By Brandon Martin and Debbie Hall
Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith and Del. Charles Poindexter stumped in Patrick County last week during the grand opening of the Patrick County Republican Committee’s election headquarters.
Poindexter, R-Glade Hill, said that a virtual special legislative session continues.
Currently, there are proposed budget reductions for law enforcement, and “raises passed in February and March have been reduced to zero. There have been quite a few bills that I considered totally anti-police and I have voted against every one of them,” Poindexter said.
Some of the criminal justice proposals basically try “to flip our whole historical criminal justice system upside down, doing away with parole, releasing prisoners early, really hindering your right to a jury trial and forcing many more trials into the court house with a judge. What that’s going to mean is a huge” need for more courtroom space, more lawyers, judges and staff to accommodate those changes, Poindexter said.
“Our courts are already basically full and backlogged due to” the coronavirus, Poindexter said, adding that the announced purpose of the special session that began August 18 was to adjust the budget “because we’re about $2.3 to $2.4 billion shy of money coming in, and that won’t pay for the budget that was passed last March.”
Poindexter said he voted no on the proposed House budget. The Senate also has passed a budget. “We have yet to agree on conferees. There’ll be six people from each body” that try to tie the two budgets together.
Poindexter said he supports Amendment 1 on the ballot. It would create a bipartisan group that will draw new district lines that will go into effect for the 2021 election. He explained that based on the results from the census, the General Assembly has historically drawn new lines that last 10 years.
“There’s been some abuse by that — some by both parties,” he said, adding that the idea of the proposed amendment is to put a bipartisan commission in charge of drawing the lines.
The plans would then be submitted to legislators, who can vote up or down, but cannot make changes. If legislators cannot agree with the lines proposed by the commission, then Poindexter said the Supreme Court of Virginia would draw or modify the lines according to their prerogative.
“It’s not a perfect deal, but it’s 95 percent better than anything we’ve had in Virginia in our lifetimes. I would truly encourage you to vote for that amendment,” Poindexter said, adding that another proposed amendment would allow veterans who are 100 percent disabled not to have to pay property tax on a vehicle. “I think that’s a good amendment as well.”
Poindexter said he will seek reelection in 2021.
Griffith, R-Salem, encouraged voters to vote for him, even though he is unopposed on the ballot.
He said it also is important to support Daniel Gade, who hopes to oust incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Alexandria.
After experiencing his own bout with COVID-19, Griffith said he will “be a pin-cushion, guinea pig” to learn more about the virus via a study by the National Institute of Health.
President Donald Trump and a number of top-level staff and federal representatives have since tested positive for the virus.
“It’s not fun,” Griffith said. “It wasn’t terrible, but for some people it is. My case was less than the President’s. My oxygen levels never dropped significantly.”
While Trump temporarily required supplemental oxygen, Griffith said the decision was likely precautionary.
“He’s the President of the United States and so if they see a little dip in his oxygen level, they aren’t going to take any chances,” Griffith said.
“I think he has done well so far and I think he will continue. The science says you are not contagious 10 days after the signs of your first treatment. That’s what the doctors told me,” Griffith said. “I thought you had to quarantine for 14 days. No, if you are showing symptoms then it’s 10 days before you can go back out in public.”
Griffith said he made a personal decision to wait longer before breaking his own quarantine, “but I wasn’t in the middle of a race that is nationwide.”
He also said “I think the President has done a great job on COVID. When you look at the overall numbers” from the World Health Organization, “it’s very close to the same fatality rate as the flu, based on the number of people who have it. There are more deaths overall than the average flu year, but not more than a percentage of the people that actually got the disease.”
Griffith said that while some “want to say the President has failed” at handling the coronavirus, “it’s very hard to say that somebody has not done a good job on something that has never happened before in the world.
“When you pay attention to the fact that we have a brand-new virus, that didn’t show up to the United States until January or February, we didn’t even know about it until January 30, and we are already very close to a vaccine,” he said, adding that progress has been made on treatments and medications as well.
“We are way ahead of the rest of the world on all those kinds of things. And they say, ‘well they did a better job of keeping it from spreading.’ Except for when you start looking at numbers of countries that we can trust. You can’t trust Russia and you can’t trust China’s numbers. But when you look at numbers in places like Italy and the UK, their numbers are going back up too,” he said.
He also said that he would like to see congress reconvene to work on another round of stimulus legislation.
“At one point, (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi said she was going to keep us there until we had a stimulus package,” Griffith said. “Well that’s exactly what should happen. We should be there until there is a stimulus package. Then, for various reasons, because it doesn’t suit her political narrative, she said ‘we are not going to do that.’”
The House of Representatives passed the revised Heroes Act 2.0 stimulus bill on Oct. 2, but the Senate has yet to take a vote on the legislation.
The economic relief legislation includes a second stimulus check of up to $1,200 for qualified Americans and a continuation of the $600 unemployment enhancement. It reduces some of the previously proposed allocations to increase provisions for items like the paycheck protection program and employee tax credit.
“If we are doing our jobs as a United States Congress, the Speaker of the United States House should have us called back in and we should get a stimulus package done,” Griffith said. “There are a lot of areas that we can agree on.”
For instance, “I’ll vote to do an additional amount on the unemployment. I’ll vote to do a stipend to American families across the country. I’ll vote for additional business support for the PPP. I’ll vote for an airline bill,” Griffith said. “There’s a lot of things we can agree on.”