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If Virginia is one of the country’s most important battleground states, the outcome of Election 2012 may be decided in Northern Virginia. Until 2008, Jeannemarie Devolites Davis represented Fairfax County as a Republican state senator. Today she represents the Commonwealth in Washington, D.C., and she’s a presumed candidate for lieutenant governor. We examine the challenges facing the GOP in the suburbs and cities of Northern Virginia.
- Jeannemarie Devolites Davis Director, Virginia Liaison Office (Washington, DC); Former Virginia State Senator (R-34th District- Fairfax)
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Battleground states like Virginia are short term priorities for most of the Republican minds gathered here in Tampa for the party's national convention. The commonwealth is a swing state that could make or break the presidential contest this fall and the site of a high profile race that could tip the balance of power in the United States Senate. But some in the Virginia GOP are also thinking past this fall to next year and beyond.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd Jeannemarie Devolites Davis qualifies as one of those Republicans who's in it for the long haul. She served in both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate, and most recently as the director of Governor Bob McDonald's Virginia Liaison office in Washington. And she plans on being one of the Republicans working to keep Virginia in the red column in the race for Richmond next year. She joins us in studio here in Tampa, Fla. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. JEANNEMARIE DEVOLITES DAVISThanks for having me. It's great to be here with you.
NNAMDIShe a former member -- as we said, she plans to be a candidate -- we did mention that -- in next year's race for Lieutenant governor. We'll find out more about that later but first Virginia holds a fairly unique status as one of the country's true purple states these days, or swing states. It's also unique however in that it holds off-year statewide elections. Once the presidential election is over this fall the jockeying for the biggest seats in Richmond will truly begin for 2013.
NNAMDIBefore we get into other matters, it's my understanding that you may just have your eyes on a certain position. What are your plans for next year and why might you be pursuing these plans?
DAVISWell, I am leaving the governor's office on September 7 and starting my journey throughout the commonwealth on September 10. I'm very excited about this new challenge. And, you know, I absolutely love serving in the legislature. I love policy. I've really enjoyed working in the governor's Washington office, which has taught me a lot about how federal and state government intersect and the great impact that federal government decisions have on our state government, particularly with unfunded mandates. We have a lot of money in our budget that's dedicated due to unfunded federal mandates.
DAVISAnd so I think bringing that wealth of experience and knowledge, not just on how the state operates, but federal government issues and how they intersect with state government issues have given me a broad perspective that I think I can really use if I'm fortunate enough to win the Lieutenant Governor's race.
NNAMDIExploring a candidacy for Lieutenant Governor. You're pretty used to being in the mix of things on the campaign trail but statewide campaigns are pretty different. What do you expect will be the biggest challenges for you running a campaign where you'll have to sell yourself in every corner of the commonwealth?
DAVISWell, I think what's important is making the connection with people around the commonwealth. And certainly I represented northern Virginia for ten years but I used that time traveling extensively throughout the commonwealth. I helped many, many candidates, both in the state house and the state senate, become elected. I went to Buchanan County and went into the Buchanan coal mine. I really tried to use those ten years getting to know the commonwealth because when you vote for a bill it impacts everyone in the commonwealth, not just the people that you represent.
DAVISSo I've made many friends over the years statewide, which I think are working to my advantage now. But once again having worked in this Washington office and working with our entire congressional delegation both democrat and republican, I've really come to understand what the key issues are around the commonwealth, particularly as they connected job growth. We have very low unemployment in northern Virginia but the rest of the state -- many parts of the rest of the state are not so fortunate. And I think I have a lot to bring to the table in that regard.
NNAMDIIn case you'd like to join the conversation with Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, you can call us at 800-433-8850, send email to email@example.com, send us a Tweet at kojoshow or simply go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. This is looking to be shaping up as a fascinating race. You may be at one point up against Aneesh Chopra, the former Chief Technology Officer of the United States. Also may be against Corey Stewart who is the Lowden County...
NNAMDI...no, Prince William County Supervisor, who we'll talk about later during the course of this conversation. But the party will also be selecting it's nominee for Lieutenant Governor by convention or by primary next year? Which is...
DAVISIt was a primary, and the decision was rescinded and it is now a convention.
NNAMDIWhich do you prefer? You'll take either?
