Is there a Senate deal that helps both sides?

With the opening of the Virginia General Assembly upon us in two days and with chaos threatening to reign in the Senate, is there a quasi-power sharing agreement that would satisfy by both sides and avoid a lot of aggravation?

There very well might be.

Democrats are claiming that Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling can’t vote on organizing the Senate. Republicans claim that vote gives them the majority. Ironically, the two parties are taking the opposite positions that they took the last time the Senate was deadlocked 20-20, in 1996. At that time the lieutenant governor was a Democrat, Don Beyer.

A judge refused to grant an injunction against Bolling casting the tie-breaking vote because the issue was not “ripe,” since he hadn’t yet done so. The lawsuit filed by Democratic Caucus Chairman Sen. Donald McEachin is still in front of the court. If, really when, Bolling casts his tie-breaking vote, the Democrats could go back to court. Of course, that would require them to walk off the floor, denying a quorum in the Senate until the issue could be resolved. And that’s complicated by the fact that Bolling, like the governor or a member of the legislature can’t be compelled to answer to a civil suit during the General Assembly session.

So chaos could ensue.

But it’s not necessary. Because there could be a deal that gives both sides part of what they want.

Bolling put out a well-reasoned memo dealing with what issues he believes he can cast a tie-breaking vote on and which he cannot. He believes that he can vote on organization, but not on issuing debt, constitutional amendments or final passage of the state budget. I think his analysis is right.

Which could cause problems for Republicans, as well as Democrats. They now need consensus with Democrats on the budget and they are unlikely to get it if Democrats feel that Republicans are trying to grab power they didn’t win at the polls.

But there would seem to be a deal out there.

In recognition of their victory at the polls and Bolling’s tie-breaking vote, Republicans would be recognized as the majority and control the floor. Sen. Tommy Norment would be the Majority Leader and Republicans would chair every committee.

But, reflecting what each side earned in November, instead of the 10-6 majorities Norment has talked about on committees, each side would have an equal number of seats on committees. This would allow Democrats to kill some bad social issues bills coming over from the House in committee, which probably wouldn’t really make Norment, Bolling or Gov. Bob McDonnell — who could avoid having to sign nutty social issues legislation while auditioning for the vice presidential nomination — unhappy either.

Democrats would probably also want a pledge that Norment will not, as he’s threatened, “revisit” last year’s legislative redistricting. From a good public policy perspective, that’s a good thing. Redistricting shouldn’t be on the line in every election, to be engaged in whenever the majority changes.

In return, Democrats could probably agree to pass the incumbent protection Congressional redistricting plan that all the incumbent representatives signed off on last year. True some think that would lock in the current 8-3 Republican edge. I don’t, because that edge isn’t natural anyway. Virginia’s not a 75% Republican state so there’s no way the GOP will hold that kind of advantage long term. In the incumbent protection plan the 2nd District and, to a lesser extent, the 5th would remain “swingy.” The 10th would also probably become a swing district once Rep. Frank Wolf retires. The Democrats could probably get a better deal out of the federal courts. They might still have that opportunity. Just because the “incumbent protection” plan passes the legislature doesn’t mean it will clear the Obama Justice Department, which could very well prefer the Democratic plan which offered the possibility of electing another African-American to the U.S. House.

This is a deal that could satisfy both sides. Nobody gets everything they want. Nobody gives up everything. That’s sort of the point of a “power sharing” agreement. And it’s the best both sides can probably get and still get on with the people’s business. Democrats will have to recognize that they have lost the majority. And Republicans will have to recognize that 20 seats in a 40-member body don’t justify 63% of the committee seats.

Both sides will have to recognize that they will have to compromise and cooperate to handle the range of complex issues, from the budget to uranium mining to highway funding to support for public and higher education that constitute the real work of the 2012 legislative session.

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19 thoughts on “Is there a Senate deal that helps both sides?


    1. Lieutenant Governor Bolling was elected to the executive branch of state government not the legislature. One of his mandated duties is to preside over the senate as president and if called upon, cast a tiebreaker vote. His name is not called during the Senate rollcall as an attending Senator nor does he have a recorded vote on any issue save those as Senate President.

