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The Governor's Budget; Republican Remorse, and The Trump Effect: Political Analysis for Friday, December 18, 2020

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Schapiro with a microphone between the two.
Political Analysis for Friday, December 18, 2020

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News host Benjamin Dolle for this week's political analysis. Topics include Governor Ralph Northam's legacy as he presents his final two-year budget, lingering issues for state Republicans in the wake of the November election, and the continuing support for President Trump in red areas of the state.

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

Jeff Schapiro:  Good morning, Ben.

Dolle:  So, with Virginia getting its first delivery of the coronavirus vaccine, the impact of the pandemic on Virginia's budget was reflected in the governor’s just-out spending proposals, and proposals that show that he's looking for what his legacy will be.

Schapiro:  Ah yes, Ralph Northam is indeed in legacy mode.  He will be leaving office in January, 2022, but the spending recommendations that he outlined this week to the legislature represent the last chance he will have as governor to really fully influence the direction of spending in this state.  So, in that respect, he is clearly thinking about the history books.  This pandemic is a big driver in the budget.  There'll be more money for education, more than $500 million to offset COVID losses in local school districts.  There are 2% bonuses for teachers. Those will become actual raises, part of their salary if the revenue picture improves.  There's also money for early childhood education, I guess we might call it pre-K, and job training.  These are big priorities for this governor, both of which were disrupted by the downturn in the economy attributed to the pandemic.  This being Richmond, this being a company town, we can't talk about the budget without talking about what's in it for local employees who work for the state and state employees who are here in this locality.  If you're a court clerk or a sheriff's deputy, the governor is proposing a 1.5% bonus.  If you're a classified worker here in Richmond, the governor thinks you should receive a $1,500 bonus.  If you're an adjunct faculty at a college or a university, he's talking about a $750 bonus.  There are, as well, in this budget more dollars in spending for symbols of racial equity.  That would include $9 million to memorialize those slave pens, Lumpkin's Jail, the notorious Lumpkin's Jail, just east of the Capitol and Shockoe Bottom.  The governor wants to spend $11 million essentially reinventing, making over, re-purposing Monument Avenue.  He is anticipating, as we all are, that the state courts will continue to decide with the administration and affirm his authority to take down that last remaining Confederate statue of Robert E. Lee.  The governor is also interested in spending money to restore the slave quarters up at George Mason's home, Gunston Hall.  Of course, it was Mason who inspired the Bill of Rights, those first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  But, of course, these were provisions in law that didn't apply to black people for a good part of the nation's history.  Also, the governor wants to spend $5 million recovering headstones from an historic black cemetery in Washington that were toppled and are now used as riprap along the Potomac River in King George County.  And of course, all of this is an outgrowth of the blackface calamity, a great embarrassment for the governor in 2019.  But in 2020, following the death of George Floyd, these issues of racial equity have an elevated significance, certainly around the country and especially in a place like Virginia, once a cornerstone of the Confederacy.

Dolle:  And unsurprisingly, Republicans are unhappy with the budget, but that may have something more to do with the November election, than anything coming up in the General Assembly.

Schapiro:  Yeah, of course.  Remember, the Republicans have been reduced to a legislative minority.  They had the whole show for a while.  The Democrats took back the House and Senate in 2019.  Among their complaints, that, you know, kids aren't getting back into the classrooms because of COVID, and there are measurable consequences of this, rising fail rates.  There's not enough money for the technology that kids need in these virtual classrooms, again, a consequence of the pandemic.  There's also a good deal of complaining about a proposal to expand the intermediate Court of Appeals from 11 to 15 judges.  Kirk Cox, a candidate for governor, and Jason Miyares, who's running for attorney general, and then one of the Republican leaders of the Senate, Ryan McDougle, from here in Hanover County, they say this is nothing more than court packing, that the Democrats want to slide liberal judges on this court to affirm all those liberal criminal justice reforms, as they describe them, of course, a consequence of the George Floyd death.  This is really all part of a much larger narrative.  The Republicans are trying to depict, at least in Virginia, Democrats as, you know, friendly to law breakers.  If this sounds familiar, it's a theme that Donald Trump attempted to use nationally.  It certainly helped drive up the base vote for the president, but it certainly didn't carry him to a second term.

Dolle:  And while he did lose Virginia, there are still some red areas of the state where he remains popular.  Case in point, three of Virginia's Republican congressmen supported that failed Texas law suit in the Supreme Court to overturn the election.

Schapiro:  Yeah, Ben Cline from up in the Valley, Morgan Griffith from out in southwest Virginia, Rob Wittman from upper Tidewater, if you will, all joined that suit in fact or in spirit.  It was thrown out by the Supreme Court last Friday.  Of course, their districts are all very red and this would clearly be some way, at least in the minds of these congressmen, that they can cozy up to the Trump base and Trump donors ahead of the next election in new districts in 2022.  Now the problem, of course, is that by doing so, they're validating Trump's baseless claims that the presidential election was stolen by Joe Biden.  And all of this has infuriated Denver Riggleman, he's that GOP congressmen from up around the Charlottesville area who was denied renomination.  He's an ex-Air Force intel guy, so he's got credibility on things like this.  And he says that these Republicans are only enabling Trump and his conspiracy theories, and that sends a troubling signal to U.S. allies and U.S. adversaries.  And sort of as a coda to this, the guy who defeated Denver Riggleman for renomination, Bob Good, appeared at that rally in Washington, that pro-Trump rally in Washington the day after the Supreme Court decision, and he branded the pandemic as phony.  Never mind that in the 5th district of Virginia, the district he’ll represent, at least 300 people have been killed by the virus.

Dolle:  Alright, thanks to Jeff Schapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we'll catch up with you again in the new year.

Schapiro:  Have a good holiday.