Virginia’s Republicans will descend on Norfolk on Dec. 14 for their party’s annual meeting. On the official agenda: finding winning strategies for a “changing Virginia” and “Winning Back Suburbia: Proposals for Virginia Republicans.”
A weekend seminar won’t cure what ails the Virginia GOP — and Republican officeholders in the suburban districts know it.
As The Post’s Laura Vozzella and Greg Schneider reported, one of those vulnerable suburban GOP incumbents, state Sen. Glen Sturtevant, is leading the charge on getting Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Sturtevant is “taking a more prominent role” in the effort “sponsoring the Senate bill and participating in a recent bus tour to draw attention to the cause.”
For a suburban Republican looking to get on the good side of Chesterfield County voters who gave Rep. Dave Brat (R) the heave-ho a few weeks ago, such a move can’t hurt. And a new Wason Center poll shows that Virginia voters support ERA ratification in a very big way (never mind the very serious questions surrounding the amendment’s viability).
But backing the ERA alone isn’t likely to result in a mass embrace of Sturtevant in particular or Republican candidates in general in 2019.
Republicans will need issues that are bigger and that affect voters immediately.
Fortunately for them, the Wason poll offers a few other options.
One is an issue the GOP has bungled for years: redistricting.
The Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of 11 House of Delegates districts next year. But as the court hears arguments in February, the General Assembly will have an opportunity to take up nonpartisan redistricting.
The Wason poll numbers show voters (including 73 percent of self-identified Republicans) back a state constitutional amendment stripping the General Assembly of its redistricting authority and handing it to an independent commission.
While the results of the 2017 and 2018 elections dealt major blows to the rationale for such a change, the public likes the concept. It sounds like good government — and that might be enough for suburban Republican incumbents to get behind the idea (at least in this session).
The other, bigger, item on the Wason Center list that should appeal to Republicans of all stripes and neighborhoods is taxes.
Changes in federal tax law could result in Virginians paying up to $600 million more in state taxes in 2019. There are a number of proposals to ease the potential hit, centering on increasing the standard deduction for state income taxes. This would have the net effect of cutting taxes for many Virginians — especially those in GOP-friendly districts.
The Wason poll, however, boils the specifics out of the issue. But what’s left is still music to Republican ears: 75 percent of respondents support a general tax cut, while 62 percent back the idea of a tax credit for poor and low-income residents.
When forced to choose between the two ideas, respondents narrowly choose a tax cut. But among Republicans specifically, the tax cut wins 69-29 percent.
For suburban Republicans, then, there’s both political cover and polling data to back some sort of tax reduction in the next legislative session. And unlike redistricting or the ERA, taxes have the added benefit of motivating the Republican base.
Virginia hasn’t had an election centered on tax cuts since Jim Gilmore’s “No Car Tax” took the 1997 gubernatorial race by storm. Ed Gillespie tried to push a tax cut in his unsuccessful 2017 gubernatorial bid. But it was never the heart of his campaign.
Republican legislators looking for issues in the 2019 election should put a cut at the heart of their platforms.
And sure, ride the redistricting issue and the ERA, too, if that helps. But if they really want to create a new image for themselves, Republicans ought to consider changes to the state’s marijuana laws. More on that next week.