation tour took him to Danville where he met with African American leaders.

JS: And asked, the governor is saying he is doing more listening than talking, and that he has a lot to learn. This meeting was supposed to be closed to the press, but a reporter for the Danville Register and Bee, Halle Parker, a former Times-Dispatch intern, got in. According to her account, much of the conversation focused on education funding. Northam has been holding a number of private meetings as well in Richmond and elsewhere, and he's been talking to a lot of people around the country. Remember now, it's almost two months since a conservative website reported that a racist photograph, it appeared on Northam’s page on his medical school yearbook in 1984. That was the same year he admitted to wearing blackface while imitating Michael Jackson at a dance competition in Texas. And of course everyone in his Party, certainly everyone who holds elective office, has been demanding Northam’s resignation because of this. He is standing firm.

CC: And the clock is running out on a self-imposed deadline by former Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe on whether he'll run for president in 2020.

JS: The makar tells us he'll make up his mind, and he will make an announcement by March 31 st. The governor, the former governor, has been traveling the country. This week he was in South Carolina. It holds the first primaries in the south. McAuliffe met with Democratic legislators at the state capitol in Colombia talking about Virginia’s shift from red to purple to blue, or maybe more to the point, blueish. McAuliffe also met with students at historically black Allen University, and some in the donor class as well. The conventional wisdom, for what it is worth, is that McAuliffe won't run if, as expected, Joe Biden does. And that's because Biden, as a former vice-president, is seen as having far broader centrist appeal than McAuliffe, and the makar believes he has a lot.

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

JS: Looking forward to it.

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