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Budget battle continues with partisan lines drawn

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If you thought the election of 2011 was settled, think again. Virginia is in the middle of bitter partisan fight at a State Capitol historically known for its bi-partisan cooperation. It all tracks back to last November and an election that did not clearly hand power to a single party in the Virginia Senate. As a result, every controversial vote has come down to hectic, last-minute deals. Deals that often aren’t known until the vote is finally taken on the Senate floor.

While the battles over social issues are over, democrats are holding on to the one remaining power they have left to play, their vote on the budget. Republicans cannot use Lt. Governor Bill Bolling‘s tie-breaking vote to pass the budget. Therefore, their 20 votes are enough to stop the $85 billion spending plan in its tracks. It’s allowed them to whittle away at GOP priorities and inject their limited voice into the Virginia government agenda.

It was a tactic that was successful and despite some chirping from newspaper editorial boards, it went largely unnoticed by the public. Tuesday’s vote to stall the budget for the third time, for a third different reason takes the argument into new territory. Last week the Gov. Bob McDonnell led Virginia Department of Transportation warned that they will start scaling back projects on May 1st, just a few weeks away. Localities are waiting on funding decisions that could be the differences between staffing teachers and police officers or going without. It is a showdown that could leave the reputation of both sides at risk.

Here is my story from NBC12 on where things stand right now:

RICHMOND (WWBT)- The threat of a Virginia government shutdown is growing after democrats at the State Capitol refused to pass a state budget.

This is the third time senate democrats have stood their ground, for the third different reason.

The division between democrats and republicans seems to be growing wider, and the time left to pass a budget is growing shorter. If the two sides don’t resolve their differences, state government as we know it is in big trouble.

It is a warning governor Bob McDonnell first sounded weeks ago. He repeated it again Tuesday.

“Everything from teacher funding to current VDOT projects will be slowed or potentially postponed,” said the governor.

Without a passed state budget, the government can’t operate. The current budget ends June 30th. It is a date fast approaching with no tangible sign of agreement to be found.

“They are the problem,” said McDonnell.

No agreement, but plenty of blame to go around.

“This is the most fiscally irresponsible act that I’ve seen during my career,” said McDonnell.

But democrats like Sen. Don McEachin (D- Henrico) believe the republicans are blowing things out of proportion

“There are those who want to scare the public and say the government will shut down,” said McEachin. “That is not the case.”

McEachin is among the most vocal hard line democrats. A group that three different times has used their 20 votes to block the budget from moving forward.

….read and see the rest of the story at NBC12.com.

Governor Bob McDonnell kept his composure, but was clearly angry with the democratic vote:

Meanwhile Henrico Senator Don McEachin doesn’t appeared worried about the budget timeline:

Written by Ryan Nobles

April 17, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Despite judges ruling, Senate democrats plead for power sharing

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

It has been a rough couple of weeks for democrats hoping to hold on to power in the Virginia Senate. First, on election night they lost two seats and were within a razor-thin margin in a third. That third seat, once held by Sen. Edd Houck, meant the difference between a 21-19 majority and a 20-20 tie.  Instead of Houck asking for a recount and hoping for a different outcome, the veteran lawmaker conceded guaranteeing a 20-20 tie in the Senate.

That meant that Lt. Governor Bill Bolling held the tie breaking vote and that democrats were now in the minority. But democrats were not ready to give up. Led by Sen. Don McEachin (D-Henrico), they filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court, requesting that they be given the opportunity to share power with the GOP. Today, Judge Beverly W. Snukals denied that request.

Now with the elections over and an unsuccessful legal challenge behind them, the democrats are left with only one option. Beg the now official majority party to share power.

“I call on the Republicans to respect the will of the voters and past history,” said McEachin. “The senate is evenly divided, 20-20 so committees and responsibilities and power should be divided to reflect that even split, just as the Republicans said in 1996.” 

Not surprisingly, the republicans don’t appear to be interested in offering democrats committee chairmanships and evenly distributing members of both parties in those committees.

“It is my hope that Senator McEachin and the Senate Democratic Caucus will realize the futility of pursuing this matter further and begin to prepare appropriately for the important work of the upcoming session,” said the incoming Senate Majority leader Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City)

McEachin has not ruled out further moves, “both legal and procedural”, but did not go into specifics. He even pointed to a recent Public Policy Polling survey that he claims shows that Virginians want power sharing in the Virginia Senate.

