Legislators who were in Richmond on April 13 for the Special Session to complete work on the biennial budget interrupted their work on April 18 for the Constitutionally required Reconvened Session commonly referred to as the “veto session.” In 1980 the State Constitution was amended to provide that on the sixth Wednesday after the adjournment of a regular session the General Assembly is to reconvene “for the purpose of considering bills which may have been returned by the Governor with recommendations for their amendment and bills and items of appropriation bills which may have been returned by the Governor with his objections.” Prior to the establishment of a reconvened session, a Governor could veto bills without concern that the vetoes would be over-ridden.
Governor Terry McAuliffe set a record with nearly a hundred vetoes all of which were sustained by the General Assembly even if by the narrowest margin. Governor Ralph Northam has exercised his veto powers on eight measures that are highly unlikely to be challenged with the almost even distribution of partisan representation in both the House and Senate. A two-thirds vote is required to pass legislation without the Governor’s approval. In the case of Governor McAuliffe and now Governor Northam, vetoes by the other branch of government–the executive branch–have kept the General Assembly from enacting some of the more divisive laws on social issues proposed by extremely conservative legislators.
Two of the bills Governor Northam vetoed related to voter registration records that would unnecessarily burden the registration and voting process under guise of preventing fraud and abuse. Virginia has not had a problem with voting irregularities; the state’s problem has been to get more people to vote since Virginia has among the lowest levels of participation in the nation. Efforts to make it easier to vote such as “no excuse” absentee voting have been defeated in the General Assembly.
The Governor vetoed three bills that would limit the powers of local government when the local governments are in the best position to know what would best serve the people of a locality. One bill would have prohibited local governments from requiring contractors to pay more than minimum wage for work for the locality and another would interfere on local governments establishing property tax rates for country clubs. A bill that would prohibit “sanctuary cities” of which there are none in Virginia was also vetoed.
The Governor vetoed a bill that would have prohibited state participation in adopting regulations on carbon dioxide cap-and-trade programs thereby limiting Virginia’s ability to deal with climate change. He also vetoed a bill that would have allowed legislators to change legislative district lines between the federal census dates.
In considering bills passed by the legislature, all of which must be signed by the Governor to become law, the Governor can propose amendments. Of the dozens of amendments proposed by Governor Northam, most are technical corrections in language passed in the fast pace of the legislative session.
After the likely one-day Reconvened Session is adjourned, the General Assembly will return to the Special Session to complete the budget. I believe there will be good news to report on the budget very soon!
This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
On a recent early morning walk from my home in the South Lakes area of Reston I met a new neighbor that I learned lately moved into the area weeks ago. I would not call the new neighbor friendly; he seemed to be more disinterested in me although his family acted a bit jittery with me being around. While he may not have been interested in me, hundreds have been interested in and curious about him. A photo I took of him that I posted on social media has elicited nearly 400 reactions. I continue to use the male pronoun, but truthfully I am not sure of the neighbor’s gender.
I introduced the new member of our community on social media as being an albino deer, but I was quickly corrected. The almost white deer did not have the pink eyes, pink nose, and pinkish hooves of an albino deer. One neighbor suggested that he was probably a piebald deer. Although I grew up in rural Virginia where there is a lot of wildlife, I had never heard of a piebald deer. That sent me to the internet where I learned that contrary to popular belief, a piebald deer is not a cross between a normal whitetail deer and an albino. The origin of the word “piebald” comes from “pie” meaning “mixed up” and “bald” meaning “having a white spot.”
Piebalds have various amounts of white and brown patches similar to a pinto pony, and they have normal brown eyes and nose with black hooves like a normal whitetail deer. Their coloration is due to a rare inherited genetic defect that fortunately affects less than one percent of the white-tailed deer population because it also may result in the deer having short legs, scoliosis of the spine, internal organ deformities and other health conditions.
At the risk of turning this story into another diatribe on my part about the importance of diversity in our community and the need to welcome all, I will end with an acknowledgement that some people do not want another someone in the community who may eat their flowers. It does make me appreciate our trails and natural areas where we can see our animal neighbors. When you see our pielbald deer near Snakeden Branch Trail or wherever else in Reston, take a photo if you can and share it on my Facebook page, Kenneth R. Plum. We want him to feel welcome. You might want to call him by the name I understand Terraset Elementary students have given him: Blanca.
