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New Workplace Requirements, Reopening Schools, and the State Republican Primary: Political Analysis for Friday, July 17, 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 Editor Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include new workplace rules for businesses to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the ongoing debate over how to reopen schools amid the pandemic, and the Virginia Republican Convention set to take place this weekend.

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, welcome back.

Carper:  Thanks, Jeff.  Good to be back.  It's all coronavirus all the time, it seems.  The first in the nation COVID workplace safety regulations have been adopted by Virginia.  A congressman and his wife have tested positive for the disease.  And schools across the state are opting for the virtual classroom, rather than the real thing,

Schapiro:  The Virginia Safety and Health Board this week, citing inaction by the Trump administration, adopted these workplace rules.  They include masks, hand sanitizing stations, social distancing in offices and on factory floors, regular cleaning of high-use surfaces, you know, doors, desks, also alerting workers when their colleagues tests positive for COVID-19.  Not surprisingly, business does not like these requirements.  Business complains that this is overreach by the state, that they are expensive and will only make it more difficult for business to dig its way out of this economic ditch attributed to COVID.  Organized labor is pleased, though it expressed concerns about these regs ahead of the board vote.  Labor was worried that management had found ways to worm around these rules.  Another economic concern attributed to COVID, and it's one that has a partisan dimension, Donald McEachin, congressmen, a Democratic congressman from the Richmond area, concerned that the Democratic administration in Richmond isn't doing enough to get the Employment Commission to promptly distribute these enhanced benefits that have been available to those who have lost their jobs or those whose salaries have been reduced.  The Republicans pounced on that right away.  The congressman, Morgan Griffith, a Republican from far, southwest Virginia.  This is one of the most deeply pro-Trump pieces of political territory in the state.  He announced this week that he has the coronavirus.  His wife, a judge out in the southwest, has it as well.  Morgan Griffith is a member of the Freedom Caucus, this very conservative group of - let me rephrase that - this group of very conservative Republican congressmen.  And it's been very skeptical about all of these recommended safety steps, including masks, though Griffith now sorta, kinda is recommending that Virginians use face coverings.  As for school, classes of course supposed to resume in about six weeks.  School districts are trying to figure out what to do.  Infection rates spiking around the state, and, of course, around the country.  It seems that the virtual option is increasingly popular.  Richmond, Prince William County, Arlington County - they are going virtual.  They want to protect students and teachers, they say.  Out in Roanoke County, outside of the city of Roanoke, there'll be a hybrid.  Some kids will be in school daily, others only a couple of days, and then there'll be a remote option, as well.  This is going to be a hardship for parents.  And here's betting that educators will be closely following what distanced-learning means for kids accustomed to being with others, running around playgrounds, developing those intellectual and social skills that they're supposed to be using later as adults in the workplace and their communities.

Carper:  And spikes in coronavirus are being reported across the state, but the most significant increases are along the beach points, where the pandemic is punishing the summer tourist economy.

Schapiro:  And the region in Virginia where infections are climbing to record levels is Hampton Roads.  It includes those coastal resorts, most notably Virginia Beach.  Governor Northam, and this is his home territory, announced tougher safety rules for the area and says businesses that don't enforce these masking rules and social distancing requirements could lose their licenses.  Republicans are steamed about this, branding the governor anti-business.  But, also in Virginia Beach, growing numbers of parents, at least, are very worried.  The school system has yet to indicate what it will be doing, whether classes will be in person, virtual, or a combination of the two.  There are parents’ groups that are demanding the virtual approach, because its members are not convinced that school in the traditional sense will be safe for their children.

Carper:  And the coronavirus is shaping the contest for the Republican nomination for congress in the sprawling seventh district, where the GOP hopes to take back the suburban Richmond-anchored seat that Democrat Abigail Spanberger won two years ago.

Schapiro:  Now on Saturday, seventh district Republicans will hold their convention up at the state fairgrounds.  This is going to be an in-person deal.  There will be safety precautions recommended at the seventh district meeting.  Masks will be available.  Delegates will enter the hall, vote, and then depart.  They're supposed to return to their cars.  It is not a perfect system at all.  You've got a half-dozen candidates, including two members of the House of Delegates, Nick Freitas and John McGuire.  One or the other will likely be the nominee.  They're the best known, and they've also raised a lot of money.  But we're going to be seeing multiple ballots, a maximum of three.  And with those ballots held through the day on what is likely to be a punishingly hot day, there's no telling how many people will stick around after that first ballot, and that's when things could get nutty.  Because of the pandemic, the Republican nominating contest in the seventh, which should have wrapped up in April, has dragged on into the middle of summer.  And that's given the candidates more time to cut each other up, more time to spend a lot more money that should have been husbanded for November.  In other words, their nominee could be weak as a result of all of this internal fighting, the grassroots exhausted by it, and activists angry, especially those who backed the losers.

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

Schapiro:  Good weekend to you.

 

 

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