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Work Requirement Rollback, Gun Control, and Racial Equity: Political Analysis for Friday, December 6, 2019

Cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM’s Phil Liles for this week’s political analysis.  Topics include the work Democrats are doing in advance of the General Assembly session, rolling back a work requirement for Medicaid, gun control measures, and a push for racial equity.

Phil Liles:  And good morning.  This is VPM News, and in studio with me now is Jeff Schapiro, columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, as he is every Friday.  And he's here to analyze the week in news.  And, Jeff, the Democrats won't have total control of Virginia’s government until January, but they're moving forward now on such issues such as health care, guns, redistricting and racial equity.  Now, the governor is making it easier to get health coverage under Medicaid expansion, and Republicans don't like it.

Jeff Schapiro:  The governor announced this week that he, in effect, is scrapping the work-for-benefits requirement.  And of course, this was a condition for Republican support of Medicaid expansion in 2018.  The governor's retreat on this is, well, shall we say has Republicans steamed.  The Speaker of the House, the departing Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, who negotiated that requirement, is none too pleased.  The co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Emmett Hanger, also not very happy over all of this. And one wonders, might this be a talking point this weekend at the Republican’s post-election conference this year up at the Homestead, where they're going to be doing some wound licking and wondering aloud how they get back in the game.  But back to the Medicaid question.  The administration had been negotiating with the federal government over this provision, and the Trump administration indicated that it was really not too impressed with the Virginia scheme.  Northam continued talks, then pulled out.  There were a couple of concerns, among them the administrative costs of the work-for-benefits feature, but also that the Democrats are now back in charge of the legislature, both sides, House and Senate.  And of course, we talked about this very possibility, scrapping the work-for-benefits requirement the morning after the election, so no surprise here.

Liles:  Well, the Democrats finally pushing back on Republican-led gun sanctuary movement and still lots going on in Virginia Beach after their shooting there, but it doesn't seem to transfer to the people that are still in support of their weapons.

Schapiro:  Right, the gun sanctuary movement is largely concentrated in the very Republican countryside.  There are now more than 40 counties, cities and towns that have gone on record in saying that they will not enforce these anticipated restrictions that they may interpret as excessive or overbearing.  Now the Democrats are beginning to push back, because of course, they are promising more restrictions as a consequence, not only of the Virginia Beach mass slaying, but the Virginia Tech mass slaying some years ago.  In interviews over the past day or so with the incoming House Democratic Majority Leader, Charniele Herring has warned sheriffs to enforce these laws.  And the Attorney General Mark Herring, no relation, who has been asked for an official opinion on the notion of selective enforcement has made clear that these resolutions adopted by these governing bodies have no legal foundation.  By the way, the pro-gun forces to some degree are relying on some of the same specious legal theories on which Virginia resisted school desegregation in the 50’s and 60’s.

Liles:  And the push for racial equity requires legal archaeology.

Schapiro:  Yes, Governor Northam, of course, appointed this commission to look at state law, at state regulations, the files of the legislature, House and Senate, to identify provisions, amendments, laws, codes, restrictions, regulations, what have you, that were racial in their intent.  Many of these provisions have been junked by legal decree or sort of overtaken by events, but they remain on the books.  This commission is identifying them.  The administration wants the legislature to go through the process of removing them.  It is an important, so the governor tells us, albeit symbolic gesture.  But it is also another postscript to the blackface scandal that nearly sunk the Northam governorship earlier this year.

Liles:  And with just less than a minute, Jeff, it appears Democrats are on board with redistricting reform after hinting at a possible retreat after the November election.

Schapiro:  We've discussed, of course, on occasion, that with complete power perhaps the Democrats reform impulse on, among other issues, redistricting might fade.  The governor indicated that he supports independent redistricting; the Senate Democratic leader indicates that he supports it.  And yesterday, Ms. Herring, the majority leader, the incoming majority leader indicated that she would support this.  There had been some jitters, particularly within the African American Caucus, over this.  As Herring, herself an African American, has made clear that some of these concerns can be addressed.  So it looks like there's going to be an affirmative vote, and that the voters will get a chance to weigh in on this constitutional amendment in 2020, and redistricting will change and dramatically in 2021.

Liles:  Jeff, I thank you so much for coming in again today.  And this is VPM news.