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New Democratic Leadership, Republicans Contemplate New Roles: Political Analysis for Friday, November 15, 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 new Democratic leadership in the General Assembly, and Republicans prepare to be the minority.

Phil Liles:  In studio with me right now is Craig Carper, our VPM News Director along with Jeff Schapiro, columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch for their analysis of what's happening this past week. And for both of you looking for a post-election reminder of big changes at the Virginia legislature, look no further than the House of Delegates which will have its first female speaker, as well as many other things happening this week, Craig.

Craig Carper:  That's right.  Thanks, Phil.  Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax County was selected this past weekend by the House Democratic Caucus, turning back three challengers, Jeff, from a junior member, another member who served a medium term in the House of Delegates, and then the House’s longest serving member.  Good morning. [laughing]

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning.  Eileen Filler-Corn is, shall we say, a young woman in a hurry, if one can say that, if it's not deemed politically incorrect.  She has only been in the House 10 years.  The first woman, the first Jew to serve as speaker, the 55 member Democratic Caucus elected her on the first ballot.  This was apparently not even close.  We are told there was a brief, fairly intense and deeply inside campaign for this position, and that’s very much a reminder of the tensions that shape the Democratic majority, the new Democratic majority in the General Assembly.  Filler-Corn is very much an establishment, “large D” Democrat, socially progressive, business friendly.  Her principal competition was a member of the ascendant liberal wing, Lashrecse Aird from Petersburg.  Shall we say, very progressive on social issues and very suspicious of the business class.  She was heavily bankrolled by Mike Bills. He's that green billionaire up in Charlottesville, and he has been stroking big checks to Democrats who have sworn off big dollars from Dominion Energy.  It's interesting how the company is often depicted as a bully down at the Assembly.  I'm wondering if people might ask the same question about Bills, given the demands he's making of Democrats about how the legislature should deal with Dominion and the electric utility business.  Filler-Corn, of course, an emblem of Northern Virginia’s lopsided influence in the legislature, is also a symbol of the growing cloud of women.  There will be 41 women in the legislature when it convenes in January.  There are also several women running for governor, members of both parties. 

Carper:  I believe that's an all-time record.  Filler-Corn has announced the first round of House committee chairmanships as well, and they are historic too.

Schapiro:  Three African Americans and three women leading several important committees: Appropriations - the budget writing committee, Finance - the tax writing and tax cutting committee, the Education Committee, and Commerce and Labor - Gucci Gulch, if you will.  This is the very business-oriented committee.   Luke Torian at Appropriations, African American from Prince William County, Vivian Watts, from Fairfax over at Finance.  She's one of two Democrats who remember what it was like to serve in the majority.  The other of course was Ken Plum, also defeated for speaker.  Jeion Ward, African American woman from Hampton, leading Commerce and Labor.  This is a committee, of course, with a long tradition of accommodating business, often at the expense of workers.  And of course Ward is from a city with, shall we say, an industrial tradition, next door, of course, to Newport News, that giant shipyard which employs many of Ward's constituents.  At Education is Roslyn Tyler, African American woman from rural Sussex County.  That is clearly a symbolic appointment in one respect.  Rural Virginia relies very heavily on the largess of Richmond to support its schools.  But one must emphasize that it is Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committee which control the cash levers of government, which also determine really how much money public education receives.

Carper:  And Jeff, what are Republicans doing now that they have been relegated to the wilderness?

Schapiro:  Apparently fussing among themselves.  They're going to be meeting this Sunday in the Richmond offices of McGuire, Woods, the legal and lobbying behemoth we refer to of course as the shadow government.  It's been very productive under Republican, during the Republican regime.  The House Republicans will have to select their minority leader.  Todd Gilbert, the majority leader is standing for that office.  He has some competition in Terry Kilgore from Scott County.  He's the chairman of the Commerce and Labor Committee.  I think the betting seems to be that that Gilbert is going to remain the Leader.  There's a third position in the leadership hierarchy.  Tim Hugo was defeated for caucus chair, so that position needs to be filled.  Actually it’s only two positions in the minority leadership.  Kirk Cox, the now soon to be former speaker, says he's not interested in the leadership job.  He's just going to go sit in the well with everyone else.  One wonders if he will do as Tom Moss did, a former Democratic speaker who was toppled when the Republicans took over.  Perhaps Cox will complete his term and in two years wander off.

Carper:  And surprise!  Not really - the General Assembly will not be returning to Richmond to consider gun control legislation later this month.

Schapiro:  This week the Crime Commission, to which the Republicans have referred all of these gun bills that had been introduced ahead of that special session on firearms, issued of all things a three-page report, clearly not in-depth or comprehensive, making no recommendations and saying that ultimately gun control legislation is a political decision.  So we have that development and the announcement that there would not be a reconvened special session, if you will.  This speaks to one big headache for the Republicans, that the public realized that the Republicans had no intention of doing anything on guns, that it intended to accommodate the gun rights lobby, most notably the NRA.  The Republicans were betting their majorities would survive the election, that the pro-gun environment would survive because of the standoff in state government with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature.  I think one can suggest that the line from Hamlet might apply here, were the Republicans “hoisted with their own petard”?

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

Schapiro:  See you then.