It's been two years since an unarmed man, 25-year-old Bijan Ghaisar, was shot and killed by police in Fairfax County. Kojo sits down with Bijan's family to discuss their quest for answers.
In Virginia — where elections this year were seen as a litmus test for the 2020 presidential contest — Democrats have gained control of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation.
So, what does this mean for the future of politics in Virginia? And what lies ahead for the Republican party in Northern Virginia now that the suburban vote has been swept up in a solidly “blue wave?”
Join Kojo and Tom Sherwood as they dig through the election results and hear from some of the winners.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
- Tom Sherwood Resident Analyst; Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper; @tomsherwood
- Daniella Cheslow Reporter covering Virginia politics, WAMU; @Dacheslow
- Quentin Kidd Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy; Dean of the College of Social Sciences at Christopher Newport University; @QuentinKidd
- Tim Hannigan Chairman, Fairfax County Republican Committee; @FairfaxGOP
- Wendy Gooditis Member, Virginia House of Delegates (D-District 10)
- Dan Helmer Member-elect, Virginia House of Delegates (D-District 40)
- Terry McAuliffe Former Governor, Virginia (D); @TerryMcAuliffe
KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned into The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5. Welcome. For the first time in 26 years, Democrats hold control of Virginia's legislature and governorship. Last night's pivotal election flipped the House of Delegates and the Senate blue. Joining me in studio is Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst, and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, thank you for joining us.
TOM SHERWOODGood afternoon.
NNAMDIAlso in studio is Daniella Cheslow. She covers Virginia politics for WAMU. Daniella, thank you for joining us.
DANIELLA CHESLOWThank you.
NNAMDIAnd joining us from studios of WABE in Atlanta, Georgia is Quentin Kidd. He's the Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy and Dean of the College of Social Sciences at Christopher Newport University. Quentin Kidd, thank you for joining us.
QUENTIN KIDDGood to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIDaniella, remind us what happened in last night's Virginia elections. Tell us about the returns, too. I mean, about the turnout.
CHESLOWSure. So, it was a dramatic night for Democrats. They took over the General Assembly. They picked up six seats in the House of Delegates, two seats in the State Senate. It's a radical change, especially since the Ralph Northam, the governor, is also a Democrat. And they toppled some giants, including Tim Hugo in Northern Virginia. He's had a seat for 17 years. This solidifies Northern Virginia as the center of the Democratic Party. And I think the Democrats can thank high turnout for that, because turnout really was much, much higher than previous off-off year's elections.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd, anything in addition to turnout? Other factors that led to the Democrats flipping both the State Senate and the House?
KIDDWell, yeah. So, I think this has been something that's been coming on for 10 years or more. You can divide, I think, the last 10-12 years of Virginia politics into two phases. One would be the Tea Party takeover of the Republican Party in Virginia. And once that happened, Republicans started losing elections. They started losing seats. And then, in the election of Donald Trump, which brought to the surface a mobilized electorate that previously hadn't been engaged in state politics. And those two things combined brought us to essentially a nearly even House of Delegates two years ago, you know, with the infamous winner drawn from a blue bowl. And then it brought us to this election yesterday, where Democrats control both the House and the Senate. Literally, eight years ago, Republicans had a two-thirds majority in the House. And so we've moved from a two-thirds majority Republican control in the House to a Democratic majority.
CHESLOWAnd I think it’s the foundation laid by the Tea Party, and then the election of Donald Trump, which energized this Democratic base, that has made Northern Virginia a sea of blue and increasingly large parts of Hampton Roads and western suburbs of Richmond blue.
SHERWOODProfessor, this is Tom Sherwood. Two years ago, the Democrats made big news in 2017 when they took 15 seats in the House and nearly took control. It seems the Republican Party did not respond to it well, and if they're paying the price this time around, Speaker Kurt Cox, who did keep his seat there in the suburbs of Richmond, said he would work with Democrats. Put out a nice statement saying he would work with Democrats, and he'd hope that the Democrats would be fair in committee assignments. But the Majority Leader, Todd Gilbert, put out a different kind of Republican statement. And he said -- and I'm going to quote his release -- "Make no mistake. Radical liberals from out of the Commonwealth will soon demand a return on the money they spent." And he says, "Virginia should expect public policies that look a lot more like train wrecked California than Virginia." So, it seems maybe the Republicans are not recognizing the changing demographics of the suburbs and exurbs that used to be there strong points.
KIDDYeah. You see both wings of the Republican Party in those two statements. I think the speaker's statement came out before Todd Gilbert's statement came out. But you see both sides of the party there. And it's a real interesting question, to me, going forward, which side of the Republican Party is going to win this struggle, because the Gilbert statement reflects the Tea Party kind of combative mentality, very conservative mentality. The speaker's statement reflects a more conciliatory, moderate Republican mentality. It isn't clear to me which side is going to win out in the short term. It is clear to me that Republicans can't get back to a majority position in either one of these chambers without winning the suburbs. The suburbs are where elections are won and lost in Virginia. And without winning the suburbs, Republicans are going to be in a minority for a while. So, somehow, they've got to figure out how to get their party back to a place where moderate suburban voters are attracted to them.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Terry McAuliffe. He is the former governor of Virginia. Governor McAuliffe, thank you very much for joining us.