“Over half of respondents, 55%, believe that power should be shared in the Virginia State Senate,” said McEachin. “These voters, constituents of both Democrats and Republicans, recognize that the Election day results created an evenly divided Senate and, therefore, the Senate should organize in a way reflective of those results.

Republicans, though don’t seem moved by McEachin’s argument. Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Pat Mullins welcomed the Circuit Court’s ruling and told the democrats to back off what he called their “sore loser suit”.

“Hopefully, Democrats will accept the judgement of Virginia’s voters – and now the courts – with a measure of grace,” said Mullins.

Despite McEachin’s persistence, the leader of the Virginia Senate democrats appeared to agree with republicans in the days after the election results came in. Sen. Dick Saslaw admitted in a conference call that all the decisions regarding who runs in the Senate were in the republican’s hands.

“They got a tie breaking vote,” said Saslaw. “If you got 20 plus 1 on a vote you pretty much don’t have to share anything!”

Written by Ryan Nobles

December 16, 2011 at 4:36 pm

Senate Democrats will fight efforts of GOP to organize as Senate majority

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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”.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Ryan Nobles

November 18, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Cuccinelli offers tepid support for Norment as Majority Leader

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

The Virginia Senate is something that Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli cares quite a bit about. Before he ascended to his current post, Cuccinelli spent eight years in the Senate carving out a reputation as a tenacious voice for conservative causes, while at the same time cruising to re-election in his Northern Virginia district. 

So it is not a surprise that Cuccinelli campaigned hard for Senate republicans in their effort to capture that house and that he has an opinion about how they should conduct business now that they have a razor-thin majority.  

Shortly after the election, Cuccinelli warned that his former comrades in the conservative wing of the Senate caucus not be ignored.

“It will be important to see how the conservatives are treated in the Senate GOP Caucus,” he wrote on his facebook page.  “What chairmanships and caucus leadership positions will conservatives have?  What committee slots?”

At that point Cuccinelli did not know who the Republicans would elect as their Majority Leader.  A few days later the caucus tapped Sen. Tommy Norment, a moderate, to the post. Norment was the Minority Leader.  While Cuccinelli and Norment are both republicans, that aren’t necessarily allies.

“Senator Norment and I have had our differences,” Cuccinelli admitted during a wide-ranging interview Thursday morning.

While the Attorney General wasn’t enthusiastic about the prospects of Norment leading the GOP, he conceded his personality may prove to be beneficial when wading the choppy waters of a 20-20 split.

“He has done this 20 years,” said Cuccinelli. “He understands that it is going to be hard to keep that caucus together, not because they are dying to break apart, but because you can’t give up one (vote).”

Cuccinelli is a powerful voice in the conservative wing of the party. He doesn’t have a vote in the Senate anymore, but his support could make life easier for Senators who could face unsettled supporters hungry for their issues to be passed with a newfound majority.  

When asked he couldn’t, or wouldn’t,  come up with another member of the GOP caucus who might be able to manage the Senate better than Norment. Cuccinelli said that he and Norment are both “type-A” personalities which can be good and bad.

“If what you want is kumbaya consensus, type-A’s aren’t necessarily what you want for that role,’ he said. “But we tend to be better cat herders, so there is kind of  a trade-off there.”

And as the General Assembly convenes, conservatives will want their voice heard. If there is a sense Norment isn’t offering that, herding those cats may become difficult.

“I think the necessity of the situation is going to demand a level of diplomacy toward his own caucus, that is really going to push him from a leadership standpoint,” said Cuccinelli. “I expect he will respond. Time will tell.”

See an extended clip from my conversation with Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli below:


I also talked to the AG about 2012, the Virginia Senate Race and the prospects for his challenge to the Obama health care law in the Supreme Court. More on that soon on Decision Virginia.

Written by Ryan Nobles

November 17, 2011 at 7:41 pm

Election 2011 settled, Houck concedes, GOP takes Senate

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It took a tad bit longer than we expected, but the republican party is now celebrating capturing the Virginia Senate. Party leaders have already said that they would take full organizational power, despite a 20-20 split.

Edd Houck officially conceded today, ending the speculation that he may ask for a recount of his slim loss to Republican Bryce Reeves.

Here is my story on Houck’s decision from NBC12:

The Senate of Virginia is officially in the hands of the Republican Party. 7 term senator Edd Houck announced that he was conceding his race to republican Bryce Reeves.

Houck deciding to forgo a recount, means a 20-20 split in the senate, with the GOP holding the tie breaking vote.

