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Democrats Take Control and Voters Turn Out: Political Analysis for Friday, November 8, 2019

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Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly, selection of party leadership, and voter turnout.

Phil Liles:  This is VPM News, and with this week's commentary, as it happens every Friday, Craig Carper, VPM News Director and Jeff Shapiro, columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Now gentlemen, Governor Northam, looking to a Democratic majority in the General Assembly in January symbolically hits the reset button on an administration nearly derailed in February.

Craig Carper:  That's right.  That's right.  Thanks, Phil.  Good morning, Jeff.

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning.

Carper:  Just 48 hours ago, we were sitting here chatting and then shortly thereafter went off to see this incredibly on-message, scripted cabinet meeting with every member of the staff listing priorities that seem a lot more achievable than they did a week ago.

Schapiro:  And that is true.  And, the cabinet secretary is listing their priorities, really the governor's priorities, for the legislative session ahead, one in which there will be a Democratic majority.  But one should note that the, the theater of all of this was peculiar, and it was really somewhat un-Northam-like.  He's a fairly understated modest fellow, as we know.  He's not one for praise, but there was a lot of that.  And that session seemed to recall that meeting of the Trump cabinet in which his cabinet secretaries, taking their turns, expressed fealty to the dear leader.  I think there was a bit of that the other day, and I think a lot of people, even folks close to the governor scratched their heads over that one.  But as far as the issue agenda, it was a laundry list that we heard from the governor and the secretaries, and of course many of these initiatives, now clearly initiatives, had been thwarted by Republicans over the nearly two decades in which they controlled the General Assembly.  So there's gun control of course.  That was given greater urgency because of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach and the Republicans’ refusal to do anything about guns during that special session that the governor called in July that lasted, I'm told, 93 minutes.  We said 90, but apparently it was 93 minutes.  Focus of course on health care, and that is code for getting rid of abortion restrictions, also to fully implementing the Medicaid expansion put in place by this administration in league with a divided legislature in 2018.  The governor also wants to make permanent that ban on revoking driver's licenses of people who haven't paid fines and fees.  The list goes on: transportation improvement, job training, workforce development, expanded pre-K, decriminalizing marijuana, and racial equity.  A big, big concern, certainly following the blackface scandal that had a lot of us thinking Ralph Northam would be left for dead in February.  And here he is now clearly at the top of his game.  What we didn't hear a lot about, Craig, was the stuff that is all about overreach by this new Democratic, this new left-leaning Democratic majority.  And that would include restoring the oversight powers of the State Corporation Commission.  Of course, the legislature dutifully bowed to Dominion Energy and unmanned the commission, several times sharply eliminating its regulatory power.  Of course, the company's position is it shouldn't be regulated by regulators.  It should be regulated by the marketplace.

Carper:  Right, and this overreach you speak of could be a key factor in this election of the legislature's new Democratic leadership.  The Senate looks fairly clear.  What's going to happen in the House, a bit of a question mark.

Schapiro:  Yeah, Dick Saslaw, the minority leader in the Senate becomes the majority leader in the Senate.  Now, Janet Howell will run the Finance Committee, the first woman in the Senate to do so.  Not clear what's going to happen on the House side though.  Eileen Filler-Corn, the minority leader is the current favorite.  She raised a lot of money, about 1 million bucks, worked hard and diligently to elect Democrats.  She would be Virginia's first female speaker.  She too is from Fairfax.  Get the picture here that Northern Virginia, which pretty much dominates the place, will dominate it even more.  But there are other candidates for speaker.  We talked about this the other day.  One of whom may have a fairly decent fallback position, Luke Torian, African American from Northern Virginia.  There it is again.  He could very well be the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, first minority to do so.  One should note the Republicans are somewhat divided as well.  It looks like there's going to be a bit of a contest for Republican minority leader between the current majority leader, Todd Gilbert, that man-mountain who thrives on being clever and intimidating, and Terry Kilgore, chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee, a more a transactional-oriented Republican.  We don't know what's going to happen to Tommy Norment over on the Senate.  There is some feeling that he would become the minority leader, but one hears, shall we say, alternatives.

Carper:  Right, turnout was the name or the word of the day.  A big blue wave in 2017 is one thing in a gubernatorial year, a state legislative wave with numbers like this is quite another.

Schapiro:  You know overall there was an 11 percentage point spike in turnout from 29% in 2015, the last time the House and Senate was simultaneously decided.  This year it was 40%.  You know, this is not a figure I think one should look on gingerly, because these are local elections.  And in some of these local elections, the turnouts truly were impressive.  And there's where our folk, our friends at VPAP come in.  They note that the biggest spike was in the Richmond area.  Not surprising.  That's where these seats, these Senate seats tipped control of the Senate.  Turnout in the Sturtevant-Hashmi race was 53%.  It was about as high next door in the Henrico/Hanover seat that was held by Republicans.  

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

Schapiro:  Roger that.