TERRY MCAULIFFEKojo, great to be back with you, buddy.
NNAMDIYou campaigned a lot during this election campaign in Virginia. To what do you attribute the Democratic victory? And now that you control all the statewide offices, you'll be controlling the General Assembly. What the heck do you want now?
MCAULIFFEWell, we have done a clean sweep in Virginia. Six years ago, when I just won the governorship, before the Republicans controlled all three statewide, and I only had 32 Democrats out of 100. We have clawed back, and now we have the majority. But when the Republicans had power in Virginia, I mean, they worked and stopped Medicaid expansion for six years. If you remember, they passed the transvaginal bill, which made Virginia a laughing stalk in the country. And passed the trap laws to shut our 25 women's clinics down. And I think voters released that, you know, that obstruction, they don't want that anymore in Virginia. That's not who we were. But also a big note last night was we won Board of Supervisors in Prince William County. We also won the County Chair in Prince William. And we picked up the Board of Supervisors in Loudoun County. So, two of our fastest growing counties in Virginia became blue last night.
MCAULIFFEThat was one of the most significant things that came out of it. Not one Democrat lost in the House of Delegates, and we won from Hampton Roads, all the way up to Northern Virginia. Now we have to produce. And they want to see the minimum wage raise. They want to see ERA pass. They want commonsense gun restrictions. And I think after Virginia Beach when Governor Northam called them back for special session, and they adjourned within 90 minutes, I think the public had said, "Enough is enough. We are done with these folks. We want leadership. We want things done. We want our lives better." And that was not what the Republicans were offering. So, I agree with the earlier speakers. They're out of mainstream. But also last night we won the governorship in Kentucky. This is a state that Donald Trump won by 30 points. And Trump was a big factor. He was a huge factor for us in '17, and he was a huge factor. He wasn't on the ballot, but clearly people are energized. They're going to go out and vote. And I think Trump was a huge motivator for folks to say, "We don't like what's happening with the country, and we're going to send a message." And that's what they did.
NNAMDIBoth Danielle and Tom have questions for you. Daniella.
CHESLOWMan. Governor, I was wondering what you think the role of the anti-gun or control lobby was in this election, because in previous years, you could not run as a Democrat on gun control. And, this time, I kept on seeing the Moms Demand Action volunteers at every single campaign spot.
MCAULIFFEYeah. Well, Virginia has changed. Remember when I ran for governor I was the first nominee of the Democratic Party for governor to get an F rating from the NRA. I was very proud of that rating. I ran television ads. You know, 95 percent of Virginians today support commonsense gun restrictions. You know, shedding a loophole, background checks, getting rid of the high-capacity magazines. And we had a huge influx of folks come in from all over the country, as it relates to the issues of guns. Every town USA outspent the NRA eight-to-one. People said, "We've had enough of this." So, I think one of the biggest motivators last night was the issue of commonsense gun restrictions, especially after what happened at Virginia Beach and the idea the Republicans in 90 minutes left that session without doing anything. So, I think it was the number one issue we dealt with. But, also Medicaid expansion, for six years, they denied 400,000 people access to quality care.
NNAMDIGovernor McAuliffe, this is not The Politics Hour, but Tom Sherwood, I know wants to ask the political question --
NNAMDI-- that Daniella, Quentin and I all want to ask ourselves, but Tom you got it.
SHERWOODThank you for cutting that answer short, so I could get my question in. In your statement praising the victory, you noted that you traveled the state for six months, went to 130 events. You stepped in to help campaign when Governor Ralph Northam's controversies earlier in the year had slowed him down a bit. You're also being talked about as a potential candidate for governor in the 2021 campaign. I know you're not going to say yes or no about that now. But tell me how close that decision will be, because, you know, there are other people. State Senator Jen McClellan in Richmond suburbs and other people are looking at it. Given this big victory for Democrats, what is your timetable for making any kind of announcement about running for governor again and becoming the first governor in several decades to repeat? Short answer.
MCAULIFFEWell, I was all about (unintelligible), and I did 131 events. And then, obviously, next year, we have the presidential, and I want to make sure that Virginia goes blue. I would seriously consider it. I haven't, at this point, because we've had other things going on. But, I think as you know, Tom, I love that job. There's no other job in America where you literally can get out of bed and you can help people every single day. I mean, I restored more felon rights than any other --
SHERWOODOkay, Governor, we only have a short amount of time. I appreciate that you have a long list. I don't want you to tell it. You had a good record as governor. So, you're going to consider running for governor again, but you're not close to making that decision at this moment. I have another question.
