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Eviction Relief, Police Reform, and a Potential Third Term for Herring: Political Analysis for Friday, September 4, 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 continuing developments on eviction relief and unemployment payments due to COVID, proposed police reform legislation in the General Assembly special session, and Mark Herring’s departure from the gubernatorial race to seek a third term as attorney general in a crowded field.

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. 

Carper:  Jeff, this week we see reminders of the painful human dimension of the pandemic.  Continued foot-dragging by the Democratic controlled legislature on COVID relief is forcing governor Northam to go back to the Virginia Supreme Court for yet another extension on the state's eviction moratorium, and those reduced supplements to unemployment pay apparently will be available again at the end of September.

Schapiro:  Yes, this is the second time that the governor has requested an extension.  It was first put in place in March and stopped landlords from, in some instances, turning to the courts to perhaps put out on the streets some 6,000 non-paying tenants.  The court was not happy to grant that first extension.  It expires on Monday, Labor Day.  The court had voted four to three with the chief justice, Don Lemons, opposing the extension.  Now the issue here is that the court says it's up to the General Assembly, which is back at work, to fix this problem.  But the problem is that the General Assembly, now in session since mid-August, hasn't come up with a solution.  And if, you know, you're keeping an eye on Twitter, you may have noticed the post the other day by Amy Friedenberger of the Roanoke Times in which she quoted a Fairfax state senator, Scott Surovell.  He's chiding the Senate, controlled by his own party, the Democrats, for wasting time.  Now, Northam wants the moratorium, this extended moratorium, to remain in place through October 1st.  Now in making his case, Northam sites an order by the Centers for Disease Control, this is the federal Centers for Disease Control, to freeze evictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  As for those supplemental unemployment benefits, they're half of the $600 a week that the federal government authorized in that COVID bailout this summer.  Democrats and Republicans, of course, haven't been able to agree on continuing those payments.  They lapsed at the end of July.  Now the Trump administration has stepped in and by executive fiat is authorizing an extra $300 a week.  Now it's not clear how long these fresh payments will be made, and not everyone is eligible for them when they begin later in September.  It's estimated that 30,000 of the 260,000 unemployed furloughed Virginians now collecting jobless pay won't receive those extra dollars.

Carper:  And the legislature’s Republican minority is trying to make hay of Democratic proposals that they say will put the police in handcuffs.  Police reform, a reaction to George Floyd's death in police custody, is another of the reasons the General Assembly is back at work.  And that's got Republicans looking for issues that might put them back in power.

Schapiro:  And one of those issues, stripping police officers of legal protection, immunity from lawsuits alleging officers, for example, use excessive force or are bigoted in their handling of non-white suspects.  Now a Senate committee killed a bill that would erase those safeguards and so did a House committee, but then it was revived when one of the opponents didn't vote and another changed his vote.  Now, a Democrat pushing the idea in the House is Jeff Bourne, a delegate from Richmond.  He says doing away with immunity is a good way to recruit better prospects for police work, because these candidates will know that they have to be on their best behavior or they'll be sued, and that could cost them their jobs and perhaps a lot of money.  Now, Bourne has made clear that this bill has a definite racial dimension, as shown by Floyd's death in Minneapolis and the deaths of other people of color at the hands of police.  And that of course has Republicans in a snit.  Now the House Republican Leader, Todd Gilbert put out a very tough statement this week in which he complained that Democrats play the racial card to put Republicans on the defensive.  And that, Todd Gilbert says, has the effect of really limiting a debate on legitimate law and order issues.  Now the former House speaker, Kirk Cox, is also front-and-center on these policing questions, and that is by design.  He's expected to run for governor next year.  And Cox was particularly outspoken on the police immunity legislation.  Cox says it's scary and that it will only make it tougher for cops to do their job, which is to protect us.

Carper:  Mark Herring, who was supposedly running for governor, wants to keep his current job, attorney general.  He's been telling Democrats this week that he'll run for a third term, but it appears that Herring will have opposition for the 2021 nomination.

Schapiro:  You know, Herring's departure from the gubernatorial field probably isn't a surprise.  He's one of those casualties of that race and sexual assault scandal that tarnished Ralph Northam and the lieutenant governor, Justin Fairfax, who is running for governor.  Herring was going to have to explain again why he went in blackface as a UVA undergraduate, and that may still disqualify him for renomination as attorney general.  One of his opponents will be a young black lawyer legislator from Norfolk, Jay Jones.  And with racial equity becoming a bigger issue, it's difficult to imagine some Democrats won't say the party needs fresh faces next year.  And that's certainly the implied thrust of Jones's candidacy and the candidacies of Jennifer McClellan and Jennifer Carroll Foy for the Democratic nomination for governor.  Both, of course, are black women.  And there are other possible candidates for the AG nomination, Charniele Herring, the House democratic leader from Northern Virginia, and from here in the Richmond area, Shannon Taylor, the Henrico County prosecutor.

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

Schapiro:  Wakanda forever.