By the time you are reading this column I will be back in Richmond for the serious work of the legislature of passing a budget for the next biennium. The outstanding issue to be resolved is the expansion of Medicaid to nearly 400,000 Virginians who do not have health care even though taxes are being collected in Virginia to pay for the program. I support the Governor in his insistence that we approve the expansion. Thanks to all the citizens who have been calling and writing supporting the program. I will be back with details on the budget issue as soon as it is resolved.
The Reston Historic Trust and Museum is hosting the 54th annual anniversary of Reston’s founding.
Founder’s Day is set for Saturday, April 14 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The event will include moon bounces, children’s activities and face painting.
Musical entertainment will be provided by Terrasset Elementary School, Langston Hughes Middle School’s jazz ensemble, Aldrin Elementary School, Lake Anne Elementary School and other local groups and schools.
At noon, local elected officials like state Sen. Janet Howell, state Del. Ken Plum, and Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Sharon Bulova will deliver remarks. Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins is also scheduled to speak.
Public Art Reston is also hosting a public tour around Lake Anne. The event will also include a book-signing event in the afternoon by local authors LaVerne Gill, Donna Andrews, and Samantha Mina. Artist Zachary Oxman will also provide commentary the impact of Reston on his art.
Founder’s Day is also supported by Reston Community Center and co-sponsored by Reston Association and Public Art Reston.
A complete program is available online.
Photos via Reston Historic Trust and Museum
Our Founding Fathers were brilliant individuals. Not only did they craft a new form of government with the United States Constitution, but they established a government of “we the people” leaving behind monarchies and special privileges. While it created “a more perfect union,” it included within its structure mechanisms upon which the union could be further perfected. While it did take a civil war to bring about the most needed reform that had been debated at the Constitutional Convention and not settled but compromised away, many other reforms and perfections have taken place through constitutional amendments, laws and judicial decisions.
With the massive changes that have taken place in our nation’s history, particularly in civil rights, it is amazing that there have been so few changes to our basic structure of government. Building on the ideals of Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence that all persons have unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, the Constitution and its provisions created a way to realize these goals that ensures America’s greatness is not in its past but in its future.
Most often mentioned in the guarantees that propel our country into future greatness are the freedoms of speech, press and religion. Less discussed in the past but now seen as a critically important right to maintain our free government is the freedom to assemble. If freedoms are to be maintained in the future, it may be our right to assemble that will ensure it happens.
It is somewhat ironic that at a time when the internet enables advocacy blitzes to fill the electronic mail boxes of public officials to support a cause that the crowds of people filling the streets in various marches may be our greatest safeguard. Many feel it is not enough to simply send a letter or brochure or give or listen to a speech; we need to visibly show the depth and breadth of our cause by assembling supporters by the thousands in the heat, cold, rain or sunshine.
I participate in marches in our Nation’s Capital as well as our State Capital to show support for equality in our society and for an end to gun violence. I find the marches inspirational because of the worthiness of the cause and the wonderful people I meet who have such strong dedication and conviction that they will take part however inconvenient. If you have not taken part in a march, I encourage you to do so. After all, assembling together to support our rights is part of what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they included the right to assemble in our Bill of Rights. The other important day to be sure to exercise your right to assemble is on election day when you have an opportunity to express your right as a citizen. It amplifies your voice when you assemble with others to vote for the persons who most clearly are representing your views on issues.
Celebration of the first day of spring had to be delayed last week with a record-breaking spring snow fall. The unusually wet snow that clung to the trees and filled the branches of evergreens with a holiday-like cover was spectacular even with the inconveniences it brought with it. The earliest spring flowers have a way of surviving late season cold snaps and some snow. When the spring flowers emerge, they will be as beautiful as they always are even if a bit delayed.
Spring is not the only thing that is late this year. Completion of the state budget continues to be delayed, although a date has now been set for a special session; the special session will be held in the State Capitol on April 11. The immediate outcome of that session is predictable. The House and Senate will replace the budget that has been sent down by Governor Ralph Northam with the budgets each passed at the end of the regular session, each will reject the budget of the other, and we will send both budgets to a conference committee to resolve the differences.
The big spring snow of last week melted in a week to let spring emerge. It is difficult to envision the thaw that will happen to let a budget be adopted. The major difference is the Senate leadership’s refusal to agree to any form of Medicaid expansion regardless of facts or reason that are presented.
