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Editorial: Why this was a bad week for Virginia Democrats

Editorial: Why this was a bad week for Virginia Democrats

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It’s been a busy news week so we caught up with Ed Board, the personification of our editorial board, to see what he (or is it she?) thought.

Ed: Either’s fine. Think of me as gender-fluid. Bob Good probably won’t like that, but oh well. He’s running for the 5th District seat on, among other things, an anti-LGBT platform and I’m not.

So, a good week for the Democrats, right?

Ed: Actually, it’s been a terrible week for the Democrats.

What do you mean? The Democratic convention seemed to hit all the right notes, didn’t it?

Ed: Oh that. People still watch conventions?

Oh, well, that wasn’t the answer we were expecting. But what do you mean by it being a terrible week for the Democrats?

Ed: Virginia Democrats. This week just brought one piece of bad news after another.

What do you mean?

Ed: So, the General Assembly started its special session. What was the first thing the House Democrats did? They voted to hold sessions virtually. What was the next thing they did? They voted to collect their per diem expenses — for meals, hotels, travel expenses — even if they’re attending a virtual session. Don’t they know how bad that looks?

Umm, we thought we were the ones asking the questions here.

Ed: This is the kind of bone-headed mistake that costs people their seats — or parties their majorities. I can see the campaign ads on this next year already. Picture a video of some frazzled telecommuter — she’s trying to deal with one kid on his virtual school session, another kid on hers, plus she’s got her own Zoom session for work. Is she getting paid travel expenses for trying to juggle all that? Of course not, but here’s Delegate Flugelhorn cashing in at taxpayer expense even if he’s in his pajamas. That’s a killer ad. And the worst part for Democrats is, it’s all true.

OK, we see your point. But what else went wrong for the Democrats?

Ed: Umm, one of their state senators got charged with two felonies.

Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, in connection with damage to a Confederate statue. Is that really such a big deal these days?

Ed: Granted, people’s views of Confederate statues are changing. But I suspect there are a lot of voters who are quite fine with statues coming down lawfully who aren’t keen on people just pulling them down. But felonies are still felonies. These charges probably won’t hurt Lucas with her own constituents — but they might hurt Democrats in some swing districts next year.

How?

Ed: Look at how Trump’s trying to play the “law and order” card against Joe Biden. That may not work so well against Biden, because voters may feel they know all they need to know about both of them. But in a state race, where the candidates aren’t as well-defined, that could be a lot more useful for Republicans.

Why would voters care what some state senator in Portsmouth did or didn’t do?

Ed: There’s a larger context here about the rule of law. Virginia Democrats are pretty willfully ignoring the inspector general’s report about how the parole board ignored a lot of procedures laid out in state law when it released Vincent Martin, convicted in the 1979 murder of a Richmond police officer. But now they might have a second one to deal with. The commonwealth’s attorney in Grayson County has requested the inspector general look into how the parole board released another prisoner — Robert Dwayne Godfrey. Here’s why that case is such a good talking point for Republicans. First, the details of the murder — back in 1994 — are pretty horrendous. Victim shot in the head and neck, tossed into the New River with a cinderblock to weigh the body down. Second, Godfrey was sentenced to 200 years in prison. 200! Now, obviously nobody’s going to last 200 years but Republicans get to point out how he’s only served 13% of his sentence. Republicans — specifically state Sen. Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach — point out that state law says if you’re serving a life sentence, you’re not eligible for parole. Technically, Godfrey wasn’t serving a life sentence but 200 years is effectively a life sentence. So why’s he getting out? Maybe there are good reasons but Republicans have a pretty set of talking points. They always accuse Democrats of being soft on crime. Here are some real-life examples that help Republicans make their case. The ads practically write themselves.

You’re starting to sound like a conservative. Where’d that come from?

Ed: Just calling ’em like I see ’em. Not my fault the Democrats are acting as if they’re bullet-proof. But it’s the downfall of almost every majority through history: Hubris.

Anything else?

Ed: Oh, lots more. You’ve got one of the most conservative Republicans in the state Senate — David Suetterlein of Roanoke County — putting Democrats on the spot in a way that’s hard to squirm out of.

How so?

Ed: Right now, parole board votes are effectively secret. There’s no record of how individual members vote. Suetterlein has a bill to change that. That puts him on the side of open government. Or, as we like to say in journalism, on the side of the angels.

Do you think that bill will pass?

Ed: No clue. If Democrats know what’s good for them, they’d pass it. Otherwise, that’s another ad that writes itself: Democrats voted for secrecy. People are so cynical about government they’d believe that. And if Democrats do vote down Suetterlein’s bill, well, that ad would have the added advantage of being right.

You’re pretty down on the Democrats.

Ed: I’m an editorial writer. I’m down on everybody. But, seriously, every party has its blind spots. One that Democrats always have is public safety. Just because these issues aren’t important to their hardcore supporters doesn’t mean they won’t be important to swing voters next year.

So what do you see for the week ahead?

Ed: I think we’ll get a much better sense of the unmitigated disaster in Washington and whether there’s any chance of turning things around in time.

You mean Trump’s handling of the pandemic?

Ed: Oh yes, that, too. But I meant the Washington Nationals. Here’s a team that won the World Series last year and now they’re in last place. Their pitching is practically non-existent.

Is that really what you’re most concerned about?

Ed: There’s a pandemic on and we have the president praising conspiracy theorists. Let us have our small pleasures where we still can.

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