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“The Politics of Coronavirus” – The Sunday Political Brunch – March 29, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – People are sick by the thousands and many are dying. So, it seems unseemly to even bring up the issue of politics at a time like this. I don’t like discussing it, but we’re in a crisis and it’s hard to avoid the politics that are in-play at this time. A national, even worldwide, emergency does not operate in a political vacuum. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Politics versus Public Policy” – People campaign for office making all kinds of promises, and if they win, we expect them to deliver on those promises. One thing I’ve learned in 43 years of covering politics, is that every vote and every decision has two consequences: one for politics, and one for public policy. Sometimes those two by-products conflict with each other, but the dichotomy is very real. Yes, you hope a vote – such as one for health care – benefits the health of the public. But at the same time, you hope if the policy succeeds, that people will reward you with re-election votes in November.

“Lessons Learned” – The old saying is that, “no one should ever see how their laws or sausages are made!” I’ve been a sponge in my career in the sense that I’ve tried to absorb as much political knowledge and history from the people I’ve worked for or covered. In 1992-93, I won a Congressional Fellowship through the American Political Science Association in Washington, D.C. The goal was to put news reporters around the country in Congressional legislative staff positions for the year, so to better understand the process. In short, we learned “how the sausage was made.” It was fascinating – somedays glorious, somedays ugly – but it was like the best graduate school you could ever attend!

“Just Do Something!” – The first six months of my Congressional Fellowship, I was assigned to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Criminal Justice. It was chaired by then-Rep. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who of course today is the Senate Minority Leader. Schumer has always been an activist lawmaker. Even back in the 80s and 90s he was sponsoring anti-crime legislation that was signed by Republican President George H.W. Bush. Schumer told us often in staff meetings that when he’d go home to Brooklyn, people would tell him, “Just do something,” about a whole host of issues. So, as staff members we were constantly under pressure to draft legislation to at least show he was out there trying to “do something.” Sure, some of it was pure bluster, but on the other hand some of it became law as good public policy.

“Cash is King” – By week’s end, Congress passed, and President Trump signed, a two-trillion- dollar economic stimulus package. Among other things it sends checks to each adult for $1,200 and $500 for each dependent child. Unemployment benefits are extended from 26 to 42 weeks, with the weekly payout increased by $600. The goals are to help all of those thrown out of jobs in the crisis, and to have everyone stimulate the economy by purchasing things or paying off debt. Will it work? Who knows? Yes, if people spend it on consumer goods, maybe; but if you stuff it under the mattress for a rainy day, probably not. It’s the pressure on Congress to “do something” with no guarantees of a payoff economically or politically.

“Oh, By the Way, There’s an Election Soon” – While many states have delayed or postponed primary elections, West Virginia is going full speed ahead. It has a primary election on May 12, with in-person early voting set for a 10-day period from April 29 to May 9. But the state now has a legal opinion saying that people who merely fear contracting coronavirus can check the box for a medical exemption, which will allow them to vote by absentee ballot. Secretary of State Mac Warner (R) West Virginia told me in past elections, about 5-percent of people voted absentee, but he believes upwards of 50 percent will vote that way this year.

“You Can Do Anything Online” – I know in the short-run it’s a real inconvenience. In many states, including West Virginia, K-12 schools are closed, as well as state colleges and universities. But the teaching plans, lessons and homework assignments are all transitioning to an online platform, including virtual classroom discussions. While this seems revolutionary, hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide have been offering online classes and degrees for the last several years. This is the future of education folks, and we are just scratching the surface. Four years ago, I completed an Associate in Science degree in Computer Science, most of which I did online. It was one of the most enriching and rewarding educational experiences in my lifetime.

How are you adapting to the “stay-at-home” or “shelter-in-place” orders during the coronavirus pandemic? Are you taking any online learning classes? Just click the comment button and let us know!!!

Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

“Does Anyone Care About Politics Right Now?” -- Sunday Political Brunch March 22, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W, Va. -- Remember the age-old philosophical question: “If a tree falls in the woods, and nobody is there to hear it, does it still make a sound?” I must ask the same question with the coronavirus outbreak this week. Yes, we had some big-time politics going on this week, but was anyone listening, and did anyone care? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Politics DID Happen This Week!” – Three states held primary elections on Tuesday, while a fourth – Ohio – cancelled its primary at the eleventh hour. Here are the results: In Florida, former Vice President Joe Biden had 62 percent of the vote, to 23 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). In Illinois, Biden took 59 percent, to 36 percent for Sanders. And in Arizona, Biden won 44 percent to 33 percent for Sanders. It was another clean sweep for Biden.

“Delegate Counts Matter” – Any candidate needs 1,991 delegates to win the nomination. After this week’s primaries Biden has 1,142 delegates, and Sanders has 824. Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg and Tulsi Gabbard have all dropped and have endorsed Biden. Collectively, they hold another 81 potential delegates that could move to Biden. Elizabeth Warren, who has yet to endorse anyone, is most closely politically aligned with Sanders. She holds 73 delegates. Look, this is strongly trending to an inevitable Biden nomination. Remember there are “super delegates” which are seats reserved for party leaders such as members of Congress, and Governors. The party faithful are strongly backing Biden.

“Does Anyone Care?” – The problem for politicians – especially those running in primaries soon – is, are people paying attention? Coronavirus stories are dominating the news, and if you look like you are trying to take political advantage by attacking opponents, it could backfire as pure political opportunism. It’s a fine line to walk, and it puts non-incumbents and newcomers at a disadvantage to incumbent office holders. Those in office have a legitimate role (and votes) in dealing with the crisis now, and not in November.

“VP is a She-VP!” – In last Sunday’s political debate on CNN, Joe Biden made the bold announcement that he would be picking a woman to be his vice-presidential running mate. Later in the debate, Bernie Sanders begrudgingly said he’d consider a woman as well (though it was clear Biden took strategic advantage as the first to make the pledge).

“So, Who is She?” – As my regular readers will note, I’ve been predicting for about eight months now, that Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is the woman likely to get the nod. She’s a former corporate lawyer, a former chief prosecutor in a big, urban county, and she’s been elected three times to the U.S. Senate. She’s never lost an election. She’ll be the best pick for Biden or Sanders. Plus, she’s a fresh face with a long resume. I’ve heard people all week speculate that Biden would choose Michelle Obama, or even Hillary Clinton, but both come with baggage. Klobuchar is a fresh face, is well-qualified, and at age 59, has a bright political future ahead of her. She’d be a pick about tomorrow, not about yesterday!

“Gabbard Gabs Good-Bye” – It didn’t make huge headlines, but Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-HI), finally dropped out of the Democratic nomination contest this week. Why she hung on so long amazes me, as she passed on her chance to file for re-election to a safe House seat. A military veteran, still in her 30s, she has a bright future ahead of her and we’ll hear from her again down the road. Had I been an advisor, I would have told her to fold her tent long ago and run for Congress again. Now, that platform is gone, which I think is a mistake. She’s an impressive young lady. Keep an eye on her!

“To Have the Job vs. To Want the Job” – After some initial stumbles and downright boneheaded statements about the coronavirus threat, President Trump has done a lot to right the ship, and perhaps, instill more public confidence in his handling of the situation. His Oval Office address and many of his daily White House briefings have been far more sober and focused, that his often bombastic and inflammatory tweets. Many times, he has come across as far more “presidential” and diplomatic, than the often-confrontational nature of his first three years. And he has become far more deferential to the experts, such as Dr. Tony Fauci. How Trump continues to manage this crisis could well determine whether voters give him a second term.

“So, What’s Next?” – The trick of politics is to know what you control, and what you don’t. We are in uncharted territory, and there are “six ways from Sunday” this whole coronavirus crisis could go south. If the President and members of Congress look like they are in control of the situation, and the threats and fears dissipate, then that’s gold at the ballot box. But, if the illness explodes out of control, with countess deaths and suffering, anyone in office now, is in peril. Remember, politics remains to many voters a, “what have you done for me lately” business.

How is the coronavirus response shaping your political hopes and votes? Just click the comment button to let us know!

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five surrounding states, and most of the Washington, D.C. media market. He is a National Contributing Political Writer for the White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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