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Breaking down the fight over the May elections

Virginia covid-19
(© Ingo Menhard –

It’s two weeks until the May elections in several localities across the Commonwealth, and a day until we hear from the General Assembly on legislators’ thoughts on whether they should be moved.

Gov. Ralph Northam wants them postponed to November, but there is a push from Republicans to have them take place in June, alongside the scheduled congressional primaries.

This portends a possible partisan fight that could get uncomfortable for Northam, who has already used his statutory power to move the June primaries back two weeks, to June 23, citing concerns over COVID-19.

But he made that call two weeks ago, before the public health situation started to take a turn, back when he could don a cloak of emergency that you might remember being used last back after 9/11.

In times of emergency, you’ll tend to see more in the way of bipartisanship as political leaders make efforts to show unity in the face of something bigger.

But as we saw post-9/11, that unity can be fleeting, and with more and more indications that the worst of the COVID-19 emergency is behind us, Wednesday could be a big test of the fleeting Virginia political unity.

Legislators will be back in Richmond to consider vetoes and amendments from Northam to bills passed earlier in the year, most notably involving the state’s upcoming two-year budget, which was passed on the same day that the governor declared a state of emergency for COVID-19, after months of work that had taken place without COVID-19 considerations at all as part of the thinking.

Northam seemed to be operating a couple of weeks ago on the assumption that he will get blanket approval from the General Assembly to massage the budget through the first few months of the new fiscal year that begins on July 1, but that, too, could be falling by the wayside with the new conventional wisdom on COVID-19.

Expect that battle to play out after the battle to come over the elections, which could be a harbinger for the first phase of post-pandemic politics in Virginia.

Ideally, from the governor’s perspective, he gets as close to a unanimous vote as possible for his proposal to move the local elections back to November, with the flip side being that, much less than ideal, the vote to move falls along party lines.

If you see anything close to a 55-45 vote in the House and 21-19 vote in the Senate to move the elections to November, we’ve got ourselves a controversy, and it’s back to business as usual in terms of politics.

And actually, for those of us who have been under lockdown for six weeks, anything even vaguely resembling business as usual would be welcome, so, rooting for controversy, indeed.

Story by Chris Graham