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Richmond judge rejects Democrats’ efforts to stop Bolling from voting on organization

A Richmond judge today has rejected Sen. Don McEachin’s request for an injunction that would prevent Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling from voting on Senate organization when the General Assembly convenes next month.

McEachin is calling Judge Beverly Snukals’ ruling “purely procedural.

“The judge determined that the matter was not ripe for a final determination on the merits,” McEachin said in a press release. “The opinion was not a decision on the merits of whether the Lieutenant Governor can vote on Senate organization.”

In a written statement of his own, Bolling said he hopes Snukals’ ruling ends the matter.

“Hopefully, Senator McEachin and the Democrats will accept the court’s decision, forgo further unnecessary litigation and join us in preparing for the upcoming session and focusing on the important issues facing Virginia families,” Bolling said.

McEachin had filed the lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court earlier this month. He and Senate Democrats wanted a ruling on whether Bolling is allowed to vote on Senate organizational matters.

McEachin’s lawyer argued in court last Friday that the lieutenant governor is a member of the executive branch, not a member of the Senate, and that the constitution doesn’t allow him to vote on certain issues, like organization.

But Snukals questioned McEachin’s lawyer about what would happen to the Senate without a tie-breaking vote. She ruled today against the injunction. According to Virginia Lawyers Weekly, Snukals said that since Bolling hasn’t actually voted to break an organizational tie yet, and since there’s no guarantee — as an attorney for Bolling had argued — that such a tie would actually come to pass, it’s premature for her to issue an injunction.

The issue has come up because the November elections gave Democrats and Republicans 20 state Senate seats each. Republicans immediately declared themselves the majority, because Bolling — a Republican — can vote to break ties. Bolling said he would vote in favor of Republicans to be the majority, with power to appoint committee chairmen and committee membership.

Democrats said Republicans were claiming a majority they didn’t earn, and that the constitution was at best unclear on Bolling’s voting authority.

The last time this happened, in 1995/96, Democrats held the lieutenant governor’s position, and were prepared to declare power themselves. But they conceded to a power-sharing arrangement, and want Republicans to make the same concessions this time. Republicans have said they’re not interested in power-sharing in the Senate.

McEachin said today he hopes the Republicans change their minds.

“I call on the Republicans to respect the will of the voters and past history. 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.  Even then Governor Allen spoke to the need for parity under these same circumstances,” McEachin said in his release. “The Senate Democratic caucus will continue to explore all its options, both legal and procedural, to resolve this issue in a way that reflects the actual outcome on election day, not an arrogant partisan power grab, totally to the benefit of one party that does not reflect a majority of the Senate.”

Sen. Tommy Norment, who will be majority leader if Republicans are the party in power in the Senate, said it’s time to move on.

“Judge Snukals has issued an order that is comprehensive, sound, and exceedingly well-reasoned.  I am impressed by the care, thought, and time Judge Snukals clearly invested in authoring this decision,” Norment said in a statement. “Giving full consideration to the judge’s order, 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.”

In a coincidence of timing, Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling also released results of a survey, showing 55 percent of Virginians think there should be power-sharing in the Senate, while 31 percent say Republicans should have control. But the numbers are much closer when those polled were asked if Bolling should be able to break a tie on organizational matters; the results were 37 to 34 in favor.

“Takeaway: in theory voters think there should be power sharing but they also think Bolling has the right to break the tie…so they’re basically sending a message to the GOP that it should share power, even if it doesn’t have to,” said the PPP press release.