Recently The Commonwealth Institute found that Medicaid expansion in Virginia “would improve the lives of more than 118,000 women in the Commonwealth who are uninsured …Expanding Medicaid would not only save the state millions of dollars, it could save an invaluable number of women’s lives.” That is on top of the mound of evidence that has been presented already for the economic and quality of life advantages of Medicaid expansion.
More than 600 members of faith communities from throughout the Commonwealth have been advocating for the House version of the budget as it contains Medicaid expansion. Last week three former Republican members of the House of Delegates who among them have 60 years of combined experience in the legislature–Tom Rust, Joe May and Harvey Morgan–endorsed the House budget in a newspaper column: “The House budget proposal meets any common definition of conservative budgeting.
It is a Republican-led fiscal plan that makes responsible use of public resources. It funds core services and creates conditions for the private sector and general population to succeed and thrive, while limiting the reach and power of government…This is prudent budgeting in action. It deserves the support of every Virginian, officeholder or not, who professes to favor a responsible philosophy of government.” (Richmond Times Dispatch, March 21, 2018) I too support the House budget and am doing all I can to get it passed! It is a bipartisan effort.
If you would like to join the advocacy effort for Medicaid expansion, I invite you to go to virginiainterfaithcenter.organd look at the suggestions for your involvement. Act now to ensure that the legislature considers your position by April 11. In the meantime, enjoy the emerging spring!
Engage with your elected representatives — State Del. Ken Plum and Senator Janet Howell will host a legislative town hall tonight at Reston Community Center. [Herndon-Reston Indivisible]
Police officer punched last week — A 37-year-old man was arrested late last week after hitting an officer with his fist and spitting at him in Herndon, police said. [Fairfax County Police Department
If you’re out for a late ride — Expect overnight closures on the eastbound lanes of Sunset Hills Road near the intersection of Town Center Parkway through Thursday. [Reston Now]
Photo by Anton Coghlan
On March 26, Senator Janet Howell and I will meet with constituents at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. to discuss the outcome of the 2018 General Assembly session. No pre-registration is required. Come with your questions and suggestions or just come to listen to the discussion. While the biggest issue of passing a budget will not be resolved by that time, we will give you the insights we have going into the Special Session scheduled for April 11.
There were areas of slow but positive movement coming out of the regular session. The threshold limit for felony larceny was raised from $200 to $500. The lower amount was catching an unreasonably large number of young people in felony crimes for fairly minor offenses. The change was supported by all the faith and human rights communities with most favoring an even higher threshold amount of $1,000 to $1,500. The newer amount will mean fewer young people, particularly minorities, will face prison time for offenses that in most other states are considered lesser crimes.
Progress was made on reducing “the classroom to prison pipeline” whereby children with misbehaviors were sent into the judicial system for actions that are best handled in the schools as acts of juvenile misbehavior and not crimes. The number of suspensions that schools are permitted to make has been limited. Where such programs have been instituted with appropriate level of resources, the instances of misbehaviors go down and fewer children are incarcerated. Appropriate early intervention is a good investment to save money and to save futures of the young people involved.
It took Virginia until 1952 to ratify the amendment granting women the right to vote although by 1922 the amendment had sufficient states to approve it. The Equal Rights Amendment has yet to receive ratification by a sufficient number of states to add it to the Constitution, and once again the Virginia General Assembly refused to ratify it. A bill to exempt feminine products from the sales tax was defeated, but a bill to ensure that women prisoners were provided such products did pass.
Dozens of gun safety bills were defeated with minimal consideration as were bills to allow guns in places of worship. A bill to approve a “Stop Gun Violence” license plate for motor vehicles passed, and these plates will be available from the Division of Motor Vehicles later this year.
Numerous “dog and cat” regulatory bills were introduced as they are each year. A bill to outlaw tethering of dogs was defeated by legislators from the rural areas of the state.
An effort to outlaw the use of handheld devices while driving was unsuccessful because of a concern on the part of some delegates that such a law would simply provide police officers with an additional opportunity to profile drivers and to pull them over. I continue to support limitations on the use of handheld phones while driving.
