Senate Dems: Share power, or we’re going to court
State Senate Democratic leaders said Friday that they will take legal action if necessary to ensure equal representation on legislative committees in the wake of Election Day results that have Democrats and Republicans each holding 20 seats in the chamber.
On Monday, party leaders took their case to the court of public opinion.
“What we’re asking for from our colleagues is simple fairness. The voters of Virginia obviously voted for a divided Senate,” said Senate Democratic Caucus chair Donald McEachin, laying out the case for the request of Senate Democrats for equal representation in Senate leadership and committee assignments.
Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, has said since Election Day that he will work with Senate Republican leaders to ensure that the GOP effectively controls the senior chamber.
“Make no mistake about it. There is a Republican majority in the State Senate,” Bolling said after the November elections.
McEachin, an attorney, counters that the state constitutional provision that lays out how each chamber of the General Assembly is to organize itself does not mention the lieutenant governor as part of the Senate.
The only other time in Virginia political history that the State Senate had split representation, following the 1995 state elections, Democrats and Republicans agreed to share power and committee assignments.
The lieutenant governor at the time was a Democrat, Don Beyer. Republican leaders made a similar case to the one being advanced now by Democrats for power-sharing following the 1995 elections.
“I would hope that my Republican colleagues would remember the word they uttered in 1995 and 1996 and remember that if it was fair then, it’s fair now,” McEachin said.
Majority Leader Dick Saslaw conceded the point that the state Constitution is unclear, which is what may precipitate legal action if the two parties cannot come to an agreement.
The state Constitution gives the lieutenant governor the power to break tie votes, “but that’s always been on general legislative matters. It’s never been settled on something like this,” Saslaw said.
Saslaw thinks there could even be an issue going forward on votes involving the state budget and judicial appointments. “It’s not just a matter of this year. It should be settled for all time. That’s the purpose behind this,” Saslaw said.