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Special Session, Monument Removal, Falwell's Resignation, and Former Lt. Gov. John Hager Passes Away: Political Analysis for Friday, August 28, 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 special session of the General Assembly; Senator Bryce Reeves tests positive for COVID-19, bills focused on voting, police reform and response to the coronavirus, the ongoing fight over the removal of Confederate monuments, the resignation of Jerry Falwell, Jr. from Liberty University amid a sex scandal, and the passing of former Lt. Gov. John Hager. 
 

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

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning, Craig.  

Carper:  Though you might not have noticed, the Virginia legislature is back at work again on police reform and balancing the COVID-battered budget. The House is meeting virtually,while the Senate is meeting in person, though not at the Capitol, but the Science Museum of Virginia, because it's supposedly safer. 

Schapiro:  Amen to that, and mention that to Bryce Reeves, the Republican Senator from Spotsylvania County, who this week,we are told, tested positive for the coronavirus.   Reeves is the sixth Virginia political figure to contract the disease. And of course, the Senate chose to meet at the science museum for, as you point out, safety reasons. But now that there is a live case, there's a lot more concern. And the Senate Clerk, Susan Schaar,put out a, shall we say, strongly-worded note to the members that if they even suspected that they may be prone to the disease or carrying any of the supposed symptoms, they should stay away from Richmond. Meanwhile, the House, over the objections of the Republicans, is meeting for the first timevirtually.  The speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn, very concerned about safety, and I think there's a little bit of pleasure in this decision. Not that anyone wishes Bryce Reeves ill, pun not intended, but it was for this very reason that the House Democrats insisted on meeting virtually.  What's been going on?  House and Senate committees have been meeting, taking up budget bills and police reform legislation. One of the spending measures involves a mere pittance, a mere bagatelle, about $2 million recommended by the governor for postage for mailed absentee ballots and to install drop boxes for early ballots. This is something that has a heightened urgency with the approaching election, fewer than 70 days before Virginians go to the polls. And as VPM’s Ben Paviour has pointed out, and this has been reported elsewhere because of the pandemic, we are seeing sharp drops in registration. At least as of April, it was down 25% from four years ago, clearly a consequence of this plague.  Some of the bills that seem to be working their way through the House and the Senate, and again, bills on which there is not consensus, (this is something that we've emphasized in earlier visits), legislation that would essentially eliminate legal immunity for cops, also legislation that would ban chokeholds. 

Carper:  And Jeff, I believe there was some discussion in a House committee about a bill that would endorse hydroxychloroquine, (this is the president's favorite drug), as a remedy for COVID. 

Schapiro:  And of course, you know, the scientific experts have said it is anything but.  The Democrats had some fun with that one. 

Carper:  And the statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue will be standing at least a little longer, maybe a lot longer.  Astate judge is ordering a trial and a lawsuit has been filed by residents challenging Governor Ralph Northam's order to take down the monument as an outdated symbol of white supremacy. 

Schapiro:  Yes, that judge, that circuit court judge, Reilly Marchant, had been promising a decision.  In his decision he is saying that the state courts need to proceed with a trial on this issue, specifically whether the state is violating an agreement that dates to the 1890’s, under which the state would be responsible for preserving the land on which the monument stands and the monument itself in perpetuity. Of course, the site was a gift to the state from a family. The other bit of legal news, the Virginia Supreme Court handed a favorable decision to Mayor Levar Stoney of Richmond, I guess sort of after afashion. It said, the high court that is, that a city judge, a different city judge was wrong in issuing an injunction that would block Richmond from taking down the statue in northside of A.P. Hill. Now there is a complication there.  That statue is also the Confederate general’s tomb. But back to that trial over the Lee monument, it will be October before it's heard in the courts, and there's every likelihood that the disappointed party could probably take this case to the supreme court. And of course, as long as that case is in the legal pipeline, that statue will continue to stand.

Carper:  And a figurative monument was toppled this week. That's Jerry Falwell, Jr. He's out as president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, a casualty of a sex scandal involving the religious conservative, his wife and a one-time cabana boy. His fall is rippling through politics in his home state. 

Schapiro:  It didn't take long.  The Virginia Democrats and some of the national Democrats have been having a field day with this one.  Of course, young Falwell endorsed Donald Trump for the presidency. I guess one would suggest that there would seem to be some parallels between the president's reported personal conduct and Mr. Falwell's alleged personal conduct. Remember Falwell's father was never a terribly popular figure nationally or in Virginia, and Democrats frequently tried to play the guilt-by-association card, since Falwell endorsements tended to be prized largely to mobilize religious conservatives.  Young Falwell has been active politically in Virginia. He endorsed, and the Democrats of course pointed this out immediately on Twitter, Nick Freitas, who is the Republican nominee in the seventh district.  Abigail Spanberger is defending that seat.  TheDemocrat, of course, won it two years ago, a Trump-carried district. So, expect to hear more about that, though this is not a one-size-fits-all deal. Falwell, young Falwell that is, endorsed Denver Riggleman for renomination in the fifth district, but he was turned out in this conservative revolt for a former employee of Falwell's at Liberty University, a fellow by the name of Bob Good. So, I don't know that the Falwell card is necessarily played equally across some of these congressional races. 

Carper:  And finally, former Lieutenant Governor John Hager died this past weekend. He was an establishment Republican, the kind that used to be fairly common in Virginia. He built the party in the 1970’s and 1990’s into the juggernaut that it really hasn't been in more than a decade. 

Schapiro:  John Hager, as affable and hardworking a Republican as you will find.  Of course, he was cut down with polio as a young father, an odd twist when his son had been vaccinated with a live polio virus.  John Hager had a way of showing up no matter where Republicans were meeting.  A former colleague of mine, Tyler Whitley, used to say that if two Republicans were meeting somewhere in Virginia, you could expect a third, John Hager. He was elected lieutenant governor in 1997. That was the first time Republicans swept all three statewide offices.  In 2001 he was denied the Republican nomination for governor, losing to Mark Earley.  Earley, of course, was defeated for governor by Mark Warner, who would hire John Hager as the state's first homeland security czar. This was, of course, following the 2001 terror attacks on Pennsylvania, New York and Virginia. John Hager was a former tobacco executive. He was also a Bush in-law and briefly served as the Republican Party chairman in 2008, but he was toppled in a conservative Republican revolt.  That did not diminish his enthusiasm for Republican politics. John Hager just kept showing up. 

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

Schapiro:  Have a good weekend.

Carper:  You as well.