The Virginia Constitution provides that in the even-numbered years the General Assembly is to meet in session for 60 days and in the odd-numbered years for 45 days. Either may be extended by half the number of days with a two-thirds vote by the membership. The reason for the longer session in even-numbered years was the additional responsibility of passing a biennial budget. Yet on Saturday, March 10, the General Assembly adjourned sine die (meaning with no appointed date for resumption) without having passed a budget for the next biennium!
The budget under which the Commonwealth is currently operating does not expire until June 30, 2018. The Governor is empowered to call a special session of the legislature, and he has indicated his expectation in the near future to call such a special session whose business would be limited to passage of a budget. Members of the House and Senate understood that would be the procedure to be followed when they voted to adjourn the regular session.
There is good news in all this procedural action to bring the legislature to an end for the year. The budgets of the two houses could not be reconciled by the constitutional deadline because of one great and meaningful difference: extending Medicaid to many more persons of limited income. The really good news is that Medicaid expansion is being discussed in a positive context, and I am certain it is going to take place in Virginia within the year.
A total of about 2500 bills and resolutions have been considered during the last 60 days. Of those, fewer than a thousand will make their way to the Governor for his signature. When duplicate bills are counted once, the total production of the General Assembly will be close to 500 new laws. While that small number may seem like limited production for such great effort, some of the bills introduced are really not good ideas. It is just as important that the legislature defeat bad bills as it is for the legislature to pass good bills.
This session was noteworthy for its lack of bills limiting women’s reproductive rights and bills that would discriminate against persons for their sexual orientation or identity. Much of that change can be attributed to the defeat of one incumbent delegate who specialized in such bills but also to the great number of defeats of incumbent legislators who voted for them.
There were 70 bills introduced relating to ending gun violence, and all were defeated in a six-person subcommittee. Recent public outrage over gun violence is likely to change that dynamic in the future. Good news for Metro was the passage of a bill to put Virginia’s contribution to the system on sound financial footing with a dedicated source of funding from the Commonwealth. Maryland and the District of Columbia are expected to take similar action.
A major victory for environmentalists was the passage of the Governor’s bill to expand the use of renewables in electricity generation, modernization of the electrical grid, and expansion of energy conservation. More to come on the work of the session in future columns
Last week Democrats in the House of Delegates were able largely to sit on the sidelines as Republicans debated among themselves whether Virginia should expand access to medical care through the federal Medicaid program. Arguments that had been used by Democrats to support Medicaid in the past were now being used by Republicans to support their newly found support for expansion.
The news is good since Medicaid expansion could only come about with bipartisan support. When the final vote was taken on the issue, only 31 Republicans voted “nay” and all Democrats voting “aye” with 20 Republicans making the total for passage 69 votes. There was a sense of relief as a goal for which we had been working for more than a half dozen years moved closer to realization.
The news was not so good on the other side of the Capitol. The Senate passed a budget that did not include further Medicaid expansion. While there was an effort to amend the Senate bill to include the expansion of access to health care, it failed along a straight party line vote. Final passage of a budget for the next two years requires that the bills passed in each house be identical. A conference committee made up of House and Senate members must resolve the largest imbalance in the budget that I have ever seen before its final adoption.
If I had predicted before the session where we would be at this point I would have said that the Senate would have passed a version of Medicaid expansion but the Republicans in the House were maintaining their opposition. At least that’s what the public pronouncements and the rumor mill suggested.
How could we have been so wrong? I believe that the predictions on the outcome of the session left out one very important consideration: the results of the 2016 elections. The House’s 66 to 34 Republican control was diminished to a close margin of 51 to 49. For weeks it appeared that Democrats might take control. Among the losses were senior members and committee chairs who were opponents of Medicaid expansion and were expected to win re-election easily. The Speaker who opposed expansion retired.
The voters in 2016 sent a clear message that they supported Medicaid expansion. For most it simply did not make sense to leave more than ten billion federal dollars on the table when there were so many people without access to health care. Many more people went to the polls than usual to send the message to legislators. Whether it was public opinion polling or common sense that showed the Republican majority they were in trouble and needed to change the stance on issues, the public speaking through the ballot box brought about this very important change for Virginia.
How to explain the Senate vote? Senators with four-year terms have not been before the voters since 2014. They have not had a recent message from the electorate and could be in for a big surprise if they do not re-evaluate their positions. The real heroes in all this are the Indivisibles and other groups that mobilized voters in 2016 to elect responsive candidates. These new members are bringing balance to public policy as well as to the budget.
