Thursday, June 13, 2019

Commonwealth of the Wicked edition

Primary day in Virginia has come and gone, and now all the ballots have been set for November.
… well, almost all.

One local Republican committee is tearing itself apart trying to figure out who’s the official nominee for the 97th House District.
  • According to some, Del. Chris Peace was ousted by Scott Wyatt in a convention back in May. 
    • But Peace and the state GOP maintain that convention lacked legitimacy and claim the incumbent won a firehouse primary earlier this month in this suburban-rural district outside of Richmond.
Depending on who prevails in this intra-party battle, Peace would be one of two Republicans who supported Medicaid expansion in Virginia last summer to fall to challengers from their right.
  • The other is Del. Bob Thomas, who barely beat Democrat Joshua Cole in HD-28 two years ago (and possibly only because of some erroneous ballot distribution in a split precinct).
    • Thomas rather solidly lost to local county supervisor Paul Milde.
    • Cole, by the by, is giving it another go this fall.
  • Medicaid expansion-supporting Sen. Emmett Hanger, on the other hand, easily dispatched challenger Tina Freitas, wife of ultra-conservative Del. Nick Freitas.
    • If she’d won, the pair might have been Virginia’s first married couple to serve together in the legislature.
My colleague Jeff Singer has an excellent and intensive analysis of the difficulties facing the Virginia GOP this fall that you should read, but here are some highlights: 
  • As an erudite reader of This Week in Statehouse Action, you probably already know that all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly (100 House, 40 Senate) are up this fall.
  • You surely also already know that Republicans are clinging to itty-bitty majorities in both chambers: 21-19 in the Senate, 51-49 in the House of Delegates.
    • Those numbers already look pretty good on paper, in terms of distance to goal, but Virginia Democrats got another boost when a court ruled a whole slew of House districts to be unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
    • The judges redrew the 25 affected districts, and many of them changed in favor of Team Blue.
      • In fact, the new bluest Republican-held seat may ring a bell—it’s currently represented by Del. David Yancey, who only holds it by virtue of the luck of a literal draw that should never have happened in the first place.
      • Shelly Simonds is back for a rematch, and this redrawn district now favored Clinton over Trump 56-39.
  • Other prime targets for Democrats in their quest to end decades of GOP control of the House include the Hampton Roads-area HD-76 and Northern Virginia’s HD-40.
    • GOP Del. Chris Jones can’t be thrilled that his redrawn HD-76 backed Clinton 53-44 and Northam 55-44.
      • However, as chair of the super-powerful Appropriations Committee, he has ALL THE MONEYS to spend on keeping this seat.
    • Republican Del. Tim Hugo’s HD-40 wasn’t touched by the re-redistricting, but it backed Clinton 53-42, favored Northam 55-44, and Hugo squeaked by with just a 101-vote win in 2017.
    • Democrat and veteran Dan Helmer is taking him on this time around.
      • I’m told he will not be singing for any campaign videos (if you remember his “Helmer Zone” bit from his congressional primary run, you’ll understand why this news bitterly disappointed me).
But Democrats aren’t the only ones with pickup opportunities in the House, which is why flipping this chamber will be no cakewalk.
  • In fact, a couple of the Republicans ousted in 2017 are back for rematches—and they’re bringing their war chests with them.
    • The two districts that have me most nervous are HD-85 (48-46 Clinton), a Virginia Beach seat left open by Del. Cheryl Turpin’s run for state Senate, and NoVA’s HD-10 (50-44 Clinton), where Republican ex-Del. Randy Minchew is coming after first-term Del. Wendy Gooditis.
    • I’m also nervous about HD-73 (51-43 Clinton), a Richmond-area district left open by Del. Debra Rodman’s Senate ambitions with a strong GOP contender.
But let’s turn to the state Senate, where Democratic recruitment was great (Dems are contesting 35 of the chamber’s 40 seats) and the map is trending bluer every year.
Fun fact! Clinton carried 23 of the Senate’s 40 seats in 2016.
  • Flipping just one seat would give Democrats effective control of the chamber, since the Democratic lieutenant governor breaks ties in everything but budget votes.
But Democrats reeeeeeeeally need to flip at least two seats this fall. Here’s why.
Item 1: Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. He almost certainly won’t resign, but with two women credibly on record as accusing him of sexually assault, he’s not someone Dems are eager to rely on establish effective chamber control.
Item 2: 2021. Virginia senators serve four-year terms, but the lieutenant governorship is up in just two years. Democrats’ continued dominance in statewide elections is anything but a guarantee, and a GOP LG would hand control back to the Republicans until at least 2023 (when the Senate would next be up again).
Item 3: Joe freaking Morrissey.
Or rather, effectively Sen.-elect Joe Morrissey.