MCAULIFFENot close. Yeah.
SHERWOODThe Democrats have supported a non-partisan commission to redraw state boundaries, because there's been so much controversy about it, like in other states. It's been passed by the legislature once, that the legislature passes it again in this coming year, it will be on the ballot in 2020 for the Virginians to decide to have a non-partisan commission draw the boundaries for the next census period. However, some people are saying the Supreme Court says you can have partisan districts, and that the Democrats may not go forward with the citizen commission. Would you support -- do you still support the citizen commission, or do you want the Democrats to redraw state boundaries?
MCAULIFFEWell, listen, I was one of the founders of the National Democratic Redistricting Commission was Eric Holder, working with President Obama. I am for 50 states to have independent, non-partisan commissions. I am concerned about what we have set up in Virginia, because it gives power to the Supreme Court, which is a partisan Supreme Court. This is the same court that sued me on restoration rights. So, I've got to look at it. I want non-partisan citizens. I don't want partisanship brought into it, because I do think these gerrymandered districts have destroyed democracy in the country. So, it's something I'm going to look at, but I don't want to see the Supreme Court of Virginia, which to me is very partisan, having the final arbitration on this. So, I'm into it, but I want to make sure that it truly is a non-partisan commission.
NNAMDIAnd, Quentin, the governor only has a minute or two left. I wanted to know if you had any questions for him.
KIDDLook, what I hear -- I'd just like to follow up on that. I hear hesitation on redistricting commission. I'd like to know how widespread that hesitation is among a lot of these newly elected or reelected Democrats who are now going to control the General Assembly.
MCAULIFFEWell, listen, this is something we have to sit, we have to look at it. As I said, I want truly non-partisan. And we have to make that what they have done is truly non-partisan citizen run commission to draw these lines fairly. I'm all for fair lines. People agree with us on the issues. They proved it last night. And we just need to make sure that it truly is a non-partisan commission.
NNAMDITom Sherwood has the final question for you.
SHERWOODGovernor, the Democrats I think meet on this coming Saturday to decide who they're going to pick to be the speaker of the House.
SHERWOODEveryone has thought it's going to be Eileen Filler-Corn. But she's had a couple -- at least one person announced they're going to run against her. Are you at all concerned that Democrats may start the very infighting that could undermine what they get to do?
MCAULIFFEWell, it'll be resolved this Saturday. I campaigned at the 130 events I did, many of them were with Eileen. She's been a great leader. She would be the first woman speaker in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
SHERWOODShe's from Fairfax.
MCAULIFFEI know that Lashrecse Aird today said that she's interested in it. So, no matter what happens, we're going to get a woman speaker, which, for me, is historic. And I'm staying out of the battle between -- I help them get elected, but I'm going to let them figure out their leadership.
NNAMDITerry McAuliffe is former Governor of Virginia. Governor McAuliffe, thank you so much for joining us.
MCAULIFFEThank you, everybody. Bye-bye.
NNAMDIHere's Julio, in Silver Spring, Maryland. Julio, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JULIOHi, Kojo. Thanks for having me on. I was actually in Prince William County and Silver Spring yesterday, working a poll. And I was excited to see that the Prince William County Board of Supervisors flipped from majority Republican, from a 6-2, to majority Democrat, 5-3. And it's exciting also that it's going to be a majority female board, and also majority people of color. It went from being a completely white board, until recently, this new victory (unintelligible) four black members and one Latino. So, that's exciting news.
NNAMDICare to comment on that, Daniella?
CHESLOWYou're right. There was certainly a lot of Democratic victory on the county level, as well. One of my favorite stories is Juli Briskman. She is the woman who became famous for flipping the bird to the Trump motorcade as it drove by her while she was cycling in Sterling, Virginia. She ran for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. And she won, and she's now going to represent the district where the president's golf course is.
NNAMDIJust goes to show that flipping the bird doesn't always mean you're going to lose. Go ahead.
SHERWOODI was just going to say, we could point out in Fairfax County, on the School Board, Abrar Omeish won a seat. She is the first Muslim they elected in the State of Virginia.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on the results of yesterday's elections in Virginia. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing yesterdays' elections in Virginia with Tom Sherwood. He's our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. Daniella Cheslow covers Virginia politics for WAMU. Quentin Kidd is the Director of the Wason Center for Public Policy and Dean of the College of Social Sciences at Christopher Newport University. Quentin Kidd, there was one race in Newport News, where Christopher Newport University is based, that was pretty notable. I'm talking about Democrat Shelly Simonds defeating Republican Delegate David Yancey. They faced each other in 2017. What happened then? What happened now?