The numbers just weren’t on his side, and instead of a prolonged period of doubt over who would be governing Virginia, he ended the speculation. Houck stepped down from a nearly 30 year career in Richmond, the way any true statesman would.

He knew his time had come.

“He won it fair and square,” Houck said of his victorious opponent Reeves.

Faced with a deficit of more than 200 votes, and a long period of time before all the ballots could be counted again, Houck chose not to focus on what he didn’t accomplish this time around, and instead what his was able to do over the course of a 7 term career.

“I’m very proud of the service I’ve provided to the citizens of this district for the last 28 years,” he said.

Cut out of central casting, Houck looks the part of a Virginia gentleman, sent to Richmond to do the people’s business. He served as one of the principal architects of several state budgets, a role he loved in an institution he respected immensely. A respect he shared with the man who will replace him.

“You are about to enter one of the most sacred legislative areas in the entire country,” Houck told Reeves, “That is the Senate of Virginia.”

….read and see the full story on NBC12.com

An extended clip from Houck’s concession announcement can be found below:

Written by Ryan Nobles

November 10, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Democrats and Republicans claim key victories in 2011 elections

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By: Ryan Nobles – bio | email

Off-year elections are not supposed to be this exciting.  The polls have been closed in Virginia for almost 12 hours and we still aren’t 100% sure which party is in control of the Virginia Senate.  Election night was a tense and dramatic affair with both parties claiming victory.

Democratic Victories:

Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney- The win by upstart Shannon Taylor was improbable. She was immensely outspent, got as late a start as any candidate on the ballot could have and was running against a historically dominant Republican machine.  It is a victory that will resonate beyond Central Virginia to the rest of the state and should even get a small amount of national attention because it was a blow to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor‘s power base in his home district.  Republicans will argue that Taylor benefited greatly by Matt Geary‘s refusal to exit the race and the results are an anomaly that won’t tell us anything about 2012.  That is true, but Taylor’s victory cannot be understated given that she toppled Del. Bill Janis, a man who gave up a very powerful position in the House of Delegates to run for CA.

Held off Senate losses- Conventional wisdom was that democrats were headed to a very difficult night. Worst case scenarios had them losing 10 seats or more in the House of Delegates and 4 seats and control of the Virginia Senate. It looks like the outcome will not be that bad, and at the very least the republican agenda will be forced to get democratic support to pass through the committee process.

Republican Victories:

They hold more seats in the General Assembly- Regardless of how you read the numbers there is one inescapable fact from the 2011 results. The GOP now holds more seats in the House and the Senate than they did before election day.  While Governor Bob McDonnell has not been handed a clear majority in the Senate to push through his agenda, he has at least one additional vote that he didn’t before. That will make it much easier for him to pass legislation that will resonate beyond his time in office.

Powerful, vocal democratic leaders lose-  If the results all hold democrats could lose two of their most influential voices in the General Assembly.  Most notably, Del. Ward Armstrong the one time leader of the democratic caucus in the House of Delegates and a would be statewide candidate. Armstrong was re-redistricted into a match-up with incumbent Charles Poindexter in a GOP heavy district. He ran a campaign as far away from the democratic base as he could, but it was not enough. Unless he still has visions of a statewide run, his political career could be over.  In the race that is still in doubt, Sen. Edd Houck a longtime democratic stalwart and foil to republican governors could be gone. Houck is the third most powerful member of the democratic senate and a strong voice on the joint money committees.  He understands the nitty-gritty of the state budget and his experience would be a huge loss for democrats when it comes to budget time.

I joined the NBC12 morning team for a look at the results. You can see our discussion below:

ELECTION DAY: The view from the ground

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Good Morning! It is election day. Perhaps the least dramatic of the four year election cycle, but there are still some important story lines.

Here is what we are following:

Control of the Virginia Senate: This is the story line that has the potential to have the biggest long term impact. A GOP flip in control gives Gov. Bob McDonnell‘s party control of all three layers of Virginia’s government. It will make his agenda much easier to push through, while at the same time giving him complete ownership of the Commonwealth’s success/failure for the remainder of his term.

If the flip happens it will also provide more evidence of McDonnell’s popularity in Virginia. He has campaigned heavily with republicans in tight races. Gaining the four seats necessary could send a powerful message to GOP Presidential candidates looking for a running mate that could help deliver a key swing state.

