Senate Democrats will fight efforts of GOP to organize as Senate majority
Developing late Friday, the Virginia Senate Democrats have decided that they will not willingly allow the Senate Republicans to organize as the majority. The group unanimously decided to challenge the GOP effort during their caucus retreat in Fairfax.
“The Constitution of the Virginia is very clear,” said newly elected caucus chair Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico). “The organization of the Senate is the prerogative of the elected members of the Senate and Lt. Governor Bolling is not a member of the Senate.”
Bolling and republicans have argued that having the tie breaking vote in the Lt. Governor’s chair entitles them to organize as a majority party. That power would allow them to set committee structure, appoint committee chairs and direct activity on the senate floor. It is a power Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has said he will use.
“While the Constitution does provide that the Senate and House Delegates shall ‘select its officers and settle its procedures’, this language does not prevent the Lieutenant Governor from voting on such matters in the event of a tie vote” said Bolling. “Should such issues come before the Senate and result in a tie vote, I will not hesitate to exercise my constitutional duty and cast the tie breaking vote on such issues.”
A similar 20-20 deadlock occurred in 1996 when George Allen was governor and democrat Don Byer was the Lt. Governor. At the time, democrats offered republicans the opportunity to share power.
“As George Allen, who was Governor of Virginia at that time said of the power sharing pact, “This is reflective of the balance and equity that should be accorded the election results.” McEachin noted.
Democrats have said that republicans should respect the will of the voters, half of which they claimed elected democrats. But would-be Senate Majoriy Leader Tommy Norment quibbled with the democratic math.
“According to the State Board of Elections, 768,545 Virginians voted for Republican candidates for Senate, while only 535,087 voted for Democrat candidates,” Norment said.
The big difference between 1996 and 2011 is the fragility of the potential majority caucus. In 1996, then Senator Virgil Goode threatened to bolt the democratic caucus if power was not shared. He later became a republican anyway and eventually ran and won a seat in congress. In 2011, republicans appear confident that their 20 votes will hold.
What is still an open question is exactly how the democrats plan to fight this organizational effort by the republicans. In most cases, the parties find a way to hash things out. Some liberal capitol watchers have suggested it is an issue that could be hashed out in court.
The full statement from the Senate Democrats and Republicans can be found after the jump:
(Interestingly.. the Dems have unveileld their leadership pics as well.. noting that Sen. Dick Saslaw is their “majority leader”.)
Senate Democrats Oppose Republican Power Grab
Caucus Names Officers
(Fairfax, VA) – The Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus today announced their unanimous opposition to the Senate Republican attempt to claim a Senate majority even though 10 days ago Virginians elected 20 Democratic Senators and 20 Republican Senators.
The Senate Caucus believes that with a chamber evenly divided between political parties, power should be divided as well.
Senator Dick Saslaw, unanimously re-elected Majority Leader by his fellow Democratic Senators said, “Virginians elected 20 Senators of each party and it’s only right the power in the Senate is divided equally. The Republicans are wrong to try and grab power when half the state voted for Democrats. It’s a question of fairness. The Republicans are trying to overrule the will of the people and claim a majority they did not earn.”
Meeting at the Mason Inn and Conference Center in Fairfax, Virginia during the first day of their caucus retreat, the Senators agreed that Lt. Governor Bill Bolling does not have the right to break a tie when it comes to Senate re-organization. Newly-elected Caucus Chair Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), who is replacing Mary Margaret Whipple who is retiring, said “the Constitution of the Virginia is very clear, the organization of the Senate is the prerogative of the elected members of the Senate and Lt. Governor Bolling is not a member of the Senate.”
The only time the Senate was tied at 20-20 the Republicans and Democrats shared power. “In 1996, the last time the Senate was dead-locked at 20-20 the precedent for power-sharing was set. We see no reason why it should be different now,” McEachin said. “As George Allen, who was Governor of Virginia at that time said of the power sharing pact, “This is reflective of the balance and equity that should be accorded the election results.”
The following officers of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus were announced:
Majority Leader – Richard “Dick” Saslaw (D-Fairfax)
Caucus Chair – Donald McEachin (D-Henrico)
Vice-Chair – Linda “Toddy” Puller (D-Fairfax)
Treasurer – Henry L. Marsh III (D-Richmond)
Secretary – Yvonne B. Miller (D-Norfolk)
Majority Whip – John Edwards (D-Roanoke)
Majority Whip – Janet Howell (D-Fairfax)
Senate Republicans Express Disappointment over partisan posturing by Incoming Minority Caucus
Richmond, Va, 18 November 2011: The Virginia Senate Republican Caucus, which will serve as the majority caucus in the Senate of Virginia when the General Assembly convenes on January 11, 2012, today expressed their disappointment over a news release issued by the Senate Democratic Caucus regarding the organization of the Virginia Senate.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (R-James City) noted, “Since the elections ended ten days ago, I find it disappointing that now the leaders of the Senate Democratic Caucus have decided to argue over the results.
“As Senator Saslaw is certainly aware, Republicans earned the right to serve in the majority by virtue of the 2011 elections for the Senate of Virginia and the 2009 election for Lieutenant Governor. These matters were discussed thoroughly in 1995 and 1996, and the Lieutenant Governor does have the right to vote for purposes of organization. Moreover, Senator Saslaw’s contention that ‘half the state voted for Democrats’ is just wrong. According to the State Board of Elections, 768,545 Virginians voted for Republican candidates for Senate, while only 535,087 voted for Democrat candidates.”
“Judging from their release, Senate Democrats have again placed partisan posturing above the interests of the people of Virginia,” remarked Senator Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover), Chairman of the Senate Republican Caucus. “As was the case with their partisan redistricting plan for the Senate and their obstructionist posturing to prevent the adoption of a Congressional Redistricting Plan, they have demonstrated they put a premium on advancing their party above all else. I hope the Democrats will rethink this latest maneuver, and join us in working with Governor McDonnell to enact an agenda to reinvigorate our economy and create jobs.”
“The Constitution of Virginia clearly provides that the Lieutenant Governor, in his capacity as President of the Senate, can cast the tie breaking vote on matters resulting in an equal division, and there is nothing in the Constitution of Virginia that prohibits the Lieutenant Governor from voting on organizational issues,” noted Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling. “While the Constitution does provide that the Senate and House Delegates shall ‘select its officers and settle its procedures’, this language does not prevent the Lieutenant Governor from voting on such matters in the event of a tie vote. Should such issues come before the Senate and result in a tie vote, I will not hesitate to exercise my constitutional duty and cast the tie breaking vote on such issues.”