KIDDYeah. This is actually the third time they've faced each other. And the last time, two years ago, was much more notable, because it is the rare example where we can -- those of us who teach political science can actually point to that race and say, "You see. Every vote does really count." Because it ended up in actual tie, a literal tie. And David Yancey won because his name was pulled out of that infamous blue bowl on national TV, at the capitol. What happened since then was a court ordered redrawing that affected about 22 House of Delegates districts in southeast Virginia, the 94th being one of those. And so what was a nearly evenly split district that leaned a little R two years ago became a pretty significantly Democratic leaning district this time. And the election results reflect that.
KIDDShelly Simonds beats David Yancey by 17 points, which is a really powerful swing from a tie two years ago. So, this was really a non-event this year. Shelly Simonds won that, going away. And it doesn't, you know -- short of another round of redistricting that really changes those lines, it doesn't look like that district is really going to be competitive in the near future.
NNAMDIJoining us now by phone is Tim Hannigan. Tim Hannigan is the Chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Tim Hannigan, thank you for joining us.
TIM HANNIGANGlad to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIThat blue wave hit Virginia and Northern Virginia particularly hard last night. Why do you think Republicans fell so short in this election cycle?
HANNIGANWell, let me just say at the outset that it was certainly a beating that the Republicans took last night. We have to acknowledge that. And by doing that, I think we can then start assessing what we did right and what we did wrong, and hopefully developing a plan and regrouping in a way so that we can be more successful in the future. I also want to congratulate the Democrats for their fine efforts in this area. Now, to answer your question, I think that Republicans have failed to convey what we think is a winning message and to different groups in ways that are acceptable to them, large portions of the voting bloc. I'm 100 percent convinced that our message of limited government, of caring about the individual citizens and free enterprise -- the traditional Republican messages -- will resonate.
HANNIGANBut the onus is on us as a party to present those messages more effectively, and not just before elections. But over the long haul.
NNAMDIWell, if I may interrupt, the message that seemed to come across in this election -- even though Republicans were not necessarily trying to send -- is that your opposition to gun control played a significant factor in these elections. Any idea about whether the Republicans need to change that in order to be able to make some headway in Virginia?
HANNIGANNo, I don't think so. I think that, you know, at the state level, that was an issue, and it was promoted. But there are other issues that I think where we could have presented our message more effectively.
SHERWOODWhat is the Republican message on guns?
HANNIGANGenerally, the message is that citizens should be able to protect themselves. That's the Second Amendment. Now, when you start getting into the details about what limitations, then we need to look at them, and where they make sense, we can adopt some gun control procedures. But the idea of taking guns and narrowly restricting the ability of people to protect themselves I think is a mistake. And so, you know, that would be my comment on that.
NNAMDIWell, Tim Hannigan, listen to what Rob in Arlington, Virginia has to say on this issue. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBYeah. Thank you, Kojo and Tom. Thanks for taking my call. I'm a former Republican, now a Democrat. And Mr. Hannigan is espousing the exact reason I voted Democratic. I was in the Navy Yard during the shootings couple of years ago. So, this is personal to me. Got out of the building right before it happened. So, that idiot bought a gun in Virginia, and he was crazy. So, how can he say what he's saying? And how do we hold the Democrats feet to fire to get gun control passed? And I want draconian gun controls. Thank you.
NNAMDITim Hannigan, the impression I got is that people like Rob, who are in favor of gun control, felt so strongly about it in this campaign, that some of them who are independent and maybe even some who were Republican switched to Democrats. Don't you think that the Republicans, as a result of that, might want to rethink their strategy on this issue?
HANNIGANI think the Republicans need to point out to voters like Rob and others that places where gun control has been implemented in an aggressive way -- i.e., like the City of Chicago -- it has not worked. The people whose guns are controlled are the law-abiding citizens. They're the people who lose the rights to guns, and often it's criminals that are using the guns, because they obtain them illegally and use them illegally. So, I think that's an area, as I mentioned before, where Republicans, I think, can do a much better job in presenting our views on that, and in a more effective way. But I must say that it wasn't just gun control that controlled the elections or were the only factors in the elections. In Fairfax County, where we're working, we had a lot of issues related to our school system to a notion of one Fairfax, based on a very undefined notion of equity.
HANNIGANWe've had sanctuary city policies that have implemented. We have terrible traffic congestion. And so, we were running at the county level on those issues and our positions on those issues, and gun control was not a part of most of those discussions.
NNAMDIOkay. Here's Daniella Cheslow.
CHESLOWHi, Tim. This is Daniella Cheslow. Good to have you on the air. And I wanted to ask you about a message I got from a Republican strategist who sent me this. He said, "The party is effectively destroyed for years to come. Even worse, it's too internally dysfunctional to learn from this loss and restructure with winning in mind." What do you think about that?
HANNIGANWell, I strongly disagree with that. Any organization or any team or a cause that suffers a defeat, you know, needs to figure out how to get back up on its feet. And that's what I was talking about right at the very start.
