Cameron Jones

Virginia Voters Identify as Moderate, Despite Supporting Democrat Policies

By Cameron Jones, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia voters in a recent poll ranked themselves as moderate, with a slightly conservative lean, but indicated support of more progressive legislation. 

The poll, released last week by Christopher Newport’s Wason Center for Civic Leadership, could be a thermometer for the upcoming November election. 

Virginia voters ranked themselves an average of 5.83 on a zero to 10 scale (liberal to conservative). Republicans ranked themselves 8.11 on average, while Democrats rated themselves 3.57 on average. Independents ranked themselves 5.72.

“In this upcoming election, it is especially possible that it could be competitive,” said Rebecca Bromley-Trujillo, research director at the Wason Center. 

Those surveyed support Democrat proposals on health care, immigration, environmental policy and the economy. The policy proposal with the strongest support was Medicare for all with 76% support among voters. A majority of Virginians support providing a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants (73%). Almost all Virginians support a pathway to citizenship for children brought to this country illegally by their parents (94%).

Over half of Virginians agree with implementing an environmentally friendly redesign of the state’s economy and infrastructure (65%); that the economic system favors the wealthy (61%); and that the federal minimum wage should be $15 per hour (53%).

Bromley-Trujillo believes this data indicates American culture aligns with idealism, liberty or other values often associated with conservatism. Strong support for Democratic public policy is why the commonwealth is still trending blue, even though upcoming races could still be competitive, she said.

“Virginia voters regard Republicans as more conservative than they regard Democrats as more liberal,” Bromley-Trujillo stated. “The question is, ‘where’s the sweet spot in this election?’”

Democrats have been successful in the state because of policy ideas such as the $15 dollar minimum wage, providing health care and child care for all Virginians, said Alexsis Rodgers, director for Care in Action, a nonprofit advocacy group for domestic workers.

“These aren’t partisan issues for voters,” Rodgers said. “They are ideas and policies that would actually make their lives better.”

While there is voter support for progressive policy, big elections in the commonwealth have seen progressive losses to more centrist candidates. Nearly half of Democratic voters back former Gov. Terry McAuliffe at 47%, with no other candidates breaking double digits, according to an April Wason Center poll. More than a quarter of surveyed voters were undecided.

President Joe Biden defeated independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 53% to 23% in the Virginia Democratic primary. In a somewhat closer local race, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney defeated Rodgers by over 10% last November. Rodgers said that while these elections were a loss for progressive candidates, the movement is still winning by having their policy ideas adopted and passed in Virginia. 

Richmond For All is a political advocacy group for progressive policy. The organization has organized around local elections, education, housing justice and in opposition to a public subsidy for a Richmond-based sports arena. 

“In the U.S, we are still living in this Reagan-era paradigm where progressivism is still seen as harmful, and big government programs are abstractly negative,” said Quinton Robbins, political director at Richmond For All. 

Robbins said that it does not matter how Virginians ideologically identify themselves. He said it does matter how progressives present ideas to everyday citizens. 

Ballot counting is currently underway in the Republican convention for the party’s top executive nominees. The commonwealth has not had a Republican governor since Bob McDonnell was elected in 2009. 

As of Monday, only the Republican attorney general candidate had been determined. Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, eked out a victory over Chuck Smith, former chairman of the Virginia Beach GOP and a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump. The ranked choice voting went three rounds. Smith’s strong showing could indicate support for more ideologically conservative candidates such as Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Midlothian, who is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination and describes herself as “Trump in heels.” Round one of counting shows Chase in a lead over Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, but behind candidates and businessmen Glenn Youngkin and Pete Snyder.

“Certainly, the opportunity exists for Republicans to make gains in the Virginia House, and differential partisan turnouts would be one of the reasons Republicans regain majority control, if that happens,” said Stephen Farnsworth, professor and director at the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. 

Farnsworth also questioned if Democratic voters will turn out with the same energy as when Trump was president.

"We will find out later this year whether the Republicans in the suburbs are able to win back some of the ground lost during the Trump years,” he said.

Early voting is now underway for the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general Democratic primary elections on June 8. Republican and Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates are also on the ballot. 

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Virginia expands Medicaid access for legal immigrants

By Cameron Jones, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Ni Kin became a permanent resident in 2002 at 70 years old, but she was unable to work after moving from Myanmar to Virginia due to mobility problems.

Kin required more medical attention related to her condition as she aged, but was unable to see a doctor because she didn’t have insurance, according to her grandson Tin Myint. Kin didn’t qualify for Medicaid due to a state rule requiring permanent residents to present 10 years of work history to use public health insurance, Myint said. Kin also did not qualify for no-premium Medicare, since she never worked in the country and does not qualify for Social Security benefits.

“We have family friends who live in other states that were able to get Medicaid when they applied, who've been living here for 10 to 15 years, and we thought that applied to us also,” Myint said. “That was disappointing and shocking to hear that Virginia was one of the very few states that had this particular rule.”