      When the issue does “ripen”, I think we’ll find this issue settled by the court and more then likely not to anyones satisfaction. Personally, I think Lt. Gov. got it just about right.

      Insightful analysis by Ms. Paige. Well done…

  1. I think the committee splits may be where the compromise occurs, especially on those committees where some of the bad House bills go to die. That gives the Republicans in the Senate – as well as Bolling & McDonnell – the political cover they need.

    Warren – I hope you’ve read Bolling’s memo (pdf) because I think he made a sound case for not voting on certain items.

    the Lieutenant Governor is not elected from a “senatorial district,” but rather, in a statewide election. Further, given that the Senate’s membership is explicitly capped at “not more than forty . . . members” and there are 40 senatorial districts pursuant to Va. Code § 24.2-303(A), the Lieutenant Governor cannot be a “member” of the Senate. To find otherwise would be to conclude that there are forty-one elected members of the Senate in contravention of both the Constitution and statute.

    I think that’s right on point.

    1. OK — I’ll buy that. But why “compromise” on the committee splits? The problem is, by releasing this memo, he has already ceded the powers that he says he does not have. So what else is there to compromise?

  2. And in fact, he WASN’T elected as President of the Seante. There’s not election for that office, it’s a duty of whoever is electecd as L.G. (Pretty much their only duty)

    1. Yes, he was. Lt. Gov and President of the Senate are one and the same.

      (Too bad our VP does not know he is still in the Legislative Branch. He looked like a complete idiot when he ragged on Palin for saying he wasn’t.)

          1. His office is in the exective office building, he’s elected on a ticket with the president and he sits on the national security council. Read you constitutional history and you’ll find that the framers first created the office of vice president (which might better be called spare president) and then realized they had nothing for him to do. As an afterthought they made him the presiding officer of the Senate and gave him the totally unnecessary role of breaking ties. (Instead of ruling that, as in every other even numbered legislative body, except those aping the U.S. Senate, a motion fails on a tie vote. As it does in the 100-member Virgina House).

  3. Steve,

    You are very good at trying to write things that I have trouble disagreeing with.

    Everything in Bolling’s memo was likely correct.

    Not revisiting VA legislative redistricting will either be agreed upon, or will be ordered by a court. It can not be revisited. So, Norment should give it up for whatever the Dems will give, and save himself the egg on his face.

    50/50 committee representation is too hard of a pill to swallow. How about 50/50 on a few committees, and 55/45 on the remainder? 63/37 does not seem appropriate, especially with the power of committees to destroy legislation.

  4. Not giving away too much of my column in tomorrow’s paper but I think there is good reason for a few committees to be split 50/50, mainly to give cover to the bills that the Rs don’t want to get out of committee.

  5. PPrad: Um, it could be revisited. Texas redid their legislative redistricting when the majority changed. It’s required that states redistrict every 10 years, they are not prohibited from doing so more often (although I think they probably should be).
    Viv: particularly a couple of constitutional amendments which, since Bolling can’t vote on them, would require several Republcians to “take one for the team” to get rid of if they reached the floor.

  6. Article II section 6 re apportionment “The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.” The general assembly has fulfilled its duty and will have a hard time suggesting redistricting can be done over and over. Since it is a matter of interpretation of state constitutional law the Texas scenario is inapplicable.

    Vivian: I agree.

  7. Well that’s a good arguement why they can’t. They argument that Norment would make is that they have gone back the year after each of the two most recent redistrictings (at least) and made ajustments. He’s right about that, but what he has in mind are more than just “adjustments.”

  8. Originally, the VP was NOT elected on the same ticket as the President, but was the runner-up. His being President of the Senate provided a couter-weight to the President in the legislature.

    The Constitution says nothing about where his office is on on what committees he sits.

  9. The LG is right by the way I read the Constituion of VA. Fortuanatly the A.G. has a staff of attorneys and other interested citizens able to defend against Senator McEachin.

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