Leahy: When Truth Intrudes on Virginia Politics

There are rare occasions when Virginia politicians drop their partisan talking points and speak the truth. It’s not intentional. Elected officials saying on the record what they really think can be dangerous.

Which makes such pronouncements — or the stony silence when the topic is especially difficult — all the more valuable because they offer us a look behind the scenes.

Consider a recent comment from Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) regarding the ongoing federal lawsuit over whether the 2021 House of Delegates elections were constitutional.

In an interview with Courthouse New Service’s Brad Kutner, Simon said no one’s really interested in this case aside from the plaintiff, my former writing partner Paul Goldman. And that’s true. Despite the recent trickle of Democratic-leaning groups endorsing the idea of holding House elections this November, none has yet filed a brief supporting Goldman’s lawsuit. And as for their silence when Goldman was fighting the case alone against former Virginia attorney general Mark R. Herring (D)?

Let’s just say it’s amazing what a difference an election can make.

But Simon also said, “What is uniquely damaging waiting one more year?” to hold House elections in new districts.

Real honesty, coupled with a peek behind the curtain. Politically, waiting a year puts House Democrats on the ballot in 2023 — not the 2022 congressional midterm. Historically, midterms are bad for an incumbent president’s party, and that extends down to state legislatures.

The question, then, is of House Democrats avoiding the possibility of real political damage. Even if it means thumbing their noses at the state constitution, whose requirement that elections in new districts occur “immediately prior to the expiration of the term being served in the year that the reapportionment law is required to be enacted.”

And never mind that Democratic staple about supporting voting rights. At bottom, they, like their Republican counterparts, are all about minimizing risk and maximizing the odds of reelection. To his enduring credit, Simon said he’s not averse to running in November. The rest of his fellow delegates, Republican and Democrat alike? As Kutner reports:

… noticeably absent from the debate is leadership from those who would be most impacted by new elections: House of Delegate members. Neither the Virginia Democratic Party nor the Virginia GOP have offered comment on the legal dispute.

Their silence is all the comment we need.

Speaking of Republicans and political silence: How about some truth about taxes?

We got a dose of tax reality from former GOP delegate Jim LeMunyon, whose op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch raised the issue of bracket creep in the Virginia tax code (a topic I first discussed with him back in 2017). As LeMunyon wrote, “inflation was increasing taxes on Virginians every year, without a vote of the legislature.”

LeMunyon noted the state’s top income tax rate, “which kicks in at a ridiculously low $17,000 of taxable income, hasn’t been adjusted since 1990.”

That’s 32 years of inflation inexorably raising individual taxes, without so much as a murmur from the General Assembly.

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