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Statues Fall, Juneteeth to Become State Holiday, and Riggleman Loses Reelection Bid: Political Analysis for Friday, June 19, 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 the toppling of Confederate statues, Governor Northam's move to make Juneteenth a state holiday, and Denver Riggleman loss in his bid for re-election.

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

Jeff Schapiro: Hi there, Craig.

Carper: Jeff, it's been nearly three weeks now of George Floyd protests in Richmond and across the state with literal and figurative symbols falling almost daily.

Schapiro: That's right. Three Confederate statues went down in Richmond, pulled down by protestors. There's a likeness, too, of Christopher Columbus. That makes it four statutes overall. Nevermind that that Columbus statue was a statement against anti-Catholic bigotry in the 1920’s, a point that has apparently been lost over the 92 years that statue has been standing in Richmond's Byrd Park. The fight over removing state-owned Robert E. Lee from Monument Avenue has moved from the streets to the courthouse. An injunction that blocked Governor Northam from ordering the removal of that statute has now been extended indefinitely. One would observe perhaps extending to the monument’s distinction as a battle zone. As far as those figurative symbols go, one in particular, Richmond's police chief Will Smith has been fired by an election-conscious mayor, Levar Stoney. This followed another burst of police violence against demonstrators, this time outside police headquarters, a short distance from the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Stoney, of course, is facing reelection. He'll have at least three opponents. He's taking a lot of heat over his management of the police. Demonstrators say the cops are out of control. Business owners say the cops aren't doing enough. The mayor is attempting to counter all of this, by among other things, endorsing citizen oversight of the police. Now that is not satisfying protestors. They marched on the mayor's apartment building this week, invading the lobby, vandalizing the façade.

Carper: And another gesture of racial reconciliation by Governor Ralph Northam this week, this tied perhaps to his own painful experience, as well as the protests in the streets.

Schapiro: The day in 1865 in which American slaves learned of their emancipation will become a state holiday. This is known as Juneteenth; that's June 19th, today. The governor issued an order providing this day off for executive branch workers. He's going to ask the legislature to make it a state law. Virginia would become the second state after Texas to establish Juneteenth as an official holiday. Even the House Republican Leader, Todd Gilbert, is going along with this idea. That might seem something of a first, given that Republicans are ordinarily reliably resistant to many of the powerfully symbolic initiatives of this new Democratic majority. Of course, the Republicans, many of them went along backing Northam on Medicaid expansion in 2018, but since then the Republican minority has been pushing back. That includes opposing criminal justice overall. The Republicans are now saying that they'll have their own George Floyd associated reforms on policing when the legislature returns in August. You know, even the Republicans can read polls, and they show from at least 50,000 feet that the public is alarmed over what's been happening and the equity issues raised by it.

Carper: And another congressional Republican in Virginia is denied renomination, deemed insufficiently conservative by the grassroots.

Schapiro: Ah, yes, the latest casualty, this time in a thinly attended drive-through convention because of the coronavirus is Denver Riggleman, in that sprawling fifth district that runs from the very, the outermost edges of Washington, D.C. down to the North Carolina line. He's a one-termer. He was defeated by a guy by the name of Bob Good who describes himself, these are Good's words, “a bright-red, biblical and constitutional conservative.” He used to work for Jerry Falwell, Jr., who had endorsed Riggleman along with Donald Trump. And for the most part Riggleman has been a loyal Trump vote in the House, but to this small group of activists who control the nominating process over in the fifth district, Riggleman was deemed limp on immigration and Obamacare repeal. What really inflamed them was that Riggleman served as the officiant at the wedding last year of two gay campaign volunteers. And of course, two days after Riggleman was defeated, the Supreme Court issues this historic decision affirming anti-discrimination protections in the workplace for LGBTQ Americans. Riggleman is the second congressional Republican in Virginia to go down in flames within party circles. Of course, the first was Eric Cantor in 2014, who lost to Dave Brat. Democrats think that this latest burst of fratricide among Republicans may actually improve chances of a Democratic pick-up in the fifth. That's difficult to believe; it's a +6 Trump district. Riggleman won by almost seven percentage points. But this is clearly a reminder that Republicans are beholden to a rigidly conservative ilk that does not reflect this changing state, and presumably Democrats figure that's good for a few extra votes.

Carper: And finally, the field of Democratic candidates for governor in 2021 is growing again.

Schapiro: Welcome, Jennifer McClellan, a state senator from Richmond. She's been in the legislature for nearly 15 years. She's been an unofficial candidate for about a year. Not surprisingly, she is spotlighting the pandemic and the continuing protests for racial equity and police reforms as a reminder that there's much work to do. She hopes to become the first African American women elected governor in the United States. There's another candidate in Virginia who wants to achieve that distinction, of course, Jennifer Carroll Foy, a two-term delegate from Prince William County.

Carper: Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro: Be safe.



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