Henrico Commonwealth’s Attorney: This race took a sharp turn when republicans tried unsuccessfully to oust their chosen candidate Matt Geary. He wouldn’t go and that forced Del. Bill Janis to run as an independent and allowed democrats to field a strong candidate in Shannon Taylor. This race has had a little bit of everything and should lead to an interesting finish.

Voter turnout: With no statewide or federal candidates on the ballot, turnout is expected to be dismal. It could be 10% or less in some places. It will be especially slow in the Richmond metro, where there is not one truly competitive race in the General Assembly. In fact both parties rolled out their heavy hitters for statewide get out the vote efforts over the weekend, and they both ignored Richmond.

TELL ME WHAT YOU SEE: As always, I’m looking for the view from the ground. Tweet and Facebook me what you are seeing and I will post the dispatches below (pics too!). Then tune in tonight for the latest results on NBC12. Happy Election Day!!

From the ground…

Carmen Crater:  I voted in Cumberland about 10:30 this morning…was quite busy for that time of day…took 45 minutesof standing in line to vote, but well worth it……………anyone who doesn’t vote has absolutely no right to give their opinions or COMPLAINTS…be part of the system and maybe…just maybe we can make things better…

Vic Tench I just voted in PG not many people there just a few people in front and behind me we were all in line no more then 3 min.

Pat Coffey voted at Beaverdam Elementary – saw John Cox there about 9:30 this morning.

Brandon Satterwhite Voted here in Henrico, I was the only one there.

Erin Sutton I voted at pole green elementary in Hanover co. Sean Davis was shaking hands. Sadly there where not too many voters… I’m hoping I just came at a down time.

Janet Murphey I am in Charles City County — voted a little while ago..small county didn’t have to wait too long (1 person in front of me)

Mark Hopkins I voted. A good number of people at the Chesterfield polls.

Carole Whitley Wagner : Just before 10 this morning, my son & I were #287 & 288 at the Montpelier Center.

Andrea Stephenson Epps: Was # 488 at Swift Creek in Chesterfield 10 min. ago. Higher than I expected before the rush hour

Patty Hughes I voted at 1:30ish PM. I was number 376. I know there are more people out there in the Matoaca District. Remember voting gives you complaining rights, if you don’t try to make a change you can’t complain if there is none.

Lynn Davis Cranmer  Voted in rural King William County about 10:30 this morning. One person ahead of me, Two or three behind me. (Most people round these parts – vote before and after work, I think.)

Betty Paschall Tate  No one there but me and the poll workers this morning at Hening Elem. at 7:45am. Please everyone get out and vote …it is a privilege!!!!!

Classic: Governor McDonnell happens to run into former Governor Doug Wilder at their Richmond polling location.

@TheBenBrown: I voted absentee. Today is just another day…

From my polling place in Chesterfield, pretty slow I was voter 220


Robin Belcher Liesfeld Yes – pretty steady at the Centerville precinct in Goochland. I see that’s also been busy in Hadensville. I predict a pretty good turnout county-wide. I believe there may be some surprises, because many Goochland citizens want change!

Susan Coral Moss It was a bit quiet in Chester (Bermuda District-Wells). I was the 271th voter at 10:30. There wasn’t any problems. I was expecting more fireworks especially with the heated Supervisor race down here in Chester.

Margie Rutherford Gausby I voted in Ashland. They moved the polling place. It was difficult to find the correct room at the school to vote, I think it will impact turnout there. I was ready to give up and I ways vote.

Mary Eldredge Only had to wait about 30 seconds to vote this morning at Beaufont Towers (Precinct 412). There were only three voters when I was there about 9:15.

Ron Gallier i left my house at 10 am to vote and back home at 10:25 am i voted at donahoe elem school

@rosscatrow: I saw a big empty gymnasium.

@DaeHarris: I saw basketball hoops, a few volunteers and 1 other woman voting

@KDavisDesign: lots of signs, friendly people willing to help, and lots of people outside the library shoving information in your face.

@marioc: pretty quiet over at Clover Hill Elementary. At 6:30am I was No. 42.

Connie Warriner Mason I voted in PG. Steady flow. Nothing to exciting…did have a paper jam but was fixed quickly with no issues.pretty quiet over at Clover Hill Elementary. At 6:30am I was No. 42.

Al Neill In Hadensville (District 1 in Goochland) they were ahead of the count for the same time last election day. There had already been over 100 voters by 7AM. generally I think about 700 vote.

Tommi Brandt Just got back from voting in Powhatan. Not very busy right now.

@JaysonRachael Lots of fog when we voted @ 6am!