HANNIGANI mean, if we just tuck our tails between our legs and run home and say that we can't do anything better, yes, that will take place. But I think the onus is on us Republicans now to acknowledge the defeat, and then get even more aggressive about how we can go about developing strategies, techniques, messages that will resonate with the voters so we can get back winning. And I think, you know...
NNAMDILet's talk about that. Quentin Kidd?
KIDDI'm wondering, though, if that is a different Republican Party for Virginia than the Republican Party that has presented itself to voters over the last several election cycles. I mean, what does that look like, practically, as a party and a party platform?
HANNIGANWell, I don't have all the answers right now, because we have to assess this, but I will agree with your basic point. Yes, that is a different Republican Party. The Republican Party -- we need to open ourselves up to different ideas and different groups. We cannot be closed just to a small group of people believing certain things, and if you don't believe them, then you're on the outside. So, we need to be all-embracing.
HANNIGANOne of the heartening things that we had in Fairfax County this year is we had candidates running for office from a number of different ethnic groups, racial groups, that have not traditionally been involved with the Republican Party. And I think part of that is because they saw an opportunity based on what we were doing and the principles we were putting out. And, hopefully, the welcoming that we gave to them, that this was a place for them to run. Now, they weren't successful...
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Did any of them win?
HANNIGANNo, they weren't successful this time around, but that doesn't mean that that's not a good approach as we go down the road. So...
NNAMDIOkay. Specifically, in Fairfax County, a key race there went to a Democratic candidate. Democrat Steve Descano beat out independent candidate John Fahey for the Fairfax County Commonwealth's attorney position. Descano ran on the platform of progressive justice. What do you think about his win?
HANNIGANI think of all the losses, maybe with the exception of Delegate Hugo, that was the worst one to take, because I do think that the Democrat who won was not even liked by a lot of Democrats, even though he did end up winning, got a lot of votes.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Didn't he get about 60 percent of the votes?
HANNIGANAnd I know a lot of disaffected Democrats who did not like him based on his lack of experience, and because of the positions that he was taking on enforcing laws that are on the books. And he was saying, basically, he was not going to enforce them, as the Commonwealth attorney. And that caused a lot of people to be concerned.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But he won with about 60 percent of the vote.
HANNIGANSixty to 40. I was surprised that he received as strong a vote as possible. I think that we did not get out the message about him and the strength of our candidate as effectively as we could. And...
NNAMDIDo you think President Trump...
HANNIGAN...it's not just that candidate, but, in general, we, as the Republicans, have to brand ourselves in such a way across the county so that we're more appealing to more voters.
NNAMDIDo you think President Trump helped or hurt Republican candidates, particularly in Northern Virginia?
HANNIGANIt's hard to say, to make an assessment. I do know that some of our candidates would say that they would get the door slammed in their face if they answered the question about whether they supported President Trump. And yet we have hundreds, thousands of Republicans in the county that are 100 percent behind President Trump and what he's doing. So, I personally think President Trump has been tremendous for this country. And I think there's a lot of things that he has done that we can take and convey to voters that will help attract voters in the future.
NNAMDIThat doesn't seem to be getting traction in Virginia right now.
SHERWOODI don't think you like his Twitter policies, I don't believe. (laugh)
NNAMDII think we're just about out of time. Tim Hannigan is the chairman of the Fairfax County Republican Committee. Thank you for joining us.
HANNIGANYes, sir. Good to be with you, Kojo.
NNAMDIHere's Cofey in Arlington, Virginia. Cofey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
COFEYGood afternoon, Kojo and all listeners of WAMU. I have a statement and...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Please make it brief.
COFEYOkay. I have lived in the United Stated for the last 36 years. And the United States I see today, from the Republican side of events and the way they talk and the way they see people who immigrate to the United States is not what I know for all the (unintelligible). The hate coming from President Trump and Republicans supporting him overwhelmingly, it's unbelievable. And I do a little MC at the Guinean events, and I do ask my fellow Guineans who are citizens in the United States, to vote. And we can't continue the way we see this.
NNAMDI(overlapping) And if they lived in Virginia, they probably came out and voted yesterday, and they voted Democrat. I'm sorry, I have to cut you off, but we're running out of time, and I want to get Chris in Falls Church, Virginia in. Chris, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CHRISHi. Thank you for taking my call, Kojo. You haven't mentioned the fact that the two pipelines across Virginia and the environment and the anger at Dominion Power was a very important part of this victory all over the state. I mean, I don't know anyone who likes their Dominion Power bill every month. (laugh) And also...
NNAMDIWell, let me have Daniella comment on that.
CHESLOWI think that's a very interesting point. We've been talking about all the money flowing into this race, making it one of the most expensive, if not the most expensive General Assembly races in Virginia. Six million dollars came from environmental groups. That's more than the pro-abortion groups. That's more than the gun control groups. And, you're right, that issue really has flown under the radar.