DAVISYou know, I think -- well, if you're from northern Virginia, a primary is certainly more to your advantage, only because the population is so much larger, and it's so much easier for folks to go to the polling place -- their local polling place, than it is for them to take a Saturday off in May and make that trip to Richmond. But I'm prepared for either. I have a wonderful consultant who knows folks downstate very well.
DAVISI think that combined with my husband, former Congressman Tom Davis, we have a strong presence in northern Virginia, and my goal is to bring a diverse group of folks, our ethnic communities, our technology sector, people that have never participated in a convention as a means of nomination in the past. My goal is to bring them all to the convention and have them participate, and I think that'll help me win that convention in May.
NNAMDIYou have a consultant, you have a husband who's a former Congressman who seems...
NNAMDI...who seems to be doubling as a chauffeur these days, but that's another story.
NNAMDIYou served in the Virginia General Assembly up until 2008. Since you lost your seat, Republicans have lost some big battles in Virginia, most glaringly a presidential race and U.S. Senate seat, and they've won a couple of big battles like the gubernatorial election in 2009.
NNAMDIIn what ways do you think the politics in Virginia have changed since the last time you ran for office, and in what ways are they still, well, the same?
DAVISI think they're very much still the same. Tom will tell you that since 1976, for the past 36 years, whatever party -- whichever party the president has been elected from, Virginia elects the governor from the opposite party.
NNAMDIYeah. He's told us that several times, yes.
DAVISYes. I think Virginia continues to vote nationally, particularly those in northern Virginia because we're so close to Washington and they pay more attention to what's going on in Washington than they do in Richmond. So I think they determine how they feel about the Democratic and the Republican parties based on their experience and what they're reading about on the national scene. So I don't have any reason to believe that this coming election would be any different than elections in the past, however, that just seems to relate to the gubernatorial election.
DAVISIt is not unusual or uncommon in Virginia for the lieutenant governor and attorney general to be of the opposite party of the governor, because we don't run on a ticket, we run separately, and I think those down tickets, people are not that focused on because they're so focused on the governor's race. And then it's about raising money, about being visible, about running a very good campaign, and you see in past elections that that's very much how those down ticket elections have turned out.
NNAMDIYou hang your hat in Northern Virginia. Your old seats were in Fairfax County. Your husband held his Congressional seat in northern Virginia for seven terms, but Virginia is a very different place in coal country than it is near the beltway. What are some of the issues you think unite Republican voters across the commonwealth, and what do you think a campaign like the Romney campaign or maybe your campaign next year should be doing to mobilize them?
DAVISWell, I think that across the nation, whether it's an urban area, a suburban area, or a rural area, we all have one thing in common and that's the economy currently and the high unemployment rate. People are out of work all throughout the commonwealth. The unemployment rate's higher in south side and southwest Virginia, and always has been, but it's growing in our urban/suburban areas as well, in what we call the crescent, northern Virginia, the Richmond area, and Hampton Roads.
DAVISAnd so I think at this particular junction, that's the commonality across the commonwealth is the economic outlook, concern about growing job loss. Another thing that's very important to people across the commonwealth is the sequester. If Congress does not move forward to resolve the sequester issues, and we see those across-the-board cuts, a recent study has indicated that could be a loss of up to 123,000 jobs throughout Virginia, and it doesn't just affect those who are government employees, or those who are government contractors.
DAVISThose folks, of course, if they lose their job they're not going to the movies, they're not going to the dry cleaners, they're, you know, buying fewer groceries, and so it has an ancillary impact on so many small businesses that those individuals gravitate towards for entertainment, and just for providing the needs that they have every single day. So this is a really grave issue and it will impact us statewide.
NNAMDIBut unemployment is so much lower in northern Virginia. Does the Republican party have a compelling message to urban voters in those inner suburbs?
DAVISWell, once again, with this sequester that's looming, when you take a look at the majority of the folks in Northern Virginia, they're either federal government employees or they work for a government contracting firm. So we're going to see, I think, heavy job loss in northern Virginia because people are so closely allied to those two types of jobs if you will. Governor McDonnell is very concerned about this. In my Washington office, along with the governor, we've been working on this issue with private sector and public sector individuals trying to determine how we can encourage Congress to take the appropriate action.
