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COVID-19 Takes Another Republican Legislator-- This One In Virginia




How would you like to represent a district that sits at the conjunction of Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and North Carolina? If you have a sense of geography, you know that means southwest Virginia's coal country. And, believe me, that's red, red, red. It's also white, white, white-- 94% white. The district is state Senate district 38, which includes all or parts of Tazewell Co., Pulsaski Co., Russell Co., Buchanan Co., Wise Co., Dickenson Co., Radford City and parts of 4 other counties and cities that account for 8% of the district. The state Senator is-- or was until yesterday-- Benton "Ben" Chafin.

In 2016, the district went for Trump, 75-22%. The following year, the district gave a similar win to Ed Gillespie over Ralph Northam in the gubernatorial race, 73-26% and in 2018 Corey Stewart beat Tim Kaine, 69-30%. The last time Chafin ran was in 2019 and he beat his Democratic opponent 30,295 (63.6%) to 16,784 (35.3%).

Chafin, 60, died in the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond after being infected with COVID-19 just over two weeks ago. He is the first member of the Virginia legislature to die of COVID. He wasn't a right-wing nut.

Although the Virginia House of Delegates meets remotely, the state Senate still meets in person. It's hard to peg Chafin politically. On the one hand, he sponsored a (failed) bill to allow guns in churches. On the other hand, he was one of just 4 Republicans to vote for the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, which narrowly passed while the GOP still controlled the state Senate.

I've been saying since March that it will take a million to two million American deaths before this country starts to take the pandemic seriously. Deaths of Republican politicians-- like deaths of anyone-- are tragic but will help the country's process of taking the painful steps necessary to beat the disease. That hasn't happened yet-- not even close. Only 358,055 American COVID deaths so far. A million-- let alone two million-- is a long ways off and... I hope I'm wrong.

I tried this twice and my van wound up in a ditch both times, once in Iceland and once in India. Let's hope for a better road in 2021, but this is what navigating 2020 has been like.



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