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A New Diversity Officer, Fairfax Sues CBS And UVA Health System Under Fire: Political Analysis | September 13, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins WCVE's Phil Liles for this week's political analysis. Topics include Northam's hiring of Virginia's first diversity officer, Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax's lawsuit against CBS, and controversy over UVA Health System's collection efforts.

PL:  This is VPM news, and it's Friday morning.  My guest in studio is Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist, Jeff Schapiro, with this week’s commentary, and good morning to you, Jeff.

JS:  Hello again, Phil.  We have got to stop meeting like this.

PL:  I know, but it's so much fun.  Governor Ralph Northam makes a promised high-level appointment by selecting the state's first diversity officer.  Let's just elaborate on that for the week.

JS:  And let's also note that today is Governor Northam 's 60th birthday.

PL:  Happy birthday, yes. 

JS:  Best wishes, many happy returns of the day.  The governor's pick is Janice Underwood.  She currently serves as a diversity officer, the chief diversity officer at Old Dominion University in Norfolk.  Her job is to tell Northam when and where a state government is or more likely is not being sensitive to racial, ethnic, cultural minorities, and that it should take steps or recommend, she can recommend steps that the state could take to be more sensitive.  She has a fairly broad portfolio.  Her position is cabinet level, and the salary will be commensurate with a cabinet secretary, six figures.  This is the latest step by the governor trying to transform an embarrassment, that blackface calamity, into a teachable moment for himself, his administration.  The state, Ms. Underwood put it at the news conference the other day in which she was announced, these are her words of the governor, “He hasn't always gotten it right, but he's willing to learn and do the work.”  The governor's taken other steps we've talked about those during our Friday visits.  It's interesting that this announcement takes place several days after the death of an interesting figure in, in academe and to a lesser degree, politics.  Ed Peeples who was a professor at  VCU, a white liberal who worked across the south during those early days of desegregation when a lot of white liberals weren't doing that sort of thing.  He wrote a memoir called Scalawag.  He was proud of that title because he's said it sort of captured his spirit, that of the white southerner who collaborated with northerners during reconstruction when former slaves were first tasting freedom.

PL:  And Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax in the news right now for filing a $400 million defamation suit against CBS News, and he's alleging they broadcast false allegations by two women that he sexually assaulted them.

JS:  Ah yes, and in doing so he manages to keep alive the allegations, allegations he has repeatedly denied, but seem likely to have finished him off politically.  Remember in the immediate hours following Northam 's blackface scandal, it looked as if Northam might resign and elevate Fairfax to the governorship, and that would have been a remarkable rise.  You know, no one had heard of Fairfax when he first tried to break into politics in 2013 running for attorney general.  And then when it just happened to seem that he was close to reaching the governorship, “boom,” these allegations of sexual assault.  The lieutenant governor is arguing that these allegations are false, that CBS failed to test their veracity and went about and broadcast them.  Otherwise, CBS says it's going to defend itself vigorously. And remember in defamation actions and libel actions, as well, against news organizations, these are very tough to carry out for plaintiffs because the threshold for proving defamation or liable can be very high.

PL:  Now, this has been a busy, busy week in the news.  The University of Virginia Hospital is addressing claims reported in the Washington Post that it's too aggressive in collecting overdue bills.

JS:  Yeah, and talk about motivation by humiliation or what appears to have been asked for by the hospital, which is a sprawling entity up in Charlottesville and a major economic force for the university and the area.  It is now backing off on at least a 14 debt collection lawsuits.  The allegations in that Post story included people losing their homes because the university hospital had been so aggressive in collecting these unpaid bills.  Also the director of that hospital is leaving.  The university says that is strictly a coincidence, heading up to a bigger job in New York.  This issue, this controversy clearly underscores healthcare as a big issue in this legislative cycle.  And one wonders if the Democrats are in charge of the legislature come January, if there might be a legislative response to this.

PL:  Can we quickly just address that Virginia is enjoining the possible settlement with Purdue Pharma?

JS:  Yes, and this is Mark Herring's way of trying to maintain his, his own profile.  He has revised his suit against the, the folks at Purdue Pharma and the family in particular that controls it.  And this is a reminder that Herring has never been shy about jumping into these national issues.  It's all about fashioning an image as a defender of the little guy.  He hopes that this is something that will make it easier for him to run for governor.  He is an announced candidate, but sort of damaged goods.  He has a black face calamity to answer for himself.

PL:  And I thank you, Jeff.  That's all the time we have for today.  Craig Carper will be back next Friday along with Jeff Schapiro.  This is VPM news.

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