Bipartisanship in Richmond: Is that even a realistic expectation? | #socialmedia


 

Can we just agree that we can’t agree?

Can we just acknowledge that the passing, oblique nod to the ideal of finding common cause in Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s 27-minute inaugural address was already a punch line before the bleachers and bunting on the Capitol steps came down that day?

The partisan back-biting and recriminations had already begun with hot takes and mean tweets from both sides.

For the most part, bipartisanship has always been a chimera, a contrivance employed in the rare occasions when it politically benefits both Democrats and Republicans, or when one party has enough leverage on an issue to coerce the other into submission.

Genuine “Kumbaya” moments on Virginia’s Capitol Square are about as rare these days as blizzards in Galveston or Detroit Lions Super Bowl parties.

It’s just not realistic in today’s tribal, culture-warrior times. There’s the perception that Balkanization is politically potent, that an angry electorate is an engaged electorate wielding an advantage for one side or the other. There’s certainly serious money to be banked from fomenting and furthering reflexive divisiveness.

Increasingly, it spills into the process of governing after the votes are counted and winners take office.

Youngkin’s speech was very much in keeping with his campaign, threading the needle between satisfying his red-meat conservative base and salving the angst of Virginia’s dominant moderate voting population. That campaign strategy allowed him to overcome the loathing moderates held for former President Donald Trump’s narcissistic brand of sneering, right-wing nationalism that had manifested itself in one Democratic beatdown of Republicans after another for years in Virginia while Trump was in office and the inescapable face of the GOP.

One year after Trump’s exit, Youngkin changed things in a big way, defeating Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and sweeping Republicans into office as attorney general and lieutenant governor while his party wrested House of Delegates control from the Democrats.

But what works well in a campaign and sounds good in an inaugural speech starts to break down when those smooth words get translated into governing. He wasted no time putting his stamp on things with nine executive orders and two executive directives, all signed before cocktail hour that Saturday evening.

And boy, did that set things off.

Sen. Louise Lucas, a Democrat who represents Portsmouth and was in the vanguard of Black women entering the state Senate 30 years ago, became an overnight social media sensation for her takedowns of the newly sworn-in governor. Her Twitter following has nearly doubled since the General Assembly was gaveled to order on Jan. 12 and she positioned herself as leader of the so-called “firewall,” the narrow Democratic majority in the Senate that stands between Youngkin and the Democratic House having full control of policymaking in Virginia.

She tweeted about Youngkin meeting her, extending his hand and asking it they could work collaboratively. Her response, according to her tweet: an icy “we will see.”

She also excoriated Youngkin over a reference in his Monday night State of the Commonwealth speech to creating “lab schools” in which Virginia’s historically Black colleges would partner on an “entrepreneurship or entertainment industry focus school.”

“HOW DARE YOU,” she tweeted, all uppercase for emphasis. “HBCU STUDENTS ARE NOT THE ‘ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY.’” Then, for good measure, she retweeted her own tweet directly at Youngkin with the stinging observation, “We are not your minstrel show, @GovernorVA.”

Her tweets omitted the fact that entertainment streaming giant Netflix operates a “HBCU Bootcamp” focused on highly valued metaverse technology training — not show-biz coaching — at her alma mater, Norfolk State University. Since it was announced two years ago, the Netflix partnership has provided scholarships and scores of training opportunities to NSU students.

And, in a reply following up her tweet, Lucas claimed that Youngkin must have ad libbed the remark about HBCUs and the entertainment industry, saying it was not in a copy of the governor’s prepared speech that she reviewed. But the comment was in the 66th paragraph of an embargoed copy of the speech that the governor’s press office emailed to the Capitol correspondents before Youngkin delivered it. 

And so the partisan twitterverse skirmish took flight. By Saturday, it had been retweeted 368 times, quoted in tweets 278 times (including New York Times politics correspondent Trip Gabriel) and liked nearly 1,200 times

One Youngkin supporter was so incensed about it all that she tweeted that the new governor “needs to use the National Guard because of people like this,” meaning Lucas. The senator merrily tweeted back: “One (almost 78 year old) black [sic] woman speaks up and the Republicans are ready to call up the National Guard!”

State Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, (2019 Photo by Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

While that was perhaps the most conspicuous, if not amusing, running social media battle of the first week of the 2022 General Assembly and the new governor’s newborn term, the sniping was already well underway by veteran legislators who, one might expect, would have better uses for their time.

Hours after taking the gavel as the new speaker of the House of Delegates on Jan. 12, Todd Gilbert, a longtime House veteran from Shenandoah County, took umbrage with outgoing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s final State of the Commonwealth speech.

In it, Northam called for an end to “hyperpartisanship” that risks stalemating the lawmaking process in Virginia and nationally, and he mused on overcoming his own scandal – the discovery one year into his term of a photo of one man in Klan robes and another in blackface published on his medical school yearbook page.

Gilbert found neither Northam’s appeal to soften ossified partisanship nor his odyssey of self-redemption from the photo that nearly forced him from office persuasive and tweeted as much at the close of Northam’s speech to a joint session of the General Assembly.

“Ralph Northam is leaving office as his own lost cause, condescendingly lecturing us all from some assumed moral high ground because he read the book ‘Roots’ and then went on a non-stop reconciliation tour,” Gilbert tweeted. “Saturday can’t come fast enough,” he concluded, referring to Youngkin’s inauguration.

House Speaker Todd Gilbert address the chamber after being sworn in. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, shot right back, accurately recognizing yet another symptom of state government’s ever-coarsening environment. “This is an example of why there can be no bipartisanship. How insulting fro [sic] the Speaker!”

Mind you, these aren’t the garden variety social media trolls whose mission in life is to anonymously snipe at people from the relative security of mom’s basement. These are elected legislators.

And as for those executive orders? At least one has triggered a chaotic and litigious response.

That order seeks — by executive fiat alone, notwithstanding state law — to end mandates in public K-12 schools for students and staff to wear masks as a prophylactic against the coronavirus.

In Spotsylvania County, the school board there voted 4-3 last week to scuttle its requirements that masks be worn inside school buildings. In Richmond, the superintendent promptly announced that the mask mandate would remain in place in all the capital city’s schools. In Chesapeake, a group of parents went even farther, filing a lawsuit to challenge the legality of Youngkin’s decree.

Amid mask confusion, Youngkin rolls out new COVID-19 guidance for schools

I am no lawyer, so I won’t weigh in on which side might prevail in the Chesapeake legal challenge. But I know that executive orders can’t supersede statutory law, and the General Assembly last year enacted a law that permits – it doesn’t direct – local school divisions to follow guidelines by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – whatever those guidelines might be at any given hour.

I can’t recall the last time Virginia swore in a governor so utterly new to politics or elective office. Youngkin has to learn on the job, and that’s hard even for governors who came to the position after long and varied careers in government and politics. To his credit, he’s chosen some seasoned top advisers to GOP governors past who can give him solid political and legal counsel.

Does he really believe that politics as practiced in 2022 can be a live-and-let-live pursuit? I have to think that his experience in business and the barracuda feeding frenzy ethos of last year’s campaign at least left him with enough scars to have doubts about it.

But if he believes that Louise Lucas and her Senate firewall Democrats will acquiesce to Republican efforts to roll back advances their party made on expanding voting rights and tightening gun controls among other achievements, he better develop a wily politician’s leathery hide in a hurry. The barbs from here on will only get sharper and more numerous.





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