Saturday, July 25, 2020

That Revolution Talk

This year, Virginia joined a list of states whose rural leaders are talking of divorcing from their big-city counterparts. This talk of breakaway rests on perceived lack of political representation in state government, and different cultural values from the big cities. Upstate New Yorkers want to do away with New York City. Eastern parts of Washington and Oregon seek to break away from cosmopolitan and left-leaning Seattle and Portland.

More serious and detailed secession plans include an economic strategy. Some rural and libertarian-leaning Californians talk about splitting their state in two: under most proposals, Southern California would claim prosperous Silicon Valley, just south of the northerly city of San Francisco.

In Virginia’s most radical proposal, dubbed "Vexit", Arlington County and its 235,000 urbanized residents would return to neighboring District of Columbia, as it was between 1800 and 1846. Arlington residents made it clear that they did not want to join DC, giving their own stereotyped gripes of big-city problems. A trimmed Virginia would keep neighboring Fairfax County- which has more registered Democrats than Arlington- not for political reasons, but for economic reasons. Fairfax is home to Fortune 500 companies; and Dulles Airport, Virginia’s global hub with non-stop flights to Tel Aviv and Hong Kong. Without Fairfax, some commentators claimed that Virginia would become another rural, poor, Southern state.

A smaller proposal would shift several border counties across the line into West Virginia. When the mountainous state was created during the Civil War, border counties were invited to join West Virginia by referendum, and according to its governor, the invitation is still open.
Virginia’s secession talk has more gravitas in conversation than elsewhere, for the state has already split four times, and rejoined twice:
1792- Kentucky split from Virginia
1800- Alexandria, Virginia annexed to Washington, DC
1846- Alexandria returned to Virginia
1861- Virginia leaves the US for the Confederacy
            1863- West Virginia split off as a Union state
            1870- Virginia rejoins the US  

What propelled the secession talk in Virginia? Democrats introduced and voted on an “assault weapon” ban. It passed the House of Delegates, but failed by several votes in the State Senate. Apparently, this was too close of a call for gun-toting patriots. 

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Virginia Gun Enthusiasts Create Better Democracy (and not from the cartridge box)?

Prolonged Debate on Gun Control Bills led to resurrection of Fair Redistricting Amendment. Here’s how it played out.

Gun Control Lobby cost Virginia low-wage workers income increase in ’21 and ‘22
Flush with Mike Bloomberg cash, Democratic leadership made gun control bills the number-one priority for the January & February legislative session. They did not anticipate pushback from citizens, local jurisdictions and especially the Virginia Senate, which required rewriting and reconciling bills.   Debate on an increased minimum wage fell off the schedule of the two- month legislative session. Two points apply here:
No minimum wage bill would have passed this year, without exceptional intervention by the Virginia Senate.
Had the minimum wage bill been discussed as a priority in January, before the COVID crisis, the timeline of wage increases would have started in July 2020 instead of 2021.
What was the exceptional intervention? In exchange for Virginia Senate extending the legislative session to allow a vote on the minimum wage increase, the House of Delegates would allow a vote on the Fair Redistricting Amendment.

Fair Redistricting Amendment
It is not easy to add an Amendment to the Virginia Constitution, and it almost died this year. Last year, in the uncertainty of upcoming elections, both parties favored a Fair Redistricting Amendment, the first east of the Mississippi River. It had to be reapproved this year, and the Virginia Senate was favorable.

The 21-19 split of the Virginia Senate, currently favoring Democrats, requires collegial relations between the two parties. Embracing the Fair Redistricting Amendment diffuses tension: The foremost prize of partisan redistricting creates an incentive for the nominally-minority party to take advantage of another member’s short absence- which did happened back in 2014. These absences from the legislative session may include sick days, important meetings for their small business, family weddings and hunting trips.

Democrats in the House of Delegates, who have a stronger majority, are legislating like there is no tomorrow- they even acknowledge the likelihood of a voter backlash in 2021. Republicans and a handful of Democratic legislators, held to their campaign promises, narrowly passed the bill through the House of Delegates this year. It would have been tabled without debate, had it not been resurrected as a bargaining chip.   

The Democratic Party of Virginia has since come out against the Amendment on vague civil rights grounds- the Black Caucus would prefer Democrats- instead of a bipartisan committee and Virginia Supreme Court- to control redistricting- even though it is likely to pass voter approval in November. Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican in a heavily-Democratic state, has been looking to the Virginia fair redistricting developments as a model for his own state.

Private Sales without Background Check to become a Felony, Gift Transfers Unaffected
Virginia is a very economically diverse jurisdiction, and this bill did not sit well with rural and small-town voters, who made their voices heard in the mid-year municipal elections. With the average gun pricing between $500 and $1000, this new law to regulate private sales has hit at the heart of arguments over economic injustice. While the average resident of Fairfax County can afford to give guns as gifts, a gun purchase represents two weeks of income in a rural country.
The background checks are available from any licensed gun dealer for $15.00, or at a gun show for $2.00. Nevertheless, it will likely be challenged in court under equal protection claims.

Minimum Wage to eventually increase to $12 per hour, will lock in wage gains from tight labor market.
The minimum wage in Virginia is currently $7.25 per hour. Unskilled labor in low-cost parts of Virginia currently demands $10.00 or more per hour, so effects of stepped increases will not be seen until 2023. The House of Delegates sought to double the minimum wage to $15.00 per hour, a proposal rebuked by the Virginia Senate and Democratic Governor.