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COVID-19 Spikes, A Potential New Relief Package, and New Redistricting Comission Begins to Take Shape: Political Analysis for Friday, December 4. 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 Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a rise in coronavirus cases, especially in rural Virginia, Congress seeks to pass a new coronavirus relief package; former President Barack Obama lands in hot water after echoing recent comments by Representative Abigail Spanberger, and Virginia's new redistricting commission begins to come together.

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, welcome back.

Jeff Schapiro:   Good to see you, Craig.  Hope your Thanksgiving went well.

Carper:  It did.  I hope yours went well, as well.  Jeff, following the Thanksgiving holiday COVID cases are spiking in Virginia with the surge hitting hard in the countryside where resistance to governor Ralph Northam's disease-controlling restrictions is flaring.

Schapiro:  We are now seeing a record number of cases per day, averaging about 2,600.  Positivity rate, that is people testing affirmatively for the virus, is at 8.3%.  That's the highest level since August.  There are north of 240,000 confirmed cases in Virginia and north of 4,100 deaths.  Governor Northam, a physician, is continuing to insist on masks in public and restrictions on public gatherings, no more than 25 people per gathering.  We are now nine months into this, nearly nine months into this, and we are seeing a pushback.  And it's measurable in that the Campbell County Board of Supervisors, this is one of the rural counties outside of Lynchburg, voted to defy the governor's restrictions saying, of course, these are no more than intrusion in public freedoms.  The governor indicated at his briefing this week that the state is anticipating about 70,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine.  This would be by the middle of the month.  I'm sure there are a lot of people who say, “It couldn't come sooner.”  Going back to the countryside, southwest Virginia, that most remote part of the state, is seeing the biggest increases in infections, from an average of about 76 per day back in April to now more than 360 per day.  That was this week.  The spike out there is blamed in part on neighboring Tennessee, where the government is refusing to impose any sort of mask mandate.  We are seeing, as well, the continuing effects of the plague on how Virginia governs itself.  The House of Delegates, when it returns in January, will be meeting virtually.  The Senate of Virginia will be meeting in a socially-distanced setting again out at the Science Museum.  And the FOIA Council, this entity that kind of, you know, keeps an eye on openness in government, is backing and easing some of these open meeting restrictions because of the pandemic.  And of course, critics of this are worrying that it's going to have the opposite effect.  Instead of, you know, keeping open the government, it's going to make it more closed, less prone to sunlight.


Carper:  And Virginia Senator Mark Warner and Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger, from here in the Richmond area, are among the centrist Democrats leading a bipartisan effort in Congress to jumpstart COVID relief.  Even President-elect Biden is getting behind this push.

Schapiro:  Warner and Spanberger, centrist Democrats, a rarity these days.  The proposal that they are pushing, it's about $908 billion in relief.  It would, among other things, extend jobless benefits, which would lapse the day after Christmas, provide a bit more assistance for small business to preserve jobs, and money for vaccine distribution.  What is interesting about this is that it's a rank and file effort, Democrats and Republicans.  And there seems to be some evidence that it's generating traction, that it's getting McConnell and Pelosi talking again.  And it seems to be elevating the prospect of some type of a compromise.  Now Biden says this would be, you know, nothing more than a “down payment”.  I think that's the word he used.  That when he takes office, there would be more substantial relief.  What I think is interesting about this is the kinds of people who are supporting it and the kinds of groups that are supporting the people who are supporting it.  So, Mark Warner fancies himself a pro-business Democrat.  Among those groups endorsing this effort, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not an organization that's ordinarily friendly to Democrats.  And of course, that was an organization that supported Abigail Spanberger for reelection this year.

Carper:  Speaking of Democratic centrists, former President Barack Obama got in some hot water this week over strikingly similar comments to those made by Abigail Spanberger just a few weeks ago.

Schapiro:  Yeah, and one would only say that, you know, from Obama, his remarks or observations are now somewhat validated.  Remember Spanberger said in this private meeting of the Democratic Caucus, using some fairly blue language, you know, the Democrats shouldn't be using words like “socialism”.  They shouldn't be using words like “defund” when talking about policing.  These were the very points that the former president made as well.

Carper:  And the pieces are quickly coming together in the puzzle that is redistricting reform.  This will be the first time that how and who draw legislative and congressional boundaries isn't left entirely to the General Assembly.

Schapiro:  Virginians voted roughly 60% to 40% to essentially strip the legislature of its total control of redistricting.  There are many steps that have to be taken before this bipartisan commission is put in place, the commission that will draw lines.  So, currently five circuit court judges, retired circuit court judges, have been selected and will begin to select the civilian members of this commission.  If you're interested in serving, you can submit an application by the end of December, December 28th.  The legislators who are going to be serving on this commission have been selected by the House and Senate leadership.  From the Richmond area, one of the Republican representatives from the Senate is Ryan McDougal from Hanover County.  Virginia is going to be one of the first states to redraw its legislative and congressional lines, and again, this is the first time this will be done by this hybrid entity, a citizen-legislative commission, rather than just legislators.  And, of course the proposals of this commission will be put to an up or down vote by the House and the Senate.  If they should reject it twice, or two versions I guess, redistricting would then be turned over to the Virginia Supreme Court.  This of course was one of the arguments the opponents made, saying it's a court that's stacked by Republican appointees.  Content to overlook the likelihood that the Supreme Court would do as the federal courts do when they take over redistricting, calling in experts to help them draw lines.

Carper:  And finally, even more candidates for 2021 are entering the down-ticket races for lieutenant governor and attorney general, and Virginia Republicans will decide this weekend how to decide next year's nominations.

Schapiro:  You know, you're really need a scorecard now to keep track of all these candidates.  There are 11 candidates for the nomination in the Republican and Democratic parties for lieutenant governor.  That's seven on the Democratic side and four on the Republican side.  The latest entry is a Democrat, Andria McClellan.  She's a city councilor in Norfolk.  She is not kin to Jennifer McClellan, one of the Democratic gubernatorial candidates.  The latest Republican candidate for attorney general is a delegate from Virginia Beach, Jason Miyares.  It's interesting.  One of the things in which he is hitting Democrats in the post-George Floyd era, this is not at all surprising, that Democrats are somehow soft on law and order, and he refers to all of these police, so-called police reforms that were adopted in Virginia and other states following this summer of unrest.  On Saturday, the State Central Committee of the Republican Party, its governing body, will decide whether to choose 2021 candidates by primary or a convention.  The conventional wisdom, pun unintended, it seems to me that it would be a primary.  This apparently is the preference of Kirk Cox.  The former speaker is running for governor, as well as Amanda Chase, that Trump's soundalike, who is running for governor.

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

Schapiro:  Safe weekend to you.

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