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Northam's Budget, Cannabis Summit, and the Post-Election GOP Summit: Political Analysis for Friday, December 13, 2019

Illustration of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM morning host Phil Liles for this weeks political analysis. Topics include Governor Northam unveils his budget ahead of the General Assembly session, Mark Herring convenes a cannabis summit, and Republicans hold their post-election conference.

Phil Liles:  This is VPM News 88.9.  I'm Phil Liles in studio with Jeff Schapiro columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and Jeff is here to analyze this week's news.  Jeff, Governor Northam playing Santa Claus is handing out millions of dollars in proposed goodies.  Wish he was handing it to me.

Jeff Schapiro:   Joyeux Noel [laughing].  The governor will be making a presentation to the money committees on Tuesday.  This will be his budget for the two years head, and he is pitching in advance of that presentation high dollar investments in education, healthcare, and the environment, among other programs.  This pre-yule good cheer is SOP (standard operating procedure) for Virginia governors.  It's about generating attention and public support, and governors have been doing this pretty much non-stop since the early 1990’s when the legislature insisted the governor advance his budget about a month before the legislature convened.  Anyway, taking advantage of this time and the headlines and what do we have?  The governor wants to spend $733 million on the environment.  That would include money for the continuing cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay.  There's $22 million to expand healthcare for new mothers and infants.  Another one and this has to do with workforce development, a big priority of the administration, free community college for low- and middle-income students going into so-called high demand fields, education, healthcare, the crafts, trades, public safety.  That's about $145 million in public spending.  $270 million dollars for public schools.  That would include fatter pay raises for teachers.  $95 million for expanded pre-K.   This is all important, this Northam budget, because this is Northam’s budget.  This is going to be the only two-year plan of his four-year term that he puts together and he puts in place, and so this becomes the fiscal foundation, if you will, for the governor's legacy.

Liles:  Now, Attorney General Mark Herring plays host to what he called the “Cannabis Summit.”  I mean, do you think this is leading us towards legalizing marijuana, at least small amounts?

Schapiro:  The attorney general is interested in making marijuana legal for recreational use much as alcohol is.  This has a big political dimension, perhaps a signal that the attorney general who has his share of difficulties is trying to jumpstart his ambitions for governor.  He held this conference, and this conference might have seemed unthinkable not too long ago in a state certainly with a law and order tradition, but the times, they are a changin’.  The attorney general says that, for among other reasons, pot should be available for recreational use, because right now the law has a disproportionate and negative impact on people of color.  People, you know, frequently those who will run afoul of the law.  Now this push on pot would seem an overture to minority voters, to young voters, both important elements of the Democratic coalition.  Of course, Herring has declared for the Democratic nomination for governor, but he's got a problem - his own blackface scandal.  So maybe this is a chance to get things back on track.

Liles:  Now Republicans spent last weekend in the woods looking for a way out of the political wilderness.

Schapiro:  Ouch [laughing].  The Republicans had their annual post-election conference this year up at the Homestead in Bath County, very red Bath County by the way.  It was not a particularly happy affair, given the Republican defeats in November, the losses of the House and the Senate.   These were the last redoubts of power for the Republican Party in Virginia.  Of course, the legislature was controlled most of the past two decades by the Republicans, a brief Democratic hiatus in the Senate, and that was a consequence of pushback to Barack Obama.  Now, Republicans are out of power largely because of a different president, Donald Trump, deeply unpopular with white suburbanites, especially women, the so called New Virginians, Asians and Hispanics, as well as African Americans.  These are of course influential elements of the electorate.  The Republicans are trying to figure out how to get in good with them.  It is a tall order, given the pigeonholing effect of gerrymandering, largely carried out, of course, by the Republicans.  They are forced well to the right, some considerable distance, if you will, from the Democrats and Independents who dominate the electorate.  Republicans said this could get worse, and with redistricting ahead, it certainly could.

Liles:  I thank you so much, Jeff, for coming in again this week and keeping us abreast of what's happening in the news during the week and analyzing that for us.

Schapiro:  Good weekend to you.

Liles:  This is VPM News 88.9.