NNAMDIAnd Quentin Kidd, another issue we haven't touched on is the economy. How much of a driver were the issues around jobs and getting voters to the polls?
KIDDWell, so, I think you can wrap things like the economy into a larger, what I would just call a steady wind. You know, there's been a steady wind of discontent in Virginia blowing out of D.C. probably since the Great Recession. You know, it's funny, governors get credit and blamed, a little bit of credit and a little bit of blame when the economy is so good at states across the country. But, in Virginia -- and this is probably true in Maryland, to some extent -- governors can point to Washington and blame Washington for a lot of things.
KIDDAnd I say all that to say that narrative wraps really well into an anti-Trump sentiment that is really strong in Virginia. You know, I noticed that Governor McAuliffe wanted to give a lot of credit to gun control and gun safety issues. But I really think the anti-Trump wind that blew steadily across Virginia, played a large role. It shaped the contours of the way voters saw issues like the economy, like abortion, you know, like Medicaid expansion and healthcare issues and gun control. It shaped the way voters saw those issues. And it shaped them in ways that were really beneficial to Democrats and really difficult for Republicans to deal with.
SHERWOODI'd like to remind people that Trump was not popular in Virginia among Republicans for the 2016 presidential campaign. They liked Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Kasich. Trump was like fourth, fifth on the list of people, and, of course, he lost to Hillary Clinton, I mean, at the state of Virginia. He's never been really popular, and he's just made it worse with his Twitter tirades, his immigration policies, his environmental -- you name the issue, it seems to attack -- or affect Virginia.
CHESLOWAlso, you know, I spoke to some Moms Demand Action volunteers, and one of them told me, I was so enraged by the 2016 election, and I was enraged about guns. And I said to myself, you've got to choose one issue. So, it seemed like among the gun control groups, they had channeled all of their frustration that you just described, Quentin, into one issue. But it really could've been a whole host of things that were grinding their gears.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break now, but before we go, we got a call from Kim in McLean, Virginia, who couldn't stay on the line, who asked: what's the plan for what the Democrats are going to do to address the gap with rural voters? I suspect that's not on the minds of Democrats, even as we speak, but at some point down the road, (laugh) it may be on their minds. But, for the time being, they're celebrating the fact that they've won the General Assembly. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about yesterday's elections in Virginia with Tom Sherwood. He's our resident analyst and contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Daniella Cheslow covers Virginia politics for WAMU, and Quentin Kidd is the director of the Wason Center for Public Policy, also dean of the college of social sciences at Christopher Newport University. And joining us now by phone is Dan Helmer. Dan Helmer is a Democratic member elect in the Virginia House of Delegates for District 40, which includes Fairfax and Prince William Counties. Dan Helmer, congratulations. Thank you for joining us.
DAN HELMERThank you. I'm so excited to be on the show with you today.
NNAMDIYou campaigned as an Army veteran who supports stronger gun control. What will be your priorities regarding gun policy when the legislative session starts?
HELMERKojo, we heard, in thousands of conversations with our neighbors, just how important this issue is. And we're going to pass universal background checks in Virginia. We're going to ban high-capacity magazines. We're going to get red-flag laws. We're going to pass safe-storage laws because we heard time and again from our neighbors that they really want to see meaningful gun legislation in our Commonwealth that keeps our families and our children safe.
NNAMDIWhat other priorities do you have?
HELMERWell, we are going to go ahead and reject this notion that being best for business means being worst for working families. We're going to pass the $15 minimum wage. And we need to go ahead, and I heard an earlier caller ask about it, and tackle the most important issue of our time, which is climate change, because our kids deserve adults who are going to focus on the future.
SHERWOODWhat about right-to-work?
HELMERWe're going to make sure that we allow people to have the opportunity to join unions. And we have been anti-labor in this Commonwealth in ways that have meant that -- you know, I had conversations with a woman who was paid $9 an hour as a preschool teacher, had to work two other jobs to keep their family in their home. And we're going to make sure that if you work in Virginia, you can keep yourself and your family living in dignity. And we're going to take the steps to address that.
KIDDLet me ask you about...
CHESLOWSorry. May I ask you about AR15's Dan?
HELMERYeah, if I carried it in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has no place in our streets and our Commonwealth.
KIDDYeah, what about redistricting reform? You haven't had the opportunity to vote on that, but you will. Will you support it?
SHERWOODRedistricting, will you support the citizens commission to redraw the state lines, or will you follow the U.S. Supreme Court, which says you can do it in a partisan way, now that Democrats are in control?
HELMERWe heard a fundamental call for reform, and so we are going to pass the independent redistricting, or the nearly independent redistricting. We're going to pass it a second time and get it in front of voters, because I firmly believe that voters should choose their politicians, not the other way around. And we're going to pass meaningful campaign finance reform in Virginia, because it is time that all of us had a say in who represents us. And the wild west campaign funding in Virginia just needs to end.
