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COVID-19 Surges, Kirk Cox Joins Gubernatorial Race, Northam Supports Marijuana Legalization, and the Passing of Tyler Whitley: Political Analysis for Friday, November 20, 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 reinstatement of tougher COVID-19 restrictions amid rising coronavirus cases across Virginia, the debate over virtual learning in Henrico and Chesterfield, Kirk Cox officially announces his run for Governor,  Governor Northam announces support for legalizing marijuana, and the passing of veteran politics reporter Tyler Whitley.

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

Schapiro:   Hi there, Craig.

Carper:  Jeff, with cases of the coronavirus surging in Virginia, the governor is urging people to stay home this Thanksgiving.

Schapiro:  Governor Northam, Virginia’s physician chief executive, is urging Virginians to keep their travel to an absolute minimum, their gatherings as small as possible, all in an effort to control this runaway spread.  The governor describes these safety measures largely as acts of love, that this is a way for Virginians to protect those about whom they care most deeply, kinsmen and close friends.  Of course, over the past week, the governor has reinstated some of the tougher restrictions.  That announcement was made on a Friday a week ago, and was deemed very disruptive by his Republican critics in the legislature, as well as some of the small businesses that suddenly had to deal with restrictions, whether it's the number of patrons that are allowed in their establishment, underscoring the requirements, as well, that Virginians mask in public.  Clearly there's a political dimension to this public health crisis, and it seems to continue that political debate, that is, as the public health crisis continues.

Carper:  And Jeff, this week we learned that Henrico County Public Schools have extended virtual learning, and Chesterfield County is strongly considering a return to the virtual classroom.

Schapiro:  And this is something that has touched off a bit of a debate as well in the gubernatorial campaign, which is fast approaching in 2021.  This week, Kirk Cox, the former Speaker of the House, the former Republican Speaker of the House officially became a candidate for governor.  His candidacy, of course his official candidacy, is no surprise.  He's been engaged in something of a strip tease for several months now.  But among the points that he keeps pressing, and did so in his kickoff announcement, he is acknowledging the aggrieved who make up sort of the Trump-dominated Republican base in Virginia, as across the country, saying that, you know, Virginia can do a better job managing the pandemic.  And that includes ways to reopen schools, a topic about which he knows something, having been a high school government teacher for a number of years.   And of course, his declaration of candidacy has been welcomed with some relief.  There is a contrast between his candidacy and that of Amanda Chase, the Trump imitator from Chesterfield County who is running as well for governor.  This doesn't mean that there won't be other candidates for the Republican nomination.  A state senator from up in the valley, Emmett Hanger, is thinking about making the run, as well.  And a financier, a retired financier, Glenn Youngkin, who was co-CEO of the Carlyle Group, a big investment operation up in Washington, is toying with the idea, as well.

Carper:  And Jeff, after several years of urging from activists, Governor Ralph Northam is all in on legalization of marijuana in Virginia.

Schapiro:  And, you know, this brings to mind a couple of those great tunes, one by Little Feat that includes the line, “Roll another one, just like the other one.  You've been holding onto it, and I sure would like a hit.”  Now the point of all of this is that given the generational shift that is taking place in Virginia and across the country, the continuing social acceptance of marijuana that, you know, Virginia, as a number of states, you know, should essentially capitalize on this.  Cannabis equals cash.  There is a study by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission that suggests that all of this could be put in place in a couple of years and perhaps mean up to $300 million in tax revenue.  What I think is sort of interesting about this is that Northam, who was all in on decriminalizing marijuana as a candidate for governor, says that if it's legalized, it's sales should be handled by the private sector.  Contrast that with Virginia's continuing public monopoly on the sale of alcohol.  There is an important racial dimension to this as well.  Crime statistics have consistently shown that people of color more often than white people are busted for pot.  So, the thinking is, if it is indeed decriminalized that some of these ancillary legal issues, particularly of equity, can be addressed as well.

Carper:  And finally, on a somber note, one of the veterans of the State Capitol press corps, Tyler Whitley has passed away at age 83.  Jeff, you and I both served with Tyler.  I have pleasant memories.  I know you do as well.

Schapiro:  Ah, yes, Hunter was one of a kind.  He retired in 2011.  He spent more than a half century in newspapers.  He covered 11 governors and his 50th anniversary with the Richmond newspapers was quite the show.  Five of the governors he's covered, turned up for that celebration.  Tyler was definitely old-school.  He started out on an afternoon paper, The News Leader, which was folded into the Times-Dispatch in 1992.  And anyone who has, you know, worked for an afternoon paper, for a PM paper, knows that deadlines are frequent and they are fast.  And frequently, as well, PM news guys are always trying to come up with new angles on old stories.  One springs to mind.  In 1982, Doug Wilder, the future governor was threatening to run for the Senate as an Independent.  Of course, a black politician of considerable prominence, his threat was contributing to tension within the Virginia Democratic Party.  And aggravating this was a remark attributed to A.L. Philpott, then Speaker of the House.  He described the black members of the House of Delegates as “those boys.”  A lot of people who were friends and defenders of the speaker said he meant nothing by it.  It was a friendly remark.  It was not intended to be racially demeaning.  These stories were unfolding off of Tyler's cycle, but he came up with a different way to tell the story quoting allies of Speaker Philpott, defending him for this apparent faux pas.  Tyler's lead was, “It's a tempest in a Philpott.”

Carper:  [laughing] Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again after the holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Schapiro:  And have a wonderful holiday at your end.