BV Interview: Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano on What to Look for in 2013

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

I had a chance to sit down with Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) this afternoon for an interview. Mostly, I wanted to discuss the upcoming 2013 General Assembly session and Virginia elections for governor, LG, AG, and House of Delegates. Of course, given today's breaking news on the Virginia gubernatorial front, I also asked Del. Toscano for comment on Tom Perriello. For that, see Update #2 here. A few other highlights from the interview are as follows. All quotes (bolding added for emphasis and easy skimming) are taken from my audio recording of the interview.*Odd-year elections give Republicans an inherent advantage, and "the only way you're going to overcome that is grassroots, in-the-field organizing, to make sure you can activate the coalition that brought the victory for Obama in Virginia this past fall."
*"I think Terry understands that...the conservative activists are enthused about Cuccinelli, there's not going to be any lack of enthusiasm on that side. And I think [Terry's] challenge, and our challenge as Democrats, is to make sure we activate the coalition that won us this fall. That's a tremendous challenge; we have to be up for it or we're going to lose."
*"There's no way that we win the election without a substantial African American turnout. Whether that's having a person on the ticket who's African American, or a person or persons who can speak to the needs of that community, you've got to have it...Terry is going to run real hard in those communities, he's going to have Clinton on his side...he'll have Obama on his side; I think that's going to make a big difference."
*"We have to get [the Obama campaign's voter] data...we have to make sure we have those organizers working it again. The good news is we just came off the election so we know where those votes are...if we can get them, or at least close to as many of them as we can, we're going to win; if we can't we won't."
*"We need most [of the Obama campaign data]...Voter IDs are probably not enough, we probably also need to know why it is people did what they did. We've been told that we're going to get most of that data...Now it's all about legacy; part of [Obama's] legacy is getting McAuliffe elected in Virginia...Obama wants to be able to make his stamp on this country; part of that is making sure we get governors in office who are Democrats."
*According to Del. Toscano, we need to make sure voters - including "federal only" voters - understand the importance of local and state elections. "If they don't, we get people running for office at the highest level who are the most rabid conservatives, because they worked their way through the ranks."
*"I think people in leadership at the state level understand that very clearly; so that's why we tried so hard to defeat Cuccinelli in the Attorney General race, because we knew that if he won there, he'd be looking to move up to governor...[or maybe even] president."
*"We have a challenge [regarding voter turnout] try to explain how important every single one of these elections is at all levels. I don't think we've really done as good job [at that] as we need to do."
*In terms of whether they vote or not, people tend to judge the presidency as a more important race, "even though there are more things that a city council and a board of supervisors do that affect their individual lives than the president." Also, I pointed out that people's vote counts more/can have more impact at the local and state level, and Del. Toscano agreed.
*According to Del. Toscano, there's "definitely a disconnect" between voter turnout at the local/state level and the importance of voting at the local/state level.

*I asked Del. Toscano if he thought using social media more effectively could help deal with this "disconnect." Toscano responded, "I think sometimes people don't understand...that the way people get their news now is so fundamentally different from the way the got their news 10 years ago." (By the way, Toscano says the first thing he checks online in the morning is VPAP's news clips, and the second thing he checks is Blue Virginia - gotta love that answer, lol.)
*"People don't understand that [Blue Virginia has] got a readership, that the #1 news source for them is [Blue Virginia]; and there are all these little silos of people out there...elected officials should try to take advantage of that, because that's how they could reach out to these different groups."
*With regard to 2013 House of Delegates races, Del. Toscano noted that "there are 18 [House of Delegates] seats where Republicans now sit as the incumbent where Obama and Kaine got over 50% of the vote."
*"We are working our tails off to get candidates not just in the seats where the Democratic Performance Index is high, but also in the seats where it's low. We want to field as many candidates as we can around the state...there will be some targeting because we don't have unlimited resources...but we've got a lot of candidates who are either committed to running or are about ready to commit."
*"You cannot build a sustainable party without an infrastructure, and you can't build an infrastructure without candidates...I am confident that we're going to have strong candidates [for House of Delegates] in the Obama districts."
*"We'd like to have as many [candidates] committed as we can before the [General Assembly] session starts, because we think part of what we need to do is calling out some of these folks on their votes during the session."
*Of course, "Republicans may [try to] moderate themselves a little bit in this session" but on the other hand they're already on the record on "some very very bad things" and have a lot of "bad votes" (e.g., on "personhood," "transvaginal ultrasound," etc.).
*Big issues for the 2013 General Assembly session include Medicaid expansion, health care exchanges, and transportation.
*On Medicaid, "there's a clear contrast, either you're going to take the federal money to expand Medicaid that will insure some 400,000 Virginians or you're going to let the feds take our money to send it to Connecticut or New York to serve people [there] and give them insurance...That will set up a clear contrast between Democrats and Republicans."
*On transportation funding, Del. Toscano believes "[State Senator John] Watkins' {gas tax} proposal tees that issue up," although "it's not enough and it remains to be seen how far it will go and how many phone calls Grover Norquist makes to House Republicans to tell them they should not ever raise revenue under any circumstances."
*"We're going to see again whether Grover Norquist controls the House of Delegates or whether Virginians control the House of Delegates."
*"There will be some very interesting arguments on education...the governor will try to push a so-called education reform package, which will renew the discussion about charter schools, vouchers; we'll see if he puts more money on the table for teacher salaries."
*"You're going to see on the Republican side more attempts to suppress the vote. And on our side, we're going to have voter expansion...early voters, longer hours at the polls, more money for voting machines so you can lessen the waiting lines...why can't that be a bipartisan position?"
*"If [Republicans] were smart, they would not raise the issue" of "illegal immigration."
*On clean energy and climate change, Del. Toscano says we shouldn't have to worry about the SCC approving the "no brainer" of a simple demonstration project for solar power, but apparently "they're skittish about the potential impact on the rate payer."
*Toscano also notes that Ken Cuccinelli is "ginning up his political base" against the EPA and alternative energy (that it's supposedly costing the consumer "a lot more money"), so "people are very careful right now."
*The bottom line, though, in Toscano's view, is that there's "not much chance of progress [on clean energy and environmental issues] without a fundamental shift in the House of Delegates...have to take the governorship back [as well]."
*Finally, Toscano believes climate change "just don't really seem to engage the public as much as it did a couple years ago."
My recorder ran out of juice at that point, but we only had a few more minutes and that pretty much covers the gist of the interview. Thanks to Del. Toscano for his time today, it's very much appreciated. It was also good meeting former Charlottesville Mayor David Brown, who was with Del. Toscano, sat in on the interview, and added a number of interesting points of his own.