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Coronavirus in Virginia, GA Passes State Budget, and Redistricting: Political Analysis for Friday, March 13, 2020

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

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include Governor Northam's handling of the coronavirus in Virginia, the budget passes the General Assembly, and the fight over redistricting.

Craig Carper:  From VPM news in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper.  Joining me now from the Richmond Times-Dispatch is political columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro.  Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning.  I take it, Craig, that you are socially distancing yourself.  I'm sort of self-quarantining at this end.  Though, the problem is allergies.

Carper:  I think we're both safely bunkered down.  Jeff, this week the coronavirus hit Virginia, and it is now intersecting with state politics.

Schapiro:  And all through the week, we saw the number of confirmed cases climbing and certainly likely to continue climbing.  And in this crisis, we see the governor of Virginia, Ralph Northam, stepping up, not just as the state's chief executive, but as a physician.  Remember, he is the first physician since Colonial times to serve as governor.  It's interesting, you know.  Northam was elected in 2017 on backlash to Donald Trump, and one of the messages that the governor has been advancing in these press scrums that he has staged in recent days is that the states must do what the federal government should be doing, but isn't.  And that includes, for example, making available test kits.  They are in short supply; the state has few of them.  There are apparently discussions underway with some of the state medical schools, most notably UVA’s up in Charlottesville, about developing and distributing test kits for COVID-19.  They should be available and in circulation within a month.  Meantime, this means that with that gear in limited supply at the state level, there is an increasing reliance on the private sector for these test kits.  And of course, as I think we may have discussed in previous visits, a year ago the governor was knee-deep in that blackface escapade.  This is probably a crisis more to his liking.

Carper:  And better late than never, the legislature has adjourned five days late, voting on a budget and judicial patronage.

Schapiro:  Yes, a two-year $135 billion, I'll use that word again, behemoth.  There are pay raises for all public employees, including the state employees who were overlooked by Northam in the introduced budget.  There's more money too for education, and that includes colleges and universities, and inducements for them to hold down tuition.  By the way, if I heard a House staffer correctly during the pre-session briefing on the budget, there apparently are dollars in there for the upkeep of Confederate graveyards.  You'll remember that Governor Northam had taken them out.  But in the budget #2, that intersection of the coronavirus and politics, Senate Republicans made a push on the floor on Thursday to delay action on the budget.  Their argument, that the state needed to more fully grasp the economic consequences of the coronavirus.   Now remember, the budget was built on good news - a strong stock market, strong corporate profits.  That seems to be anything but the case these days.  And of course, this reversal in fortunes, pun intended, has been immediate.  The Democrats, who are in the majority, resisted this proposal.  They say that the budget’s $2 billion cushion, the so-called “rainy day fund”, should protect the state.  As for judicial picks, that includes a seat on the State Corporation Commission.  It appears that the House and Senate have not agreed on a replacement for Patricia West, a Republican who was, if you will, ignominiously fired, largely because she is a Republican.  The likelihood now increases that the governor would make an interim appointment to the agency that polices the Virginia corpocracy, though one would note under some of the utility legislation that was sent to the governor, not as rigorously as it once did.

Carper:  And in the waning days of session, we saw a standoff over redistricting.  This was a defeat for the new Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn.

Schapiro:  There have been huge and historic advances by this new Democratic majority - you know, post-Virginia Beach gun control, a higher minimum wage with a goal of $15 an hour, collective bargaining rights for local public employees with the consent of local government.  But many of these were Republican versus Democrat issues.  Redistricting was largely Democrat versus Democrat, and the House Democrats led by Eileen Filler-Corn, almost killed that constitutional amendment that would strip the legislature of its power to draw legislative and congressional lines.  This defeat for Eileen Filler-Corn would qualify as insider stuff and would likely not overshadow these consequential achievements by Democrats.  And now of course, this constitutional amendment, it goes to the voters; it is likely to be approved.  And that means that redistricting in 2021 is likely to be a whole new ballgame, with a panel of citizens and legislators setting boundaries.

Carper:  And Virginia senior senator Mark Warner is readying to formally announce his run for a third term with an unlikely opponent, Donald Trump.

Schapiro:  It is no secret, of course, that Warner is standing for re-election.  He is unlikely to have a credible Republican opponent, and into that vacuum steps Donald Trump.  The president becomes a big target for the senior senator from Virginia, and to some degree he already is for Warner.  You'll recall that he has been dueling with the president on national security issues and Russia's attack on the 2016 U.S. election, this of course in Warner's role as the vice-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.  And now the COVID-19 crisis and what Democrats and Republicans view as Trump's bollocksed response to it.  This is fresh ammunition for Warner.  And his 2020 kickoff, which begins next week, is likely to include frequent reminders of the president's handling of this issue.

Carper:  Thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, stay safe and keep washing those hands.

Schapiro:  And stay indoors.

Carper:  That's right.  See you next week, Jeff.

Schapiro:  Roger that.

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