A Virginia Republican talking point took a hit Monday after report shows no Democratic interference
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Report shows no Democratic interference in parole board investigation
Democrats and Republicans differ greatly in rhetoric when discussing criminal justice and policing in Virginia. The latest developments involving the parole board and the Office of the Inspector General (OSIG) stoked that divide once again as Republicans try to keep this talking point relevant in an election year.
The law firm hired by Governor Northam’s administration says that OSIG, the arm of the Executive Branch tasked with investigating the parole board’s handling of one case last year after they reportedly broke protocol several times to release a parolee, failed to complete a thorough review of the case. Additionally, the law firm found no interference from outside entities in the Democratic Party while the OSIG investigation was taking place — they also asserted that the judgment of the lead investigator from OSIG appeared to be clouded by a personal bias.
The news disappointed Republicans who have looked to make this an election-year issue as they seek to regain control of either the House of Delegates or one of three statewide offices on the ballot this November; governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.
“If you want to know what one-party rule looks like, look no further than the sham of an ‘investigation’ conducted by a law firm hand-picked and paid for by Democrat Attorney General, Mark Herring,” Del. Jason Miyares, the Republican nominee for attorney general said in a statement Monday.
The investigation was not paid for by Herring or his office. The General Assembly and Governor Northam allocated the $250,000 used to fund this investigation.
Todd Gilbert, the Republican Leader in the House of Delegates echoed the same sentiment as Miyares. “The results were entirely predictable: a report from a partisan Democratic law firm hired by the Democratic Attorney General that claims a report showing Democrats in a bad light is biased,” Gilbert said in a statement. “Their continued assault on a whistleblower is evident in this report. Governor Northam and Speaker Filler-Corn should release this report to the public immediately so Virginians can see what $250,000 worth of damage control looks like.”
State Sen. Scott Surovell (D) pushed back on those claims from the Republicans, saying their GOP colleagues in the Senate were invited to help review the law firms being considered. “When I explained the Governor’s Amendment funding the independent investigation of OSIG on the floor of the [Virginia Senate], the [Senate Democrats] offered the [Senate Republicans] the opportunity to participate in vetting the firm to conduct the investigation – the offer was not accepted,” Surovell said on Twitter Monday.
In an archived video from April 7, Surovell can be heard inviting Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment to review the law firms that Herring’s office would be proposing as options.
The law firm that was eventually chosen to handle the limited-scope investigation is Nixon Peabody, an international LLP with a special arm for conducting internal investigations and preparing investigative reports on behalf of ‘corporate clients.’ “Any suggestion that [Nixon Peabody] – a 700 lawyer firm – would risk their [international] reputation and their independent investigation practice for the sake of [Governor Northam] is utterly preposterous,” Surovell wrote Monday.
The report from Nixon Peabody says there was no evidence of pressure or influence from the Northam administration towards the OSIG in their handling of the parole board investigation.
Investigators did note that they found evidence that the lead investigator on the parole board case had an apparent bias and wanted to see Martin back in prison. “We recommend increased training on bias awareness and improvements to internal controls, in order to better identify potential conflicts of interest and impartiality,” they wrote in their report as a recommendation for improvements at OSIG.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the lead investigator denied in a statement through her lawyer that there was any bias in her work.
The response to the report follows the pattern of how partisan politics has been operating in recent years.
While Republicans have largely opposed the protests that swept the country over the last year, Democrats have taken certain aspects of criminal justice reform head-on. Republicans have been digging in conversely with a focus on law and order and criticizing Democratics for the changes they have made to the state code during the last two years while they have had a majoirty in both chambers of the legislature.
“Our law enforcement community is under attack in Virginia,” Youngkin said in a statement at the end of April when he announced a ‘Law enforcement for Glenn’ coalition. “Officers and frontline workers are being targeted by people who want to defund and demoralize them – even reducing the criminal penalties for assaulting them. These attacks will stop on my watch.”
Some of the changes Democrats have made include abolishing the death penalty, banning no-knock warrants like the one that resulted in a police officer killing Breonna Taylor, creating Virginia’s first statewide code of conduct for police officers, creating mental-health crisis response teams to co-respond with police, requiring officers to intervene when other officers use excessive force in a situation, and legalizing marijuana.
Youngkin’s opponent, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe has been running on the record of the Democrats as well as his own from four years when he was governor and restored the voting rights of over 170,000 Virginians with felonies.
Over the last year, the defund the police movement has become a popular talking point in politics, but there have not been any real legislative moves to defund police departments in Virginia.
In fact, the legislation that Democrats have passed while in the majority the last two years shows the opposite.
While passing the criminal justice reform legislation over the last year, the General Assembly did not make and cuts to the funding for police departments. Legislators even voted to give police officers across the commonwealth a $500 bonus check. They also attempted to establish a trust fund program this year that would lead to a pay raise for Virginia State Police troopers, but that legislation did not pass.
It is likely Republicans will continue to try and say Democrats overstepped on criminal justice reform in Virginia as they try and drive turnout for November. The parole board, the issue that has garnered the majority of the GOP’s attention in the criminal justice arena, might now be running on fumes after the report from Nixon Peabody. “What the report does confirm is that all of the leaks, innuendo and grandstanding about this situation was an attempt to stir up a scandal that doesn’t exist to distract from Virginia joining the mainstream of America on criminal justice,” Surovell said Monday.
Ralph Northam Reflects on His Journey Back From the Edge - New York Times
by Astead Herndon
Just two years ago, nearly every national politician in the Democratic Party was calling for Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia to resign. A racist picture was discovered on Mr. Northam’s medical school yearbook page, and the physician-turned-politician said he did not know which person he was in the photograph — the white man dressed in blackface or the one in Ku Klux Klan regalia.
A series of twists helped Mr. Northam stay in office, including simultaneous scandals that engulfed his possible successors, a cross-generational coalition of Black activists who decided to defy national politics and stick by him, and a commitment from Mr. Northam’s administration to prioritize racial justice. And he followed through, shocking even his most ardent supporters, with a series of policy accomplishments that focused on racial equity.