The Republican party in Culpeper County had a great election on November 5th.
The party successfully protected five general assembly seats, picked up the sheriff’s office, treasurer’s office, one Board of Supervisors seat, a Town Council seat and defended the office of commonwealth’s attorney.
Despite our successes in Culpeper, Virginia experienced a seismic political shift as Democrats took control of the House of Delegates and State Senate.
Democrats have been out of power in the General Assembly for more than 20 years, so it comes as no surprise to see the extreme bills being pre-filed in anticipation of the 2020 session. Already we see bills promoting forced employee unionization, reinstating the estate tax, increasing the cost of infrastructure with prevailing wage, environmental regulations, gun and hunting regulations and much more. Virginia Democrats have a lot of work to do if their ambition is to catch up with the regulations, high taxes and high spending that now dominate other Democratic-controlled states like New York and California.
All these policy changes beg the question: Will Democrats and Republicans be able to accomplish anything in a bipartisan fashion? I submit there are four areas where Democrats may receive some Republican support.
Decriminalization or legalization of marijuana: North and west of Virginia we have seen decriminalization and legalization of marijuana. According to the CATO Institute, Virginia spent $81.2 million enforcing marijuana prohibition in 2016. Based on this number, spending for 2017 and 2018 is estimated to have been over $100 million in each year. The trend nationally is moving away from marijuana prohibition. If this is something the General Assembly chooses to pursue, I hope they will research Colorado’s marijuana regulations and not make the same mistakes lawmakers did there early in the process. Several Republicans may join with Democrats on this issue.
Deregulation of distilleries: Alcohol prohibition ended in the 1930s, yet Virginia remains highly regulated. Locally owned distilleries struggle because of high taxes and over-regulation by the state. Virginia limits distillers as to the number of tastings they can do in a year and impose crazy regulations on how their tasting rooms are operated, and of course there is the asinine monopoly of ABC to distribute liquor. Some Senate democrats in Northern Virginia have been promoting deregulation of alcohol, they will most certainly have allies in the GOP.
Criminal justice reform: Nothing has cost taxpayers more money than prisons and politicians trying to show they are tough on crime by passing mandatory minimum sentences. Judges need the flexibility to sentence criminals based not only on the crime, but on extenuating circumstances which may lead to a lighter sentence for non-violent or first-time offenders. As it stands, there are 29 mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related crimes, such as vandalism and trespassing, among others. Many of these minor offenses clog the court system and result in long prison sentences, which mean taxpayers are on the hook for healthcare, food and other prison expenses. Democrats and Republicans could find common ground in reforming the criminal justice system.
Redistricting reform: This will be the one to watch. For years Democrats have used the issue of redistricting reform to advance their candidates. Now that they have control of the redistricting process, will they embrace their power to drawl federal and state representative boundaries to their liking or will they yield to an independent commission? You’d better believe Republicans will now want to negotiate the terms of their surrender on this issue.
I do know one thing for certain, this new General Assembly will fundamentally change Virginia forever. Virginians will face government intrusions into individual liberty, property rights, gun ownership, small business and many other areas of life we hold dear.
Be prepared to engage in politics and policy in 2020. As my friend and mentor Mayor Billy Hewes of Gulfport, Mississippi once told me, “If you don’t take a seat at the table, chances are you’ll be on the menu.”