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Mighty fine whine / February 13, 2020

It’s still early, but our great Commonwealth may be in the process of producing the dumbest political complaint of the new decade: the 2020 General Assembly session has split us into “two Virginias.”

You may have noticed this bifurcated bull hockey is coming from one side and one side only of the Virginia political world: the party that lost the November elections so badly that control of the legislature flipped like stunt cars in Fast ‘N’ Furious. It probably goes without saying at this point, but the power transfer in question ran in the direction from Virginia’s Republican Party, which lost, towards the warm embrace of Virginia Democrats, who won.

It’s probably piling on here to note that the Virginia GOP hasn’t won a statewide election in over a decade, but a penchant for political subtlety and a buck-fifty will buy you a cup of coffee ... so yeah, let’s make that point, too.

Now it’s certainly true that Virginia is moving quickly away from the norm we’ve grown accustomed to in state politics — Republican officeholders, overwhelmingly male, white and mostly old, calling all the shots at the General Assembly. To the extent that other constituencies have taken their place at the table, it’s undeniably the case that we have not only two Virginias, but many Virginias, which is the point of having a democracy in the first place: to negotiate differences and accommodate various viewpoints. Hopefully all this can be done in the spirit of compromise, but when one side decries and derides the legitimacy of the other at every turn upon losing their grip on political power, there becomes not much for folks to talk about.

I’m sure everyone wants an example of how this phenomenon works, so let’s cite just one: gun control. Listening to the Republican minority in Richmond, you would think that reasonable gun safety legislation — expanded background checks, red flag emergency protection laws, one-a-month gun purchases, that sort of thing — had been visited upon Virginia by the devil child of Joseph Stalin and Lizzie Borden, with Hitler lurking in the wings as the baby’s godfather. That’s pretty much the contention of Republican lawmakers, anyway, who wail about Democratic majorities in the House and Senate jamming unwanted laws down everyone’s throats. And yet — public opinion polls show these measures are widely popular. Democrats ran in the 2019 statewide elections on the explicit promise of enhancing gun safety via the legislative process, and the voters elected them in sufficient numbers to carry out this agenda. What’s the complaint here? That the outcome is null and void because Republicans lost? Conservatives of sound mind and good intentions should give a great deal of thought to how far they want to take this argument.

So no, Virginia counties won’t be joining West Virginia anytime soon. (Okay, I got it wrong at top: this is the dumbest political message of the decade, and we can cancel the contest right now.) In the meantime, guess what — by the time this legislative session is over, we’ll still be one Virginia, full of people with differences of opinion and an established process for sorting these differences out, otherwise known as the democratic process, built on a firm scaffolding of the voter franchise. In the words of The Talking Heads, same as it ever was.

SHORT TAKES: The community lost two of its greatest champions this week with the deaths of Jay Reese and Emma “Em” Edmunds. Reese, of the Scottsburg farming family, led the Reese Farms vegetable operation that has produced so much tasty, healthy food over the generations. Jay and his father Hudson were featured in the pages of this newspaper in September, in a feature by Liza Fulton on Reese Farm’s product pipeline to Food Lion stores in the region. It would be difficult to find a better-run operation with so much family loyalty and hard work poured into it. Scottsburg must miss Jay terribly. We all will.

Em Edmunds was a great friend of this newspaper and to many others, a reflection of her generous nature and kind spirit. And oh, what a writer, journalist and thinker — over the span of more than a decade, after her retirement from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta Magazine, Em came home to Halifax and Virginia. Once here, she developed an exhibit for the Danville museum on Southside Virginia’s mostly ignored role in the civil rights movement. Danville’s African American community was more active than is widely known, thanks to the efforts of newspapers of the era to bury this aspect of local history. Em, through her diligent research, brought it back to the surface. There’s no surer way to cement one’s legacy than by highlighting and supporting the good works of a constituency greater than oneself. By that measure, Em will be long remembered for her keen intellect and insight, and for her understanding of how it could best be used.

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