My Bearing Drift colleague and our Editor-in-Chief Lynn Mitchell recently posted a good synopsis of the Christopher Newport University poll  of Virginia voters’ opinions on issues of greatest interest to the new Democratic majorities in the 2020 General Assembly. While the Wason Center sees the poll as a popularity measure of the “pent-up demand” in the Democratic Caucus for initiatives that have long been denied while they were in the minority, I see the results as an opportunity for Republicans in the next General Assembly.
Being in the minority sucks. Just ask any member of the Democratic Caucus who has been there for up to two decades since they held the majority in either house of the General Assembly. Finding ways of keeping your agenda relevant to the voters at large, particularly important in campaigning for the statewide offices, as well as stemming the talent drain of retirements and resignations of capable members of the caucus, can become all-consuming. How will the new Republican minorities adjust?
Traditionally, there are two approaches to this dilemma and neither one works very well. The first is to become the Loyal Opposition, countering each and every motion of the majority with a separate solution, one that will hopefully appeal to the swing voters and thereby negate the majority advantage in floor votes if not in committee structure. The second is to delay, hinder, and obstruct the majority agenda through parliamentary maneuvering, split vote occasions, and grass roots rear guard actions against the other side’s representatives from swing districts (the type of district that has become much less common in recent years through partisan redistricting; but more on that later.) A combination of both approaches is not uncommon.
There is a third approach: govern from the minority by appealing to the center. Force the majority to compromise or risk being branded as too extreme and as over-reaching. Aggressively seek out opportunities to compromise on the little things while keeping your powder dry for the big stuff. And, as a necessary consequence, decide how many absolutes, or litmus tests, your caucus can afford without itself being branded as too extreme and over-reaching, something that damages a majority but can be fatal to a minority caucus.
One of the reasons that I left the Republican Party many years ago and became an Independent was because I would often find my party’s staunch position on some issues to be unwise at best and unconstitutional at worst. (Notice that I became an Independent and not a Democrat. They have their own share of litmus-driven loyalty tests.) Some Republican readers will dismiss my evaluation of and proposed responses to the issues in the CNU poll as “surrender, collaboration with the enemy, mushy politics,” and worse. To those readers, stop reading here and don’t waste your time any further. If nothing else, the CNU poll shows why you are in the minority now and why you are going to stay there.
For those still with me, let’s take a look at some of the opportunities for Republicans highlighted by the Wason Center.
Gun control laws (a.k.a. gun safety laws on the Democratic spin word-wheel)
There is no doubt in my mind that there are ultraliberals out there whose agenda is to ban the private civilian ownership of all firearms. You can find them using a Google search because they proudly broadcast their views and intentions to the world, convinced as all fanatics are of the undeniable rightness and moral correctness of their position, the Constitution be damned.
Their approach is as insidious as it is deliberate — the old expression of “boiling a frog” best describes it. Fortunately, and contrary to what most gun advocacy groups profess, they represent a very small, fringe minority like all fanatics tend to do. Opposing them head-on at every step won’t work; it has been tried by the NRA, the GOA, the VCDL, et al., and they have still encroached on swing voter opinion as a result of the backlash — aided by the spate of school and other mass shootings which is each a tragedy in of itself but which collectively cause far less injury, suffering, and death than car accidents, heart disease, and cancer, diabetes, smoking (especially vaping), and the flu.
According to the CNU findings, Virginia voters favor universal background checks for all gun purchases by 86%-13%. That is a strong preference that flipping every swing district in the Commonwealth won’t budge, and forget about redistricting itvaway (again, more on that later). Why not jump on the bandwagon and support the inevitable? I know, enforcing universal background checks will be a devil of a problem. So what? Let the Democrats figure out how to implement it without causing opposition since it was their bright idea in the first place.
What is the alternative? Fight background checks tooth and nail and watch the initiative pass anyway, but with implementation rules that require universal firearm registrations in a government database that is as permanent as it will be chock full of transcription errors. A similar situation faces Republicans on “Red Flag” laws, something that the voters favor 73%-23%. Shall we pass such as law that limits firearms removals only after a court judgement has been rendered with due process, or sit and watch while the gun grabbers empower animal control officers and conservation police (game wardens) to seize weapons based on a misdemeanor summons? Good luck stopping that with a Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution.
Banning assault-style weapons has an even bigger set of problems for the proponents than background checks. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart who famously wrote about defining pornography, “I can’t define an assault weapon but I know it when I see it,” defining an “assault-style weapon” is bound to get hindered by court challenges on the issue of Constitutional vagueness, and in my opinion, eventually enforced only in the most extreme examples, if at all. Voter opinion is split on the question. Why throw yourself on your sword over something that can’t be enforced? I know, we had a Federal ban on assault weapons once before. It had a self-limiting flaw in that it was passed with a sunset clause that allowed the ban to expire if it didn’t reduce gun violence (it didn’t) and the sunset clause made legal challenges possible but impractical and irrelevant. See what I mean about taking a win?
Ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
I really love this one and nominate it for the Who Cares Award in the Democratic agenda. Let’s review the bidding. When Congress proposes a Constitutional amendment for ratification by the States, it sets a ratification deadline after which the proposed amendment is void unless adopted.
For the ERA, the original deadline was March 1979. By the March 1979 deadline, 35 of the necessary 38 States had ratified the amendment and Congress voted by a simple majority (and not by a two-thirds majority) to extend the deadline to June 1982. Although additional States have ratified the amendment since the second deadline expired in 1982, reversals and revocations by several States of their ratifications, among other factors, have kept the ratification requirement from being reached and Congress has shown no apparent interest in extending the deadline again.
If Virginia ratified the ERA, the immediate result would be meaningless as would likely the long term outcome. If it did become ratified by some unlikely series of events, what would be the effect? Most of the remedies sought in 1971 and 1972 have become settled law through lesser means in the interim.
Equal pay for equal work? Equal opportunity laws now govern that aspect, as long as the courts pay attention to the attendance and participation rules which they do. As for the ridiculous canard of the ERA outlawing separate public restrooms for each sex, that major catastrophe seems to have arrived of its own accord, necessitating some local government actions that have in most cases been nothing less than bone-headed. So why oppose ratification? Take a win and gain the immediate respect and support of 80 percent of the voters.
Local government authority to remove or alter Confederate monuments
This one is going nowhere, given the broad acceptance of the Dillon Rule in Virginia and the slight majority of voters who oppose such local authority. As such, approval to remove or alter Confederate monuments will have to be taken up by the General Assembly on a case-by-case basis.
Bear in mind that much of the opposition to tinkering with these historical artifacts is stoked by the emotional appeal to honor Confederate war veterans. The truth is that most of the so-honored veterans were long dead when the vast majority of these monuments were erected — as protests to Federal civil rights and voting rights laws for the most part, along with government displays of the Confederate battle flag. As such, most of these displays deserve about as much protection as we would afford to monuments to the forced removal and genocide of Native Americans, to national parks that celebrate the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or to a commemoration of the Red Scare terrorism of the Joe McCarthy period.
Is that really the associations that Republicans want to be known for? Again, aggressively seek out opportunities to compromise and take a win. Having 44 percent of the voters who favor local authority is nothing to sneeze at, as any candidate who lost an election by one or two points will ruefully admit.
More to follow in Part II of this post. In the meanwhile, as NFL Coach Jon Gruden (the other Gruden, Dan Snyder) tells his players, “If you are with me then knock wood!” Let’s hear some knuckles rapping on desks as we help the Democrats win a few on their way to losing the GA majorities again.