Top Political Stories to Follow in 2019

A s 2019 begins, there are several storylines we know will have significant impact upon us as Virginians and Americans. Here are a few that we should think about and pay attention to this year.

Beginning right away, will be the emergence of the presidential aspirants. Already, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has announced her presidential exploratory committee. While the November 2020 presidential election might seem an eternity away, things like the Ames, Iowa Straw Poll happen this summer, and then the presidential primaries and caucuses start in just a year.

It will be interesting to watch how many candidates enter the contest, who begins to catch a wave, how often one candidate becomes a media darling only to fall out of favor, and how the narrative is driven. Will the Democratic Party move further left? Will President Trump face a challenge from within the GOP?

With the beginning of the 116th Congress and funding not secured to run portions of our federal government, the question becomes how far will Trump go to hold out for “the wall” at the U.S.-Mexico border? He was unable to get a lame duck Congress to agree on a funding plan – and that was with Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. With Democrats prepared to lead the majority in the House, one wonders what of Trump’s agenda he will be able to accomplish. Especially with ongoing investigations and impeachment of the President a potential distraction from governance.

The Virginia General Assembly, as championed by Gov. Ralph Northam, expanded Medicaid this past year in an effort to ensure more Virginians had healthcare coverage. Northam is proud to state that, as of Tuesday, Jan. 1, an additional 200,000 Virginians have the coverage. However, base Medicaid expenditures were previously underestimated and now the state has to augment an additional $202 million this fiscal year and another $260.3 million in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Healthcare remains a hot-button topic, especially since a Texas federal judge declared the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional, though it will remain in effect while the ruling is appealed. There is a great deal of uncertainty associated with these programs, so budgeting, particularly updating the state’s mandated balanced budget, becomes a challenge.

The Virginia State Senate once again will be offering its own set of manageable healthcare fixes. Locally, Sen. Frank Wagner serves as the vice chairperson of the Health Insurance Reform Commission and seems optimistic that bipartisan consensus can be achieved, in spite of 2019 being an election year for the entire General Assembly – all 100 House and 40 Senate members.

“There are simple, practical changes we can approve now that would make affordable healthcare coverage available to more Virginians,” Wagner wrote in a statement. “We have a duty to do so.”

Wagner’s optimism will be put to the test as memories of the 2017 election that nearly brought the Democrats a majority in the Virginia House of Delegates remains fresh.

Republicans only hold a 51-49 lead in the House of Delegates. They also only have a 21-19 advantage in the Senate. This is the narrowest of margins, and Democrats will go all out to win back majorities in this critical election year. This election determines the legislature that will be in place when decennial redistricting begins in 2020 with the U.S. Census.

Northam has proposed for a mid-cycle biennial budget adjustment with more than $1.6 billion in new spending. It’s clear some of that spending is laudable and worthy of consideration, particularly with respect to education. How it’s afforded is another matter that will be fiercely debated.

“Unfortunately, it appears much of the proposed spending is predicated on allowing over 600,000 middle-class taxpayers to pay higher taxes,” Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, chairperson of the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee Chairman, said in a statement this past month.

“Before we can contemplate new spending, the General Assembly will have to resolve the governor’s willingness to allow by inaction a tax increase and the elimination of key deductions on mortgage interest and property taxes.”

Speaking of redistricting, we still don’t know the outcome of the proposed redrawing of Virginia House of Delegates lines by the federal judiciary. An analysis of the proposal by the Virginia Public Access Project comparing changes to how the districts voted in the 2012 election decidedly favors the Democrats. If accepted, these new districts will put the GOP squarely behind the eight ball going into this campaign season.

That is just a small sample size of the big stories that will be part of 2019.

Get ready for the ride.

This column appears in The Princess Anne Independent News