Week in Review: Brat, budgets, and bombshells


By Kathryn Watson and Kaitlyn Speer | Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau

WINNER: Dave Brat said Eric Cantor lost touch with conservative constituents in the 7th District, which stretches from south of Richmond to the edge of Northern Virginia.

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — No one expected Dave Brat to come out on top this week or a Democratic state senator to resign, paving the way for Republicans to block Medicaid expansion, but that’s exactly what happened in Virginia this week. Here’s your week in review.

Virginia reel: Immigration, cronyism oust Cantor

With Cantor’s defeat, many in Virginia were left reeling with surprise.

The conservative Washington Times declared Tuesday morning before the primary that Cantor was “the heavy favorite,” and the left-leaning Washington Post predicted a blowout by Cantor. But at the end of the night, Brat had trounced the seven-term congressman, 55-44, the first time in history a sitting House majority leader was ousted in a primary.

Voters in the 7th District Tuesday night demonstrated they were weary with Cantor’s compromising, and appreciated Brat’s attacks on ‘crony capitalism.’

Cantor refused to debate Brat, and when he tried to paint his challenger as a “liberal college professor,” it clearly failed, said Steve Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

“That allegation was one of the biggest mistakes Cantor made. One of the first pictures you see on Brat’s website is Ronald Reagan, and then Cantor with Barack Obama.”

GOP cleans slate with Gillespie … or does it?

That strain between the establishment and the tea party populist movement in Virginia isn’t going away anytime soon.

Ed Gillespie, nominated as the Republican senatorial candidate running against U.S. Sen. Mark Warner this fall, isn’t pleasing everyone.

Gillespie will face challenges in his bid for Senate. Conservative guru and direct-mail pioneer Richard Viguerie has yet to endorse Gillespie, and he’s not the national GOP establishment’s biggest fan.

“Conservatives should not give a dime to the National Republican Senatorial Committee,” Viguerie said.

Retiring senator drops ‘bombshell’ on McAuliffe, Medicaid expansion

Thanks to the surprise retirement of state Sen. Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell, Republicans now have a 20-19 majority in the Senate and a pathway to a budget without Medicaid expansion.

Republicans wasted no time with their newfound majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, working out a tentative agreement on a two-year budget and discussing how to deal with a potential $1.5 billion budget shortfall. To fill that gap, lawmakers are looking to dip into around $700 million of the commonwealth’s Rainy Day Fund, on top of about $800 million in spending cuts.

Puckett’s retirement shocked many.

“It’s a bombshell,” Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said. “It doesn’t kill Medicaid expansion … but we lose control of the process. The tide has clearly turned.”

For Democrats, ‘welfare reform’ wasn’t always an untouchable phrase

For Democrats, the words “welfare reform” haven’t always translated to “untouchable phrase.”

In fact, the Democratic pick and presumptive next congressman of the 8th District, Don Beyer, helped write Virginia’s first welfare reform legislation.

“Welfare reform is, I think at this point, kind of a loaded phrase in Democratic politics,” said Geoff Skelley, political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Political pundits pay lots of attention to the tea party faction of the Republican Party, but there’s also been a shift nationally, if perhaps slower and less extreme, to the left for Democrats, Skelley said.

Election board allows use of expired IDs

With primary season underway, a “tweak” in Virginia’s voter-identification law will allow expired photo IDs to be used at polling places on Election Day in November.

State Sen. Tom Garrett, a Republican member of the Privileges and Elections Committee, said the decision by the State Board of Elections “nullifies legislative intent.”

But SBE Secretary Don Palmer disagrees. He said the action, which eliminates the current 30-day limit on expired IDs, should not be considered controversial.

“We thought the law provided more flexibility,” Palmer told Watchdog.org. “Thirty days was arbitrary.”

— Kathryn Watson is an investigative reporter for Watchdog.org’s Virginia Bureau, and can be reached at kwatson@watchdog.org, or on Twitter @kathrynw5. Kaitlyn Speer is an intern at Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau and can be reached at kspeer@watchdog.org and @KSpeer11.