Free Lance-Star reporter Chelyen Davis covers Virginia government.
Senate update: Republicans say no power-sharing
In the wake of Tuesday’s elections, which may split the state Senate 20-20 between Republicans and Democrats, Republicans say they’re not interested in a power-sharing agreement like the one used in the mid-1990s.
Should canvassing, and possibly a recount, uphold the narrow victory of Republican Bryce Reeves in the 17th state Senate district around Fredericksburg, Republicans would have 20 seats in the 40-seat Senate. But they also have Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican, who can only vote to break ties.
In a press conference today, Republicans made it clear they consider that a majority and will organize accordingly.
“Make no mistake about it, there is a Republican majority in the state Senate and that majority fully intends to organize,” Bolling said.
He said they expect to appoint Republican committee chairmen and a Republican majority to committee seats.
The way the Senate works, members vote on resolutions to organize things like committee make-up. So if Republicans presented such a resolution when the General Assembly reconvenes in January, even if all 20 Democrats voted against it, Bolling would vote for it with all 20 Republicans, and it would pass.
“I will break that tie and we will organize the Senate with a Republican majority,” Bolling promised.
In the 1990s, Republicans achieved a 20-seat tie in the Senate. Democrats then were prepared to continue acting as the majority — the lieutenant governor then was a Democrat — but then-Sen. Virgil Goode threatened to switch parties (he was a Democrat at the time) if Democrats didn’t agree to power-sharing. The Democrats conceded, and for a few years, every committee had co-chairmen, one from each party.
“That was not out of the goodness of the Democratic caucus’ hearts,” Bolling said.
State Sen. Dick Saslaw, currently the Democratic majority leader in the Senate, didn’t make it sound like Democrats will put up much of a fuss about power sharing in January.
“Obviously if you’ve got 21 votes, you can pretty much align any way you want,” Saslaw told reporters in a conference call.”You don’t have to share anything. Would I like them to do it? Of course I would.”
Saslaw said if the Senate stands at 20-20, organization would be up to Republicans. But he cautioned Republicans against getting too far ahead of themselves, with the 17th state Senate race headed for a likely recount.
“That’s a long way to go, to be making these Shermanesque statements,” Saslaw said.