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Lee Litigation, Seventh District Showdown, and Police Reform: Political Analysis for Friday, July 24, 2020

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

FRIDAY, JULY 24, CRAIG CARPER – Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week’s political analysis.  Topics include the ongoing Lee monument litigation, the Republican nomination for the seventh congressional district, and the General Assembly reconvenes next month for budget and police reform discussions.

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, Craig.

Carper:  Jeff, a new judge is hearing the case in Richmond, challenging Governor Ralph Northam's order to take down the Lee statue on Monument Avenue.  A hearing was held yesterday.  What's going on?

Schapiro:  That’s Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant.  He said from the bench Thursday afternoon, he's not ready to make up his mind on this issue, that it deserves, and these are his words, “a well thought-out and reasoned opinion.”  Marchant, of course, replaces Brad Cavedo.  Cavedo disqualified himself because of a possible conflict of interest.  Remember, it was Cavedo who issued the order temporarily blocking Northam from taking down the Lee statue.  Cavedo lives in the historic district in which the monument stands.  And even before this professed professional ethical concern, one would have thought Cavedo would want out.  Several other judges recused themselves on the monument’s litigation, though they didn't say why.  Now Cavedo has been getting hammered, mostly by Democratic legislators and activists.  They believe he had made up his mind on the case that the statue should stay.  The reason - there's fine print in this agreement between the state and the family that owned the property on which Lee stands.  This agreement was executed in the late 1800’s.  Descendants of the family who initiated this case contend that this agreement requires that the monument be preserved by the state in perpetuity.  The state argues otherwise, that Lee as a symbol of racial intolerance, that its time has come, and that the state has even put together a plan for taking apart the monument and possibly reassembling it in a museum somewhere.  Now on the Democratic blogs on Twitter and newspaper columns, Cavedo was criticized for an op-ed he wrote as a high school student at a private school in which he complained about court-ordered desegregation.  That chafed several Democratic legislators, and it's not a stretch to read their comments on social media as essentially a threat to throw Cavedo, a Republican, off the court when he's up for reappointment by the General Assembly in five years.  And by the way, a full disclosure - when Cavedo was a college student, he was a summer intern at the Times-Dispatch. I hope that's not held against him.

Carper:  [laughing] Jeff, Republicans have nominated Delegate Nick Freitas for a congressional seat anchored in Richmond suburbs that was drawn for them, but was won by Democrat Abigail Spanberger two years ago in an anti-Trump wave.

Schapiro:  And Republicans quite literally had a sweat party last Saturday up at the state fairgrounds in Caroline County.  They had an in-person convention at which safety precautions for COVID were voluntary, so maybe we shouldn't be surprised if there's a spike in infections among seventh district Republicans.  This in-person convention went the maximum three ballots before Freitas was selected.  His closest rival was John McGuire, fellow member of the House of Delegates. There were six candidates when this all started.  This was a contest that should have been settled in April, but because of the pandemic, Republicans pushed the convention to July.  This was a huge gift for Spanberger, giving her more time to make her case for a second term and to do so in a way that went largely unanswered by Republicans, who also had to raise a lot of money for this nominating contest and spend it very quickly.  Meanwhile, Spanberger has about $4 million raised, more than $3 million cash-on-hand, and she's been spending it in recent days.  Her opening television salvo went up almost immediately after the Republican convention.  And again, this speaks to the competitive nature of this race.  Her commercial is somewhat biographical, largely nonpartisan, makes no mention of her Democratic credentials.  Rather she describes herself as a problem-solver who won't be pushed around by lobbyists and big business.  This is one of the top-10 congressional elections in the country.  We'll be watching it closely, and so will national Democratic and Republican interests.

Carper:  That's right, and ahead of a special session of the legislature next month, public hearings were held this week on ways to curb police violence.

Schapiro:  Now the General Assembly, as we have discussed, is coming back on August 18th, not just because of police reform, but also to balance the budget.  And that was the original reason why legislators were anticipating returning to Richmond.  The budget, of course, has been thrown out of whack by the pandemic by roughly $250 million.  That cash shortage is expected to get worse, perhaps a billion dollars or more as the state moves fully into the new budget cycle, which began on July 1st.  But then, of course, George Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis, and there have been protests for racial equity and new controls on police across Virginia and across the country.  On Wednesday, the House held the first of three virtual hearings on reform legislation.  And this week we also heard from a group of liberal prosecutors who say they're all-in on proposals, pushed by Democrats in the House and the Senate, that include a ban on choke-holds, giving prosecutors easier access to a cop’s record, and reducing assault on an officer from a felony.  That has been the practice; that has been the law in Virginia since the late 1990’s.  At this House hearing delegates also heard from police leadership, state and local.  Chiefs and sheriffs said they would support steps making it easier to get rid of bad officers and to punish police for unprofessional or unethical behavior, but they also made the point that law enforcement will need more money from the state for, among other things, better salaries and benefits to attract better recruits.

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

Schapiro:  Stay safe.

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