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Gun Control, Democratic Leadership, and Legislation for the Upcoming Session: Political Analysis for Friday, November 22, 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 gun control, Democratic leadership in the General Assembly, and potential legislation for the upcoming session.

Phil Liles:  This is VPM News, and with this week's analysis of all political news Craig Carper, VPM News Director in studio, as well as Jeff Schapiro, columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.   And with Democrats readying to push gun control, gun rights groups are pushing back, Craig.

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

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning.

Carper:  Over the past seven days, we have seen a handful of rural counties, including one in our area, declaring themselves so-called Second Amendment sanctuaries.  Jeff, what's going on?

Schapiro:  We have been seeing this around the country, largely a response to growing demands for tougher gun restrictions.  Sensitivities of course have been elevated in Virginia, most recently because of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.  We have at least nine counties, nine rural counties that have adopted this distinction: Lee County, Charlotte County, Campbell, Carroll, Appomattox, Patrick, Pittsylvania, Dinwiddie, and Giles.  Among the entities pushing for this distinction is the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL).  The sense is that these declarations are more symbolic, than substantive.  Of course VPM’s Ben Paviour carried a report earlier in the week quoting constitutional experts as suggesting that somehow this ushers in a legal limbo.  The Attorney General Mark Herring, a strong gun control Democrat, says that localities are expected to enforce the laws, even those laws that they oppose.  Phil Van Cleave of the VCDL, the ever-quotable Phil Van Cleave [laughing], told the Virginia Mercury that he's not so sure about that.  His words, “You're not required to obey an unconstitutional law.”

Carper:  We’ll see what the courts say.  Senate Democrats rolled out their leadership lineup this week including Dick Saslaw, who is back as majority leader . . .

Schapiro:  The third time.

Carper:   . . . for the third time.  Yes, and Mamie Locke, who is sticking around as Democratic Caucus Chairwoman, as well as Louise Lucas, now president pro tempore.  This is a historic, historic role for Lucas.

Schapiro:  Yes, the first woman, first African American to hold this position.  There's a lot more prestige to that position than actual, if you will, responsibility.  The pro tempore is the fill in presiding officer when the lieutenant governor, the presiding officer of the Senate is not at his or, perhaps one day, her post.  Saslaw again, third time's the charm.  And the reason I say that, of course, this is a tenure that will parallel redistricting.  In 2021 we're still not sure who's going to be responsible for redistricting, but one would assume that Dick Saslaw would like a map that perpetuates Democratic control of the Senate well into the next decade.  The Republicans late yesterday rolled out their lineup - no changes.  Tommy Norment, soon to be former majority leader, now future minority leader, a position he's held previously.   Ryan McDougle, chairman of the caucus #2.  There has been a bit of a kerfuffle within the Republican Caucus over this.  Amanda Chase . . .

Carper:  I understand someone was upset [laughing].

Schapiro:  Yes, Amanda Chase from here in Chesterfield, who has a difficult relationship with Tommy Norment announced that she's going to be quitting the caucus in protest to Norment’s installation as minority leader.  We will see what this means.  It might raise some questions regarding committee assignments.  A spanner in the works.  The Republicans seemed to anticipate this when it was announced last night who would be doing what.  Removed from the letterhead of the Republican Caucus was the name of Amanda Chase.

Carper:  Right, and Democrats are laying out their legislative priorities, including bills to allow no-excuse absentee voting, imposing universal background checks, protections for LGBTQ Virginians, and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment.

Schapiro:  And we should expect more:  a $15 minimum wage, freeing local governments to be able to take down those Confederate monuments, as we discussed last week over on Sesame Street.  Though this legislation is likely, in the City of Richmond, for example, there will still be considerable debate over whether these statues should stand.  Republicans look at all of this as early signs of Democratic overreach.  Of course, speaking of overreach, the Republicans have been kind of chattering among themselves over the possibility of coming back to Richmond to elect some judges, including one to the Court of Appeals.  It does not appear that that's going to occur.  There are a lot of Republicans who aren't interested in coming back to town, and one might argue that the Republicans have had their share of difficulties and embarrassments, certainly, coming off of this election, and this would seem a desperate last minute grab to continue packing the courts with their own people.

Carper:  Jeff, about 30 seconds left and there's one issue in 2020 over which there is a big question mark, that being redistricting.

Schapiro:  We have not heard anything affirmative from the Democrats regarding this proposed constitutional amendment that would strip the legislature of its power to draw boundaries and turn it over to an independent commission.  A lot of people are wondering whether the Democrats are getting cold feet, worried that this scheme would ultimately allow a Republican-controlled Supreme Court to draw the boundaries.  One could understand why the Democrats are nervous. 

Carper:  Quoting Dick Saslaw about a decade ago on redistricting, “To the victor goes the spoils.”

Schapiro:  Roger that.

Carper:  [laughing] Thanks, Jeff.  We'll talk soon.

Schapiro:  Good holiday to you.

Carper:  Thank you.