SHERWOODWho are you going to support for speaker of the House?
HELMERWe have had amazing leadership here, and we're going to have those conversations. I will say...
HELMER(laugh) Well, I have just gotten off a 2 a.m. night, and I have not had a lot of chance to think about it. But now that you're asking me about it, I'm thinking about it.
NNAMDIWell, Tim Hugo campaigned as delegate pothole, so let's talk about transportation. If you're not going to be running around filling potholes, what are your transportation priorities for Fairfax County? Tom Sherwood spent some time driving around your district yesterday, and said that he couldn't even figure out how people got to the polls, there was so much gridlock.
SHERWOODI was at St. Peters in the Woods for one of the precincts and driving n Ox Road and all these other different places. I thought, my God, people do this twice a day?
HELMERYeah, we had a General Assembly that, for years, it deprived Northern Virginia, the funding we need for transportation infrastructure. As recently as a couple years ago, despite having representation from Northern Virginia that you would think would vote our way, didn't. And we are going to fundamentally reshape transportation funding.
HELMERWe're going to look at a mix of not just fixing our roads, but increasing the availability and access to mass transit, encouraging smarter development, making our communities more walkable and bikeable. There is no silver bullet, as all of you know, to fixing our traffic. But those like me who run businesses here in Northern Virginia know just how much of a tax it is on all of us that we can't get to work, and that we can't spend the time we want to with our families. So, it is going to be a priority of this General Assembly.
NNAMDILuke in Stafford, Virginia has a question. Luke, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LUKEHi. Thanks for having me on. My question was, is it the plan of the Democrats in the General Assembly now to push for automatic voter registration?
HELMERI would love to see automatic voter registration and a real change to voter suppression laws that have made it too hard for too long for people to vote in our district. And I think it goes fundamentally beside campaign finance reform and anti-gerrymandering measures to make sure that, again, voters have the opportunity to choose their representation, and not the other way around.
CHESLOWI think the campaign finance issue is really interesting, considering that your race was the most expensive House of Delegates race in Virginia history. So, what kind of campaign finance reform do you have in mind?
HELMERYeah. We need to end the no-limit donations to campaigns. We need to remove the ability of regulated utilities with business before the state, like Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, to give massive amounts of money to those who regulate them and pass the laws that oversee them. And...
CHESLOWWhat about out-of-state money?
HELMERYeah. I mean, we need to look at the whole package of ways in which our campaigns are financed, collectively. And I think there's going to be a really robust conversation on what exactly that looks like. I think what the U.S. House has done in terms of HR1 provides a lot of the template of many of the democracy reforms that we can pass here in Virginia, where we now have the responsibility that comes with being in control of the General Assembly.
NNAMDIDan Helmer is a Democratic member-elect in the Virginia House of Delegates for District 40 which includes Fairfax and Prince Williams Counties. Thank you so much for joining us, and good luck.
HELMERIt's my pleasure. Thank you for having me on.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd, most issues that drove voters to the polls this year seemed to be the same issues that are gaining national attention: gun policy, healthcare, education, women's rights. Is that typical in local elections?
KIDDWell, no, isn't. You know, Democrats did a really good job this year. They did a really good job in 2017, also, of nationalizing these races, sort of capturing that mobilized Democratic vote that was frustrated by the 2016 election of Donald Trump. So, Democrats did a good job of nationalizing the races. Republicans wanted nothing more than to talk about potholes and schools buildings and things like that. Democrats were talking about issues like gun control, abortion, healthcare.
KIDDDemocrats across the country have to look at what happened in Virginia last night, yesterday, and in Kentucky. And they must be taking some really valuable lessons and some optimistic lessons away from that. I mean, you can think about the eastern suburbs of Denver, the eastern suburbs of Kansas City, the western suburbs of Philadelphia as demographically looking a lot like the suburbs of Virginia. And Democrats must be looking at those suburban areas and saying, look, we kind of have a better idea about what will work and what won't work in terms of issues...
NNAMDI(overlapping) Okay. Got to interrupt for a second, because...
KIDD...as we go into 2020.
NNAMDI…we're running out of time, and I'd like to get in Wendy Gooditis, here. Wendy Gooditis is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates in District 10, who won yesterday. Wendy Gooditis, congratulations. Thank you for joining us.
WENDY GOODITISThank you very much, sir. It's my pleasure.
NNAMDIYou faced Randy Minshew for the first time in 2017. What does it tell you about your constituents now that they've reelected you two years later?
GOODITISWell, I think that -- so, the first time he didn't see me coming. He ran campaign-light. The second time, he threw everything at it, including a whole hunk of his personal fortune. And, sadly, he kind of went mini-Trump with the real lies and accusations easily proven to be wrong. I was very surprised. He had a Virginia gentleman persona. He kind of shot that to bits. But I'm so proud of the constituency to recognize the lies and to stay with the issues that matter to them.