  • Yup, the extremely not good human I’ve been railing about in this missive for … quite a while now is returning to the Virginia legislature.
    • To the Senate, specifically, since he scored a pretty epic upset over Sen. Rosalyn Dance on Tuesday (56-44%), and no Republican has filed to run in SD-16.
You may be wondering why this is bad.
  • Well, a 20-20 tie contingent on a vote from someone like Joe Morrissey isn’t much of a tie at all.
    • Rather, it’s an invitation for a chaos Muppet to wreak havoc.
    • It gives a man who’s loyal only to himself the opportunity to repeatedly demonstrate that loyalty—his own party be damned.
    • It gives someone who clearly believes the rules don’t apply to him the chance to destabilize state government if the mood strikes him.
And if you think this a harsh characterization of Joe Morrissey, then … well, you don’t know Joe.
But I grew up in the Richmond media market. I’ve worked in and around Virginia politics my entire adult life.
So let me tell you about Joe Morrissey.
  • An attorney by trade (never mind that his law license has been repeatedly revoked, as detailed below), Morrissey began making a notorious name for himself in the 1990s, and he really hasn’t let off the gas since.
    • His notable misadventures include:
      • Going to jail for writing a threatening letter to a judge in 1991.
      • Getting in a fist fight with opposing counsel, also in 1991.
      • Settling a rape case without the consent of the victim in 1993.
      • Having his law license suspended for six months in 1993.
      • Going to jail for 90 days, followed by three years of probation, for violating a federal court rule prohibiting making public statements about witnesses in 1999.
      • Having his law license suspended for three years in 1999.
      • Violating that three-year probation in 2000 by attempting to lie about his community service hours (Habitat for Humanity!) and then lying to his probation officer about trying to lie.
      • Losing his Virginia law license entirely in 2003 (he'd already lost his license to practice in federal court in 2001).
      • Teaching trial advocacy and becoming a valued mentor to over 100 Crown prosecutors in Australia between 2003 and 2006—until the Australians realized he'd been deemed unfit to practice law in his home country.
      • Returning to the United States, getting elected to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2007, getting his Virginia law license back in 2012, and brandishing an AK-47 on the House floor in 2013.
      • Getting indicted for allegedly having sex with a minor, taking an Alford plea, going to jail, resigning his House seat, winning re-election to his House seat in the special election to replace himself, and attending the legislative session under a work-release program accommodated by his jail sentence.
      • Instead of running for re-election to the House, he made a run for Dance’s Senate seat.
      • Running for Richmond mayor in a seven-way race that a leading candidate dropped out of for the express purpose of preventing Morrissey from winning by splitting the vote.
      • During the race, and while the former minor with whom he’d had sex and later married was pregnant, a client Morrissey represented alleged he’d sent her sexually suggestive texts and exposed himself to her in his office. (Morrissey copped to the "flirtatious” texts but denied showing her his junk.)
      • Getting his own goddamn radio talk show.
      • Having his law license, which the Virginia Supreme Court had restored while he was in the House of Delegates despite the recommendation of the Virginia State Bar, revoked yet again in 2018.
So, yeah, Morrissey clearly doesn’t think that the rules that govern normal human behavior apply to him.
And now this guy is going to be making laws.
And that’s bad enough. But the bottom line is that the Democrats in the Virginia Senate can’t afford to rely on Morrissey for, like, anything.
  • But the good news is that four of GOP-held Senate seats Democrats are targeting in November were won by Clinton in 2016.
    • Meanwhile, only four incumbent Democrats are facing opposition, and the seriousness of some of those candidates is … debatable.
There’s more good news for Dems out of Tuesday’s primaries, too.
  • In Richmond-area SD-10, Democrats have the chance to elect the Senate’s first Muslim woman.
    • And since the district went for Clinton 53-40 and Northam 57-42, Ghazala Hashmi’s chances aren’t too shabby.
  • Also, statewide primary turnout indicates Democrats still have voter enthusiasm on their side. Reportedly over 70,000 more Democrats than Republicans went to the polls in Virginia on Tuesday.
tl;dr: It’s not going to be easy.
And it sure as hell isn’t going to be cheap.
But Democrats have a pretty good shot at flipping both legislative chambers and taking trifecta control of Virginia government for the first time since the early 1990s.
Stay tuned for updates as the cycle progresses.
  • And especially as the special legislative session to consider gun safety measures convenes on July 9.
Read the rest of this week's edition here.
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