Kin is one of thousands of permanent residents in Virginia that will qualify for Medicaid due to a new change eliminating the 10-year work history requirement, known as the “40-quarter rule,” according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that advocates for low-income Virginians. The commonwealth was one of six states with a 10-year work history requirement for Medicaid. 

Gov. Ralph Northam and state legislators approved a budget last year that eliminated the rule. The change went into effect this month. 

Northam’s line budget amendment includes $4.4 million in state funds for this change, according to the Virginia Poverty Law Center.

Freddy Mejia, a policy analyst at the Commonwealth Institute, said the old rule was a roadblock for legal permanent residents. The Commonwealth Institute is an organization that analyzes the impact of fiscal and economic issues on low-income communities.

“Someone who comes to the country as an older adult, possibly doesn’t get the opportunity to work for 10 years but gets sick,” Mejia said as an example.

Mejia said lawmakers and advocates lobbied for the change in the 2019 General Assembly, but it did not pass. Northam and lawmakers approved the change as a line budget amendment in 2020, but it was vetoed once the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mejia said. It was funded again in the 2020 fall special session, and the change went into effect April 1, 2021. 

Mejia credited this change to advocacy efforts from different parties, including the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, the Virginia Poverty Law Center, and politicians such as Del. Mark Sickles, D- Franconia, Sen. George Barker, D- Alexandria, and Northam. 

Jill Hanken, a health attorney and director of ENROLL Virginia, said immigrants have suffered in a disparate way throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and the policy change will encourage people to apply for the coverage they need. ENROLL Virginia is a project of the Virginia Poverty Law Center that helps Virginians access affordable health coverage.

“Statewide it demonstrates that Virginia is welcoming and interested in making sure that immigrants have access to the health services that they need,” Hanken said. 

ENROLL Virginia will continue alerting immigrants across the commonwealth of this change, Hanken said. 

Meanwhile, Myint is excited to sign his grandmother up for Medicaid.

“I can’t wait for her to get proper medical checkup, the needs that she needs to have a living condition she deserves,” Myint said. 

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

Lawmakers Vote to Remove Confederate Name from Highway

By Cameron Jones, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- The Virginia General Assembly has approved a bill renaming sections of U.S. Route 1 almost 100 years after it was named in honor of the first and only president of the Confederacy.

The bill, introduced by Del. Joshua Cole, D-Fredericksburg, passed the House earlier this month with a 70-28 vote. The Senate passed the measure earlier this week with a 30-9 vote. 

Counties and cities have until Jan. 1, 2022 to change their portion of Jefferson Davis Highway to whatever name they choose, or the state will change it to Emancipation Memorial Highway.

“Change the name on your own, or the General Assembly will change it for you," Cole said to House committee members. 

Sections of the highway that run through Stafford, Caroline, Spotsylvania and Chesterfield counties will need new signage and markers, according to the bill’s impact statement. Commemorative naming signs will be replaced, along with overhead guide signs at interchanges and street-name signs. The changes are estimated to cost almost $600,000 for all localities. The changes in Chesterfield will cost an estimated $373,000 because there are 17 Jefferson Davis Highway overhead signs on Routes 288 and 150.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy conceived the plan for Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in 1913, according to the Federal Highway Administration. Davis was a Mississippi senator who became the president of the Confederacy during the Civil War. The Virginia General Assembly designated U.S. Route 1 as Jefferson Davis Highway in 1922. 

“Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy, a constant reminder of a white nationalist experiment, and a racist Democrat,” Cole said. “Instead we can acknowledge the powerful act of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

Cole said the change acknowledges the positive history of the Civil War and reminds people of the emancipation and freedom that came from it. 

The bill received little pushback in House and Senate committees. A Richmond City representative said their initial concern was the interpretation if districts would have the opportunity to choose a replacement name. Signs are already going up renaming the route to Richmond Highway in Richmond. 

Sen. Scott A. Surovell, D-Mount Vernon, voiced his support for the bill. He responded to concern that the change dishonors a veteran. He said he believes the bill “strikes a reasonable balance” by giving counties time to rename their portion of the highway, or they will give it a default name which “doesn’t carry the political baggage.”

A poll by Hampton University and The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found Virginians are still divided on changing the names of schools, streets and military bases named after Confederate leaders (44% supported the idea and 43% opposed it).

Eric Sundberg, Cole’s chief of staff, said there were two camps of people that opposed the bill. He said some were openly racist and called Cole’s office to make offensive remarks. Then there were people who said they did not want to “double dip” on renaming the portion in their respective district and wanted it all to be named Richmond Highway. 

Stephen Farnsworth, professor and director at the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said efforts to rename the highway have never received much support in Richmond until this year.

“Virginia has rapidly moved from a commonwealth that treasured its Confederate legacy, to one that is trying to move beyond it,” Farnsworth said. 

 

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University's Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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