Creigh Deeds: General Assembly Report
Twice before, houses of the Virginia General Assembly have been evenly divided. In 1996 the Senate was divided, 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. In 1998 the House of Delegates was divided, 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans and 1 Independent who caucused with the Republicans. In both of those instances, power sharing agreements were reached dividing equally leadership and membership of the committees. This bipartisan approach worked.
This year produced a different result.
Last fall’s elections left the Senate of Virginia knotted up again. The Senate Republicans, having spent over $5 million to win a majority and having been denied by the voters, immediately claimed that the Lieutenant Governor’s tie-breaking authority gave them a majority.
The Constitution of Virginia clearly says the Lieutenant Governor may not vote on matters such as the budget, constitutional amendments, or judgeships. The Senate Republican Caucus was determined to threaten the comity of the Senate by ramming through majority status. Indeed, that is what they achieved on the first day of the session using the Lieutenant Governor’s tie-breaking vote to elect themselves to every leadership position, to write the rules in such a way that they can preserve their “majority” through the next four years even if a Democratic Lieutenant Governor is elected in 2013, and to install Republican majorities in each of the committees.
Democratic senators, including me, were removed from committees. I am disappointed because I have worked hard to have a significant voice on each of my committees and to have involvement in the passage or failure of numerous bills over the years. By taking me off the Courts of Justice and Commerce and Labor Committees, the Senate Republicans have attempted to diminish my ability to make a difference on issues of importance and to minimize the voice of those people I represent. I will, however, continue to impact policy decisions on the committees to which I was appointed—Privileges and Elections, Transportation, and General Laws and Technology.
In my view, the power grab by the Senate Republicans destroyed one of the rare things about Virginia government. Unlike Washington, we have a long record of working together, across the aisle, to get things done in Virginia. Senate Democrats, during our period of leadership, never took a Republican off a committee. I am afraid that now that the precedent has been set, it will be difficult to overcome, and the good working relationship we have enjoyed will devolve into a Washington style, win at all cost, form of politics which might make good news print, but seldom makes good government.
Despite this backdrop, there are significant issues to deal with this year. Virginia, like the other states, struggles to recover and put people back to work. While there are some promising signs around the Commonwealth, we must be vigilant to ensure we can promote economic growth in every part of the state. While the Governor has proposed much needed investment in economic development, he also proposed reducing funding for K-12 education in this environment. That is exactly the wrong reaction in my view. This is the time we should be investing in education, because that is the key to one’s ability to be prepared for the workforce of the 21st century.
We have critical needs in transportation. Despite the rhetoric, we have failed utterly to come up with a long-term plan for funding transportation and we run the risk, as early as 2017, of losing over $1 billion a year in federal funding simply because we cannot provide the state match. The Governor’s response to this, in my view, is also inadequate. He has proposed taking money from sales tax revenue, or general funds, which funds public education, higher education, public health and public safety, and moving it to transportation. We can do better.
The 2012 Session of the General Assembly promises to be contentious and unpleasant. Nevertheless, we have an obligation to work together to solve the problems that face the Commonwealth of Virginia. I am confident that despite our differences, we will be able to get business done and move Virginia forward.
It is my honor to serve you in the Senate of Virginia. If I can be of service to you, or if you would like to share your thoughts or ask a question, or if you would like to visit Richmond and see the legislature at work, please contact me or Tracy Eppard, my legislative aide, at email@example.com or (804) 698-7525.
Creigh Deeds is a member of the Virginia State Senate.