CHESLOWDelegate-Elect Gooditis, you and I went out door knocking together, and you told me that your district has basically two halves. One of them is the very Democratic city of Leesburg and its immediate suburbs, and the other half was the more rural outskirts of the district. So, I'm wondering, how are you going to connect to the rural side of your district? What are the issues that you can help with there?
GOODITISWell, the good news there is I've been a countrywoman all my life. I have been raised with farmers and hunters and fishermen in the family, and surrounded by a rural lifestyle all my life. We live on a horse farm in Clark County now, my husband and I. So, in those ways, in the western half of the district, there are a lot of issues that I connect with. And I think people see that.
GOODITISI'm on the agriculture Chesapeake Bay Natural Resources Committee in Richmond because I asked to be. I wanted to be there. So, I think that a whole lot of the constituency, while they may not support, you know, some of the Democratic issues, they certainly know that I'm on their side in terms of rural issues.
SHERWOODDid you hear Dan Helmer just now on the program? He named a lot of Democratic progressive issues. Is there any danger at all that the Democrats, flush with victory, will overreact? There's some fear in the -- or some concerns in the presidential campaign that the Democratic candidates may be too liberal for the bulk of American voters. Is there a danger of that in the Virginia Assembly?
GOODITISYou know, it's so interesting. I sort of think of myself as pretty progressive, and yet, as we enter this next session, I am already very, very aware of the fact that we have to move with care. We have to move slowly. We represent all Virginians, not just the people who voted our way. And while there are things that should happen immediately -- and I will tack the ERA onto that list.
NNAMDII was about to say, how would you respond to this Tweet we got from Men for ERA? I would like to see the Virginia General Assembly pass the ERA on day one of this session.
GOODITIS(laugh) I don't have any idea, since I am not in charge of the schedule. If I had my way, it will be day one, but I'm pretty confident that it will come up quickly. And, you know what, I have a daughter. I think she deserves to be paid as much as the guy who works next door so...
SHERWOODWho are you supporting for speaker of the house? The Democrats, so people will know, are caucusing on Saturday. Who are you supporting for speaker of the House?
GOODITISI am going to support a speaker who has the sense to see what's important to all Virginians and...
SHERWOODWho is that?
SHERWOODAre you supporting Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax?
GOODITISWell, let's say that she is my mentor, has been since the day I was very fortunate to be chosen by her. She is spectacular and smart and hard-working.
SHERWOODOkay. I just wanted to make it clear. Thank you.
NNAMDIWell, we'll have to see what happens. Wendy Gooditis, thank you so much for joining us. And, once again, congratulations and good luck.
GOODITISThank you. I appreciate it.
NNAMDIQuentin Kidd, we're almost out of time, but a lot of analysts and news outlets look to Virginia as a litmus test for 2020. Is there anything we can take from last night's results that can tell us something about the 2020 presidential and congressional election?
KIDDYeah, very quickly, the anti-Trump energy is still there. We've seen it through three election cycles. It's still there. I've no reason to think it won't go away in 2020. And if Democrats -- whatever issue they're running on, if they can wrap it into that energy, then they're going to do better than otherwise.
SHERWOODWhat if Trump is not on the ballot? Either he decides, for reasons yet known, not to run or is impeached? Which is not going to happen.
KIDDYeah, well, that's a good question. I mean, I think the whole dynamic changes probably at that point.
NNAMDIWell, let's get the final word from Susan Swecker, chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. Susan Swecker, you're on the air. You only have about a minute.
SUSAN SWECKERI am a very happy chairwoman. Thanks for having me on. And it was really great to listen to Wendy and Dan talk today. And I just wanted to call and say I appreciate what you all did last night. I thought your program was really great, the parts I got to listen to. And I'm really a proud chairwoman.
SUSAN SWECKERI did want to say one thing. That is a process thing, but really important when the whole story gets told, is we did something different in Virginia this year. We brought our whole effort together under what we call take the majority, which is otherwise known as a coordinated campaign.
NNAMDIBoots on the ground.
SWECKERAnd we partnered with Governor McAuliffe, Governor Northam, the house and the senate, other stakeholders. We had a $2.6 million budget, and had all sorts of folks on the ground, and all these targeted races. And it paid off.
NNAMDIDid you get any sleep last night?
SWECKERA little bit, but I'm still a little wired, as you can tell. I think I'm spending too much time with Terry McAuliffe. (laugh)
NNAMDISusan Swecker is chair of the Virginia Democratic Party. Thank you so much for joining us.
SWECKERThanks so much.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up tomorrow, Bei Bei is saying goodbye to his adoring public at the National Zoo this month. We’ll have all of the details on his sendoff. Plus, are police body cameras an effective tool for policing? We'll look at what the data from the Metropolitan Police Department shows. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Tom Sherwood, Daniella Cheslow, Quentin Kidd, thank you all for joining us. And thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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