DAVISIt's not looking positive at this point, and how we mitigate if it should move forward and we see that kind of job loss in Virginia. So it's a very serious situation, but I think northern Virginians are just as concerned about the economy currently as those in the more rural areas where unemployment is a little higher. We do still have people who are looking for jobs. We have northern Virginia young people who have just graduated from UVA, Virginia Tech, William and Mary, who are living in their parents' basements because they're looking for employment.
DAVISSo I think it's just -- the severity as it is downstate, probably not, but we still have unemployment in northern Virginia. We still have folks looking for jobs and concerned that their jobs might be gone tomorrow.
NNAMDIOur guest is Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, director of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Virginia Liaison Office in Washington. She's a former member of both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, and she plans to be a candidate in next year's race for lieutenant governor of Virginia. If you have questions or comments for Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, call us at 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you think Virginia is going to go back into the red column in this upcoming election, or if you think it will stay in the blue column, tell us why you think that. 800-433-8850 or send email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation from Tampa, Florida Jeannemarie Devolites Davis. She is the director of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Virginia Liaison Office in Washington. She's a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate. She plans to be a candidate in next year's race for lieutenant governor in Virginia. If you have questions or comments for her, 800-433-8850. What issues do you think define the modern face of the Virginia Republican party? 800-433-8850.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Kathy in Sterling who said, "I've lived in northern Virginia for the past 25 years, and this is the first presidential campaign where I have seen ads for either party on TV. So far they've all been very civil. Let's set a nice example for the rest of the country and see if they stay that way." From what I have been seeing on television here in Tampa, Florida, they're not likely to stay that way. Do you think you can see a civil campaign without attack ads in Virginia?
DAVISIn reference to the presidential campaign?
NNAMDIIn -- the presidential campaign, yes.
DAVISI think that -- I'm glad to see that Kathy has been watching some positive campaigns. I have seen several negative ones already.
NNAMDISo have it.
DAVISYeah. And I think that this election's just going to get uglier before it -- before long. Folks are not going to want to watch television pretty soon. I think we're going to be inundated on the airwaves with very negative, ugly campaigning. And I will say that it isn't necessarily just from the candidates. I think what people lose sight of is because of campaign finance reform, what has happened is these 527s. These organizations and associations that are producing commercials now that are not authorized by either the candidates or their parties, are really going to, if they haven't already, overtake those advertisements that candidates and the parties themselves are sponsoring.
DAVISAnd there's just very little oversight in that regard, and I think that hose are really going to for the jugular as we get closer and closer to the election.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned the issue of sequestration earlier. What advice would you give members of Virginia's Congressional delegation as they cast votes later this year on the debt and avoiding the threat of sequestration and defense cuts? Would you advise them that it's worth it for Virginia to swallow some tax increases for high-income earners in order to avoid those cuts?
DAVISWell, I will respond by saying the House of Representatives has passed a series of reconciliation bills which actually address the sequester situation, and the challenge with the sequester isn't so much that they are cutting the budget. The challenge with the sequestration is that it's across the board cuts. Every program, every department gets cut equally same percentage across the board, which means that there wasn't any thought given to what the priorities are for the federal government.
DAVISIn northern -- in Virginia we're very concerned about defense cuts as it's such an important part of our economy, and I think too that many people think that public safety and our nation's security is the most important priority of the federal government, but the sequester doesn't prioritize. It doesn't say this area is more important than that area, let's cut more here and let's cut less there. It is a straight even across-the-board cut.
DAVISThe House of Representatives has taken a look at that. They've determined what their priorities are. They have passed these reconciliation bills. Unfortunately, Senator Reed, the majority leader in the Senate refuses to allow those to have a hearing. And so I think as long as the U.S. Senate is forbidden from considering how to go about prioritizing the budget and addressing the sequester, we're not going to see much progress. But I think the House has already started that dialogue. They have passed these bills.
DAVISSo it's clearly very doable if the U.S. Senate and Harry Reid are willing to allow progress on this, and then, of course, once the Senate has made their determination they can go into conference and they can work out their differences. But as long as Senator Reid is just sitting on these, and refuses to consider it before this election, and I think that he doesn't want to have to discussion before the election because it's politically charged, that we're very limited in seeing any progress in this before the next Congress.
NNAMDII want to get back to what you're expecting here from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. Obviously, you are here in part to look at your own prospects for the candidacy, but I'm interested in how you see the Republican party coming out of this convention, and the effect that is likely to have in the swing state of Virginia. What do you see -- what do you think can happen here that can give Mitt Romney a greater advantage in your home state?
