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Police Reform, Cox for Governor, Rapid COVID-19 testing, and Confederate Monuments: Political Analysis for Friday, August 7, 2020

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

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM news host Benjamin Dolle for this week's political analysis. Topics include police reform and disagreements between parties prior to this month's special session of the General Assembly, a potential gubernatorial run from former House Speaker Kirk Cox, an order for rapid testing for COVID-19 for Virginia, and continuing battles over Confederate monuments.

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

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning, Ben.

Dolle:  Well, ahead of the legislature’s special session later this month, Democrats are moving to find common ground on police reform, and out-of-power Republicans are depicting the new majority as soft on crime.

Schapiro:  The House Democrats have held the second of three virtual public hearings on some of their ideas.  This week Senate Democrats have been talking up some of their proposals.  It is not in doubt that the reform package that will emerge from the legislature perhaps after Labor Day and sent to democratic Governor Ralph Northam will have a liberal cast.  It'll include a ban on choke holds; it'll be easier to prosecute bad cops.  And these ideas have great currency following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody, and they are being embraced around the country.  Now, here in Virginia the Republicans see this as a chance to paint a bright line.  So, in the Senate, the Republican Minority Leader, Tommy Norment, not only wants it to remain a felony to assault a police officer, that's been the law in Virginia since 1997, he wants to toughen the penalties for doing so.  “Defelonizing” police assault, as it's called, is a big proposal for Democrats.  It's been endorsed by some liberal prosecutors, most notably up in Northern Virginia.  But the Norment response would clearly have a, you know, a whiff of Donald Trump about it, though Republicans, of course ever mindful of the president's popularity with the Republican base, rarely mention Trump's name.   And that's because Trump is the reason Republicans are in the minority in Virginia.  Now the Republicans are also pounding the Democrats over the release on parole of a cop-killer from Richmond.  An independent state investigation shows that the decision to grant this guy parole was not done by the book, and that the victim’s family was never properly notified.  Now the Republicans are demanding that all members of the Parole Board resign, and they want the governor to block the killer’s release.  Now there's an aspect of all of this to- and fro-ing over police reform that's not getting a lot of attention, Democrats on the Senate side, for example, have been looking for ways to shore up law enforcement and specifically come up with more money to stem an exodus of state troopers.  They're leaving the department for better paying jobs in the wealthier suburbs and in private security, as well.  Coming up with that money is going to be tough.  COVID-19 has blown a hole in the state budget.  That hole ranges in size from $250 million or more to $1 billion or more.  It just depends on which side of the ledger you're looking at.

Dolle:  And a Republican has floated a trial balloon for a potential run for governor in 2021, and this one is by the former House Speaker from Colonial Heights on whose watch the party lost its legislative majority.

Schapiro:  Kirk Cox served a single term as speaker.  He’s been in the House of Delegates for 30 years.  He got there by defeating a seemingly entrenched Democrat.  He really has the credentials, Cox that is, to be governor.  Before he was speaker, he was the majority leader in the House.  He's been on the Appropriations Committee.  He's written budgets.  He’s been a huge recruiter for Republicans.  His record, though, helps or hurts depending on the issue and the constituency.  So, he's a retired high school government teacher.  That's going to make it tougher in a general election, if he's the nominee, to depict him as anti-Republican, a common charge one hears Democrats hurling at Republicans.  Cox also endorsed, after years of opposing it, Medicaid expansion.  That's not going to go over well with the Republican base.  He's tough on abortion.  That'll be cool with the Republican base, not with Democrats and especially not with women.  He is not the only Republican in the mix for governor – one hears the names of Pete Snyder, Denver Riggleman, Bill Carrico.  But no one is saying anything right now because they're hoping, and they don't say this, that they'd like to see Trump defeated.  They figure if he's out of the way, it'll be easier for Virginians to vote for Republicans again.  That's not stopping Amanda Chase.  She's that state senator from Chesterfield County.  She's running for governor as a Trump-soundalike.  It’s already getting her in trouble.  For example, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, a big business group and one of “the” stops for a gubernatorial candidate, uninvited Chase to a luncheon up there because of her seemingly bigoted remarks.

Dolle:  And we've just a little bit of time left.  Virginia's fight against the coronavirus is going high-tech, and the state is joining five others for a mass purchase of a quick-result COVID test.

Schapiro:  Yes, this week, the governor rolled out this app developed by Google and Apple.  It helps you figure out whether you've been around anyone with the disease.  Virginia is supposedly the first state to use this technology.  It's probably a helpful talking point for Northam, a doctor, by the way, who's been criticized for inconsistency in his management of the crisis.  Some of that grousing is coming out of Hampton Roads, his home base, also where one finds Virginia Beach, the big tourist Mecca that's been suffering under these newly reinstated restrictions by Northam.  The other thing that the governor is doing is announcing a partnership with five other states to purchase this quick-result COVID test, largely a response to what the federal government is not doing on COVID testing.

Dolle:  And the statue of Robert E. Lee is still standing on Monument Avenue, even though a Richmond judge has thrown out a lawsuit that claims the state has an obligation to preserve the 130-year-old monument in perpetuity

Schapiro:  Reilly Marchant of the Circuit Court threw out that case.  It was brought by descendants of the family that gave Virginia the land on which the Lee monument was erected in 1890.  These descendants contend that the state, in accepting the land from the family on which Lee stands, are obligated to preserve his likeness indefinitely.  The judge did not agree, however, there's an injunction that prevents the state from taking down the statue.  You know, Governor Northam has ordered its removal.  Marchant is going to allow that injunction to stand until he considers a second case, brought by residents of Monument Avenue, arguing that the monument should remain.  Of course, all of this could end up before the Virginia Supreme Court, as I think we've discussed before.  But it appears it's only a matter of time before Lee comes down.  Now contrast that with what's going on up at VMI.  Its administration said this past week that it intends to preserve the school's Confederate iconography, though it will be deemphasized.  Remember, corps cadets fought as a combat unit during the Civil War, and that moment has defined VMI ever since.  This decision to preserve, for example, the statue of Stonewall Jackson who taught at VMI before the Civil War, is not going over well with some legislators.  Several, including a democratic candidate for attorney general, is suggesting they'll go after VMI’s appropriations from the state to force a change that clearly VMI is resisting.

Dolle:  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we’ll see you again next week.

Schapiro:  Stay safe.

 

 

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