A Clinton scenario could have ripple effects in Virginia

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Would Hillary Clinton make Sen. Tim Kaine her running
mate? AP photo by Dennis Van Tine/STAR MAX

What would happen in Virginia if Hillary Clinton is elected president? That is the question raised by a recent issue of The Economist.

In a section titled “The World If,” the magazine in early August offered a series of articles exploring what might occur under a certain set of circumstances. The stories offer scenarios showing how events might play out, but they are not necessarily forecasts of the future.

The first scenario involves the election of Hillary Clinton. With the dateline “Washington, D.C., April 29, 2017,” the article “looks back” at the first 100 days of her administration.

Some things haven’t changed since the Obama days. The honeymoon between the Democratic president and a Republican Congress is short-lived. After getting her Cabinet appointments confirmed with little trouble, President Clinton begins to get pushback on her legislative agenda.

But she has an advantage that Obama didn’t have in his final years in office — a 50-50 split in the Senate where the vice president, former Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, can cast a deciding vote.

The story reveals that Kaine played a crucial role in Clinton’s victory over the GOP nominee, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Kaine apparently was recruited as a running mate in part because of his fluency in Spanish. (He once was a missionary in Central America.) With his help and the promise of sending a comprehensive immigration bill to Congress, Clinton held Rubio to 35 percent of the Hispanic vote and beat him in a close race in his home state.

The Economist spices up the scenario with an October surprise: Rubio’s campaign was thrown off track by a sudden influx of desperate Cuban immigrants after the collapse of the Castro regime.

(No mention, however, is made of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination or any attempt by him at a third-party candidacy. Likewise, Vice President Joe Biden makes no appearance in the scenario as a result of continuing questions about Clinton’s private email server.)

With his election as vice president, Kaine vacated his Senate seat, the scenario says. Responsibility for appointing his replacement fell to Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who promptly named himself to the job. That move has contributed to Clinton’s souring relations with Republicans. They remember McAuliffe’s past role as a fundraiser for the Clintons.

The article, however, doesn’t look at what would happen next in Virginia under these circumstances. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam would succeed McAuliffe and gain the advantage of incumbency going into 2017 governor’s race.

In real life, Northam already has a clear shot at becoming the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.  His presumed chief rival for the nomination, Attorney General Mark Herring, unexpectedly announced in September that he will run for re-election instead. That is a storyline that no one would have made up.

The next governor of Virginia, whoever that is, might hope that another Economist scenario becomes reality.

Looking at what would happen “If autonomous vehicles rule the world,” this article suggests that massive spending to relieve traffic congestion could become a thing of the past.

Some luxury vehicles could offer a “driverless” option in a few years, the story notes. Gradually, that option would be available in more models until it becomes commonplace. The appearance of autos would undergo little change, however, and car buying would continue as it has been for decades.

But there is an alternative scenario that could radically change how people move about, the story says. Just as automobiles don’t need to look like their predecessors, horse-drawn carriages, driverless cars — without steering wheels or pedals — won’t need to be designed like today’s vehicles. Their prototypes might be the electric pods that now shuttle passengers around at London’s Heathrow airport.

Cars owned by individuals currently sit idle 96 percent of the time, the story says. Fleets of continuously moving pods, summoned by an app, would be able to move the same number of people using perhaps only 30 percent of the vehicles we have today.

This kind of change could have an enormous effect on traffic-choked areas of the commonwealth, such as Northern Virginia.  A recent report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that drivers in the Washington, D.C., area face the worst traffic in the nation, accumulating 82 hours of traffic delays last year, up from 67 hours in 2013. 

Driverless cars also would have an effect on auto insurance. Because 94 percent of accidents are caused by human error, the numbers of crashes and fatalities are expected to drop as these vehicles become widely used. One study cited by the article found that, if 90 percent of the cars on U.S. roads were driverless, the number of traffic accidents would decline from 5.5 million to 1.3 million annually and the number of deaths would decrease from 32,400 to 11,300 a year.

All of this, of course, is based on a set of assumptions that might not come true. Or, at least, they might not take place until Mark Herring decides to run for governor.

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