DAVISWell, I think these conventions, the messages are -- meet your expectations. But what it does do, is it charges up the base in both parties, I think for both conventions. We'll leave this convention unified. We'll leave this convention with a group of -- a large group of very excited Republicans who will go back to their states, roll up their sleeves, lead the charge with grass roots, and work very hard to help elect Governor Romney and Congressman Ryan.
NNAMDIWell, let's get to you again. There are few organizations that hold as much sway in the Republican party in any state for that matter, including Virginia, as the NRA. Back in 2007 you won the endorsement of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg in your race for the Virginia Senate because you were willing to break GOP ranks and support stricter gun measures in the commonwealth. The Democrat you were running against in that race attacked you for being anti-gun. What lessons did you learn that year about the politics of gun control, particularly in the commonwealth of Virginia?
DAVISWell, I -- I am a strong and firm believer that everyone should have a background check before they're allowed to own, possess, or buy a firearm, and that was really the cause that I led. I think it's practical, I think it's realistic, I don't know how many people would disagree that those that should not be in possession of a firearm aren't, and so my goal has always been that any person, before they purchase a firearm, have a criminal background check to make sure that that person...
NNAMDIAnd that's the position...
DAVIS...is within their right.
NNAMDI...that you're not going to change?
DAVISNo. I'm not going to change that position.
NNAMDIVirginia's not a static place. The demographics are changing rapidly, but it's also a place that's become known for strict immigration measures.
NNAMDISome would say a policy in Prince William County, we mentioned Corey Stewart, essentially he is the advocate of that policy, brought it into effect that it became essentially the blueprint for the Arizona immigration law that sparked nationwide controversy these past several years. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said this on NBC's "Meet the Press" this weekend, that the GOP needs to change its tone on immigration, or suffer serious electoral consequences. How do you see it?
DAVISWell, I think the tone needs to be changed as well, only in this regard. I think that we need to focus on illegal residents. Clearly we have a law in the United States that you have to enter legally, but I think the tone has made all immigrants feel unwelcome by the Republican party, and I think that's unfortunate. I know both my husband, Congressman Davis, and I spent many, many years while we were in elected office visiting with our various immigrant communities, and I'll tell you, I'm second-generation American, Sicilian and Irish.
DAVISAnd when my grandparents came to this country they weren't treated very well. The Irish and Italian communities were not, but they worked hard and they rolled up their sleeves and that's what our new immigrants are doing, those that have come here legally. And we need to embrace them, just as all of my grandparents wanted to be embraced and worked hard and were good citizens. I know that our legal immigrants are a very, very important part of community.
DAVISSo I'm really delighted to be working with my Asian friends, my Latino friends. We're working hard to have them come to the convention. I think it's important that we have a diverse convention, and that everyone who is a voter participates in this nomination, our Republican voters from every ethnic background.
NNAMDIWhat do you think your candidacy for Lieutenant Governor will offer to Latino voters or to recent other groups of recent immigrants?
DAVISWell, once again, I think by reaching out to them and including them in the process, helps them feel like they're participating in their own government. Clearly, if they're voters, they're citizens, and I think it's very important that they not be excluded, but that they have a voice in the nominating process, and I think that by coming to a convention, and having a voice in that nominating process, they'll become more involved in elections, determining who their elected representatives will be, and in voicing their opinion about government and how it can best serve them.
NNAMDIWhen will you make a final decision and officially announce your candidacy?
DAVISWell, I have made a final decision. I leave the governor's office September 7 and start my statewide tour September 10. However, my goal is to move around the state, to meet people, to talk with them about the election, but we need to be focused on this year's election, and I feel very strongly about that. So my decision to make a formal announcement really won't come until just after this November's election, because we need to be focusing on electing Government Romney and Congressman and Ryan, and George Allen, Governor Allen, and our Congressional candidates.
NNAMDIJeannemarie Devolites Davis is the director of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's Virginia Liaison Office in Washington. She plans to be a candidate in next year's race for lieutenant governor of Virginia. Good luck to you.
DAVISThank you very much, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd please tell your chauffeur to drive safely here in Tampa.
DAVISI will do that. Thank you.
NNAMDITom Davis, we'll see you on Friday. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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