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A Proposed Budget and Presidential Impeachment: Political Analysis for Friday, December 20, 2019

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between the two.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM host Phil Liles for this week's political analysis, Topics include Governor Northam's announced budget, and reaction to the vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

Phil Liles:  This is VPM News.  It's Friday, which means Jeff Schapiro, the political columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch is in studio with me, and he's here to give this week's analysis of the political news.  And good morning to you, Jeff.

Jeff Schapiro:   Good morning, Phil, Happy Christmas!

Phil:  And Happy Christmas to you.  You know with Governor Northam’s proposed budget, and there's a lot in this budget, the policy document is driven by politics.  He has an advantage of a strong economy right now, but Northam too is offering spending shaped by an elevated consciousness on race.  So there are perils for Democrats governing in fat times.  Is this budget a test for a new majority?

Schapiro:  Oh indeed and when will the Democrats, when will this new uninformed, perhaps naive Democratic majority learn to say “no”?  There are perils governing in, as you say, “fast times.”  We have a majority that's taking office at a time when there is considerable public support for its agenda.  There was a poll recently by the Wason Center down at Christopher Newport University indicating that on a number of the marquee issues advanced by Democrats support for them runs about 3-to-1.  That's new gun restrictions, fewer obstacles to voters, decriminalizing weed, depoliticizing redistricting.  And the voters are going to expect all this put in place sooner, not later.  And with all this new spending and the new taxes supporting it, the public will expect it now.  So would it have been easier for the Democrats to take power at a time when maybe resources were a bit leaner, money tighter?  That way expectations could be tempered, maybe more realistic.  And so we're going to learn, I think maybe later not sooner, how this Democratic majority learns to say “no” to its friends.  Now “yes” seems to be driving, of course, the governor's budget, two years and $135 billion.  This is a legacy budget.  It's the only one of his four-year term that he introduces, that he urges legislators to support, and then he implements it.  And what we're seeing in that, in that spending plan, a lot of substance, a lot of symbolism.  Among the substance, and to some degree symbolic, is a doubling of the state tobacco tax to 60 cents.  This is going to be paying for healthcare, continuing implementation of Obamacare in Virginia.  More fuel taxes to pay for more transportation improvements, and that increase, assuming it is approved, follows one just earlier this year for priority projects, such as I-81 out in the western part of the state.  On the symbolic side, there's a lot in here for minorities.  And this is a reminder that Northam is trying to act on that elevated consciousness of race to which you referred and that, of course, is a consequence of this blackface calamity, which continues to ripple through his tenure from back in February.  Republicans are saying, “Well, look what this all does.”  You know, more money for historically black schools.  For example, this was a good one, Ned Oliver at the Virginia Mercury spotlighted this, removing money for the maintenance of Confederate graves and using it to tidy up African American cemeteries.  Republicans are saying, “Well, you know, this does a lot for minorities, but what is it taking away from the middle class?” So for example, those tuition caps that the Republicans put in place this past year.  Also the budget drops these Trump-inspired tax give-backs.  There's a lot that the Republicans are going to be losing, but of course they don't have the votes.

Liles:  Now, the Trump impeachment vote broke along party lines and ditto within the state's congressional delegation.  What's this mean for the election ahead, particularly for Democrats in the Trump-carried districts?

Schapiro:  Of course there were two of the seven Democrats in the House delegation who were elected in 2016 from Trump-carried districts.  That’s Abigail Spanberger here in the 7th, Elaine Luria down in Hampton Roads, 2nd congressional district.  These two have been targeted by Republicans from the get-go.  Their votes for impeachment will make them even bigger targets.  Now Spanberger in particular could get a big boost out of Republican infighting.  There is a huge crowd, comparatively speaking, of candidates for the Republican nomination in the 7th, at least six.  A nice knife fight among Republicans could work to Spanberger’s advantage.  Two of those Republican candidates are members of the House of Delegates, so they will be bringing, if you will, pools of voters to this process.  John McGuire, a delegate from here in the Richmond area.  Nick Freitas, famously reelected in that write-in campaign.  He was just endorsed by Ted Cruz.

Liles:  I thank you so much, Jeff.  That's all we have time for this morning.  Unfortunately, we could go on and on and on, because you're so interesting.  But we have no more time and Happy Holidays to you!

Schapiro:  And to you.

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