The Weekender: our round-up of Virginia opinion

Virginia Mercury

Good morning from the Mercury!

Mercury commentary ICYMI: Guest columnist Joyce Barnes, a home health worker, remembers the moment her teenage grandson, in his first job as a janitor, outstripped her earnings. She says it’s time to boost Virginia’s minimum wage. Former State Air Pollution Control Board member and retired UVA professor Vivian Thomson argued that a court decision striking down the permit the board issued for Dominion Energy’s contentious Buckingham compressor station illustrates why the state’s environmental agency needs new leadership.

Mercury columnist Bob Lewis warned pundits that Virginia might not be as blue as it appears, presenting a conundrum for Democrats. Will their presidential nominee be “a far-left or socialist candidate who alienates centrists and pragmatists essential for winning electoral votes in states like Virginia,” or a “‘more traditional candidate who can’t relate to the party’s young, progressive and energetic base?”

Kathay Feng, with advocacy group Common Cause, called the redistricting amendment that some Democrats are backing away “a huge improvement from the status quo” and should pass the General Assembly again. Mercury columnist Ivy Main says Virginia’s voluntary renewable portfolio standard, pegged for major changes in this General Assembly session, “has enabled all kinds of mischief.

And Mercury columnist Roger Chesley, a Howard University graduate, says Gov. Ralph Northam’s moves to bolster two state historically black universities are commendable but notes that other challenges remain for similar institutions.

Fear not, Virginia, they’re just Democrats: The News & Advance attempts to tamp down some of the rhetoric and fear sweeping rural Virginia as the Democrats assume the mantle of power in Richmond.  “The commonwealth is becoming more urban and more ethnically diverse, and change can be unsettling to some folks,” the paper wrote. “A healthy democratic republic is always changing and evolving. It’s nothing to fear. When a republic stops listening to the people, stops changing and evolving … that’s when we should be concerned. But not now, not today.”

Criminal justice reform: The Virginian-Pilot and Daily Press editorial board said the governor’s proposed criminal justice reform package is promising: “If Northam and his allies can forge consensus — building a true bipartisan coalition for reform — this could prove to be the most consequential legislative achievement this year, a laudable use of the governor’s political capital.”

Can the Dems keep it together? Gordon Morse, Pilot columnist and former speechwriter for Democratic Gov. Gerald Baliles, says the newly-in-power Democrats in Richmond need a dose of self-awareness. “You cannot look at the state Capitol right now, with its frenetic levels of activity, manic ‘history’ thumping and constant assertions of certitude, without conjecturing how long it will take before the wheels on the new Democratic Party jalopy — its shiny new, happy-to-be-here legislative majority — go flying off in all directions,” he wrote.

Questioning protest policy: The Sun-Gazette questions the timing of Fairfax’s new policy allowing students to skip school for activism. “The start of the new free-range protesting policy comes just after the Jan. 24 ‘March for Life,’ which will bring a huge crowd (including, one presumes, Fairfax students who hold a pro-life position) to Washington,” the paper wrote.

Marijuana policy: Fairfax’s top prosecutor says he will no longer prosecute simple marijuana possession offenses. “Prosecuting adults for simple possession of marijuana does not improve community safety,” Democrat Steve Descano wrote in The Washington Post. “In fact, such prosecutions can spur crime.”

Ban cellphones while driving: The Pilot and Daily Press support the handheld cellphone ban that’s eluded lawmakers for years: “A law prohibiting drivers from using handheld cellphones, one that’s enforced and well publicized, could save a lot of lives.”

Biden or bust? Writing in the Washington Post, Virginia talk radio commentator Norman Leahy has a take Democrats might not want to hear on recent polling showing Joe Biden is the only Democratic primary candidate with a lead over Trump in Virginia. “If Democrats nominate anyone other than Biden, then Virginia becomes a swing state again.”

The Roanoke Times also approved of Biden’s messaging on coal miners working in an industry in a death spiral: “Where is the plan to build a post-coal economy in former coal-mining regions? There isn’t one nationally — not from Trump and not from any of the Democrats, either. But at least Biden is telling the truth: Those workers need to figure out a new career plan.”

Right to work: The Free Lance-Star is opposed to any tinkering with Virginia’s right to work law, which forbids compulsory union membership as a condition of employment. “When all of the commonwealth’s economic cylinders are firing, it’s not the time to start tinkering with the engine.”

Letter of the week: “We can create a safer gun culture in America, but it will take the voice of responsible gun-owners in the middle to lead that charge,” wrote Christie Jett, of Cross Junction, to The Winchester Star.  “I, for one, am willing to accept reasonable restrictions for a safer society for myself and my children, and I would urge other gun-owners to lend their support to similar measures.”