Va.’s shift may spread to NC

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY NED BAR­NETT Bar­nett: 919-829-4512, nbar­[email protected]­sos­b­server.com

So far this year, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers in Vir­ginia’s House of Del­e­gates have used their new ma­jor­ity to pass seven pieces of gun safety leg­is­la­tion. They did it in one day. Com­ing up next on Vir­ginia’s leg­isla­tive agenda: ex­pand vot­ing rights, ease abor­tion re­stric­tions, raise the min­i­mum wage, pro­tect LGBTQ rights and in­crease fund­ing for taxes to pro­mote mass tran­sit.

The dy­nam­ics driv­ing Vir­ginia’s left­ward swing are sim­i­lar to what’s hap­pen­ing in North Carolina: A long stretch with Democrats out of power as a state turns in­creas­ingly blue builds pres­sure for a surge of lib­eral leg­is­la­tion if Democrats re­turn to power.

Vir­ginia Democrats won full con­trol of the leg­is­la­ture last Novem­ber for the first time in more than 20 years. With the added ad­van­tage of a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers came into Rich­mond with a pent-up agenda and a sense of ur­gency. The morn­ing af­ter the elec­tion, Ibra­heem S. Sami­rah, a Demo­cratic mem­ber of the House of Del­e­gates, tweeted: “What we’re not go­ing to do is spend two years slow-walk­ing this new ma­jor­ity into the next elec­tion sea­son. We need to act boldly on the prom­ises we made to make Vir­ginia af­ford­able, in­clu­sive, & just.”

In North Carolina, Democrats have been in the leg­isla­tive mi­nor­ity since 2011 when Repub­li­can law­mak­ers took con­trol of both cham­bers for the first time in more than a cen­tury. The Repub­li­cans had a long-de­nied agenda and they car­ried it out ag­gres­sively. Taxes were cut, school choice was ex­panded, pub­lic schools went want­ing, environmen­tal pro­tec­tion reg­u­la­tions were re­duced and ac­cess to vot­ing was lim­ited.

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers ob­jected in pas­sion­ate speeches, more than a thou­sand Moral Mon­day pro­test­ers were ar­rested and teach­ers twice marched on the Gen­eral Assem­bly for more school fund­ing, all to no ef­fect. But that frus­tra­tion could trig­ger a Vir­ginia-like rush of lib­eral re­forms if Democrats win back the state House and Sen­ate this Novem­ber or in 2022.

State Rep. Deb But­ler, a Wilm­ing­ton Demo­crat and House whip, said the Democrats’ to-do list would start with Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion and big raises for teach­ers. There would also be a bond is­sue for school build­ings and a restora­tion of fund­ing cuts to the Depart­ment of Environmen­tal Qual­ity. She said Democrats would also tighten re­stric­tions on guns, make it eas­ier to vote and raise the state’s min­i­mum wage, which re­mains tied to the fed­eral min­i­mum of $7.25 an hour.

“We need to start tak­ing strides for­ward,” she said.

State Sen. Dan Blue, a Wake County Demo­crat and Sen­ate mi­nor­ity leader, said a new Demo­cratic ma­jor­ity would also re­verse many Repub­li­can-backed laws. “There are a lot of things we have to undo that they have done,” he said.

Growth in North­ern Vir­ginia, which ac­counted for nearly two-thirds of the state’s pop­u­la­tion growth since 2010, has cre­ated a larger base of sub­ur­ban Democrats and in­de­pen­dents. Pres­i­dent Trump’s den­i­gra­tion of pub­lic ser­vants and his coarse lan­guage gen­er­ally have strength­ened Demo­cratic sup­port in the re­gion.

Bob Holsworth, a former po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor at Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Univer­sity and a long­time ob­server of Vir­ginia pol­i­tics, said Trump came to of­fice pledg­ing to “drain the swamp” of the bu­reau­crats, lob­by­ists and fed­eral con­trac­tors who rep­re­sent much of north­ern Vir­ginia’s econ­omy. “In­stead,” Holsworth said, “he drained it of Repub­li­cans.”

North Carolina went for Trump in 2016, but the home coun­ties of most of its larger cities — Char­lotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greens­boro, Fayet­teville, Win­ston-Salem and Asheville — went for Hil­lary Clin­ton. Those blue ur­ban coun­ties — sup­ported by uni­ver­si­ties, bank­ing and high-tech com­pa­nies — are grow­ing as the Repub­li­cans’ ru­ral base is erod­ing. The shift that tipped Vir­ginia to the left is now rum­bling un­der North Carolina.

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