November 10, 2011
Virginia Republicans, who appear to have eked out a partisan 20-20 split in the 40-seat Senate in Tuesday's election, said Wednesday they will not share power with Democrats, who have held a two-seat majority the past four years.
Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who presides over the Senate and holds the deciding vote in the case of a tie, said he will vote to allow the GOP to organize as the majority party.
"Make no mistake about it, there is a Republican majority in the state Senate," Bolling said at a celebratory GOP news conference alongside Gov. Bob McDonnell, House Speaker William J. Howell and Sen. Ryan McDougle of Hanover.
That's contingent, however, on Republican newcomer Bryce Reeves' narrow lead over 7-term Democratic Sen. R. Edward Houck surviving Wednesday's vote canvass in six localities that are part of the 17th Senate District, then a possible recount.
An 86-vote margin in Reeves' favor Tuesday night expanded to 224 votes after canvassing Wednesday in Fredericksburg and the 17th District counties of Spotsylvania, Albemarle, Orange, Culpeper and Louisa.
Some canvassing was expected to continue into Thursday, said Donald Palmer, executive secretary of the State Board of Elections. Democratic leaders said they will decide their next steps after canvassing.
"Whether something will arise out of what goes on down there today, I don't know," said Sen. Dick Saslaw, leader of the current Senate Democratic majority. "But we can't lose sight of the fact that one of these races will probably have to go through a recount. There's not a lot separating Edd Houck and Bryce Reeves."
Tuesday was the first election in 20 years held in every General Assembly district just months after they were reconfigured by decennial redistricting. There were reports statewide of sporadic snafus resulting from confused voters and, in some cases, ill-trained local election officials. In many cases, two or more districts converged in a single voting precinct, forcing voters and election officers to hand out different ballots based on a voter's address.
The GOP gained two Senate seats Tuesday and surged from a 59-seat majority to a record 66 in the 100-seat House of Delegates. That doesn't count conservative independent Del. Lacey Putney of Bedford, who organizes with the House Republicans, or Republican David Ramadan, who was barely ahead of Democrat Mike Kondratick in the 87th House District race that remained too close to call.
The last time an election resulted in a 20-20 split was 1996. Then, Democrats intended to retain control by having Democratic Lt. Gov. Donald Beyer cast the deciding vote in their favor. The parties were forced to share power, apportioning committees evenly and having Democratic and GOP co-chairmen, after Sen. Virgil Goode, then a conservative Democrat, threatened to side with Republicans unless Democrats agreed to share power.
"That wasn't done out of the goodness of the Democrats' hearts," said Bolling, who was first won election in 1995 and took his Senate seat the next winter with the onset of power sharing.
"There will be a Republican majority leader, there will be Republican chairs of the key committees of the Senate. That's the way the process works," Bolling said.
Saslaw acknowledged there is no way the Senate's 20 Democrats can stop it.
"They're not the majority party because they've got 20 (seats) and we've got 20, but they've got the tie-breaking vote, and if you've got 20 plus one, you don't have to share anything," he said.
With the GOP in control, conservatives will be firmly in charge of the Senate, McDougle said.
"As you looked at all of our candidates, regardless of what part of the state they are from, they were talking about jobs, the economy and Virginia as a fiscally conservative state. That is going to be the focus of this Republican Senate," McDougle said.
Conservative senators newly elected Tuesday include Bill Stanley of Franklin County, Bill Carrico, a delegate and perennial sponsor of public prayer Legislation, and Dick Black, a social conservative who shocked his fellow delegates in 2003 by sending them small, plastic likenesses of a fetus to underscore his opposition toward abortion.
Saslaw said a GOP Senate will green-light socially conservative Legislation that Democratic-led Senate committees have ensnared in recent years such as severe crackdowns on undocumented immigrants or perhaps abortion restrictions like a "personhood" amendment that Mississippi voters rejected Tuesday.
"They're going to come up with personhood and all kinds of stuff, and I might remind them that even in Mississippi, with both candidates for governor — the Democrat and the Republican — endorsing that stupid amendment, the people turned out to be smarter than the politicians," Saslaw said.