KEY POINT: "Virginia voters spoke clearly in November when they elected three Democrats to statewide office and swept more than a dozen Republicans from the state House of Delegates, nearly erasing the GOP’s 32-vote advantage.....In the opening days of the session, however, Republican leaders appear intent to leverage their slim majorities to maximum advantage.”
By The Virginian-Pilot Editorial Board
Virginia voters spoke clearly in November when they elected three Democrats to statewide office and swept more than a dozen Republicans from the state House of Delegates, nearly erasing the GOP’s 32-vote advantage.
While Republicans maintained their hold on control of that chamber, it was literally by the luck of a draw: The race in the 94th District was determined by a random drawing after the two major-party candidates received an equal number of votes.
The 51-49 Republican advantage in the House does afford that party effective control of the chamber — those are the rules, after all — but it would be disingenuous to suggest that voters expect party-line business as usual from that chamber.
That would mean reversing its reputation as the point of the spear for the Republican legislative agenda. While some GOP members of the Senate were open to bipartisan cooperation or — gasp! — working with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, the House is where those dreams often went to die.
In the opening days of the session, however, Republican leaders appear intent to leverage their slim majorities to maximum advantage.
Newly elected House Speaker Kirk Cox proved as such on Friday when he assigned many of the most prominent Democratic legislative priorities to the Rules Committee, where the GOP holds a wider margin than in other standing committees.
That can only be seen as a step toward halting the Democrats’ agenda before it starts. It’s a move that will be matched, likely with more subtlety and tact, in the Senate, where Republicans also enjoy a one-seat advantage.
As if to signal a desire to snuff out any hope for a fresh start in Richmond, the GOP followed those legislative maneuvers with an over-wrought reaction to the two speeches delivered by Gov. Ralph Northam since he took office.
In his inaugural address on the steps of the Virginia State Capitol on Saturday, Northam offered a hopeful vision for his time in office, echoing many of the themes he sounded throughout his campaign and calling for all Virginians to work together to improve the commonwealth.
On Monday, he followed that address with one to a joint session of the General Assembly, where he emphasized economic initiatives — including skills training for workers, and development and recruitment efforts for business growth — before wading into the always choppy waters of social policy.
In his speech, he called for the expansion of Medicaid, voiced a strong defense of reproductive rights, lobbied for action to curb gun violence, urged the protection of voting rights and promoted equal justice for all. These generally received a cool response from GOP lawmakers.
Afterward, several prominent Republicans decried the tone of Northam’s address, complaining it was stridently, offensively partisan and claiming it scuttled any hope for cooperation between those two branches of state government.
“I wondered if he found it in his predecessor’s desk,” House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, told Pilot reporter Jordan Pascale. “It makes me wonder who is in this governor’s ear. Maybe holdovers (from the last administration) wrote his speech.”
Sen. Mark Obenshain told Pascale it sounded like a speech by “the former mayor of New York.”
That’s curious since Northam’s speech was the same brand of moderate liberalism he espoused on the campaign trail. It was nothing one might hear from the more radical members of his party, such as U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.
Yet to Gilbert, Obenshain and their colleagues, giving voice to these ideas — priorities backed in November by 1.4 million Virginians — is akin to waving a red cape in front of a Republican bull.
That’s an entirely unreasonable position, and one that’s deeply disappointing to the millions who hoped a change in leadership could bring a new spirit of cooperation to Richmond.
Those in power need to demonstrate their flexibility, soften their rhetoric and find a way to work together for the good of the commonwealth.