“Enough is enough” is a slogan adopted by many advocates for action to end gun violence, but with 290 school shootings in the U.S. since 2013 clearly we are to the point that the shootings that have occurred in schools and numerous locales are more than enough.
Last Wednesday started off as a usual day at the legislature with the added feature that it was Valentine’s Day with lots of red decorations in the hallways and an abundance of chocolate available. It was also the first day of Lent with ashes offered at several nearby churches.
The day took a sharp turn in the late afternoon as the news media brought early reports of another instance of school shootings; this time at a school in Parkland, Florida. The timing was critical in that the General Assembly had over the past several weeks defeated with minimal debate and consideration more than 30 bills intended to reduce gun violence. My bill for universal background checks was among those.
The process for considering these bills was the same for all of them regardless of their approach. In the House the bills were assigned to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee and then to a subcommittee on guns composed of six members–four of whom have perfect NRA ratings. The outcome of the hearings is predictable. The advocates make many good and passionate arguments on behalf of common sense gun violence prevention legislation.
The NRA representative states the organization’s opposition along with someone from the Virginia Citizens Defense League with little argument or comments. The vote is always two for and four against. As important as the bills are to many people they are defeated; four members of the House of Delegates with their minds already made up decide for all 100 members of the House. There are few voting records to check because most members never get the opportunity to vote on gun regulation issues.
The strong concern among members of the press and on social media makes it clear that the legislature is going to have to respond to gun violence issues. Unfortunately, the schedule for introducing new bills in this session has passed; otherwise bills would have been introduced in response to the Florida shootings. Legislators would have had to confront the reality that there has been more than enough gun violence.
A New York Times article offered some direction as to how legislatures might proceed. An article “How to Reduce Mass Shooting Deaths? Experts Say These Gun Laws Could Help” first appeared on October 5, 2017. It found that there is no way to eliminate the risk of mass shootings, “but there are a handful of policies that could reduce the likelihood of such events or reduce the number of people killed when such shootings do occur.” These include denying purchases by anyone convicted of certain felonies, universal background checks, limiting the sale of certain types of weapons and ammunition, and waiting periods for purchases.
In the next cycle of elections, positions of candidates on gun violence will play an even greater role in who gets elected. If minds of incumbents do not change, voters are likely to change their elected officials. The public has had more than enough.
In a sight too seldom seen in the State Capitol, Governor Ralph Northam and Speaker of the House Kirk Cox stood together at the same podium to announce a bipartisan agreement on criminal justice reform. Governor Northam has agreed to sign a bill on restitution in criminal cases that when it passed last year was vetoed by Governor McAuliffe, and the Republicans agreed to pass a bill to raise the threshold for felony larceny from the current $200 to $500 for which many interfaith and social justice groups have been forcefully advocating. While there are details about the agreements that continue to be open for criticism, they represent important steps in criminal justice reform.
The Governor intervened in a controversial bill on electric energy regulation that is likely to make the ultimate outcome more satisfactory to multiple stakeholders. The original bill was referred to as the “Dominion” bill because it impacted Dominion Energy, American Electric Power Company and the electric cooperatives. After the Governor called together 30 stakeholders and a professional mediator, a revised bill emerged that will keep the electric power companies financially stable while granting refunds to consumers with advances in smart metering, energy conservation and a giant step in moving towards renewable energy. For critics of any bill that deals with electric energy, take a look at the new bill that has been negotiated; I think there are very good reasons conservationists are happy with the new bill.
The critical need for Metro funding presents a challenge for working out a solution. There is no debate about the importance of Metro; all business organizations testify to its critical role in the success of the Northern Virginia region. Holding up the process of working out the new funding are legislators who continue to want to talk about reforms of Metro without specific proposals and who are not willing to make a commitment on funding. Hopefully the partisan political speeches can be set aside, and serious discussions can be carried on by sane heads that will result in a satisfactory compromise.
A bill passed recently that supports a work requirement for recipients of Medicaid that was supported by the Speaker was the first indication that there may be a path to an agreement on Medicaid expansion. Such requirements are becoming common among the states. While such a requirement may be adverse to some people, we need to do what is needed to move the program forward for the maximum number of persons who are otherwise qualified. Certainly, the program will be revised and improved most every year. I share the Governor’s priority that we make progress on expanding health care this year.
On every issue that comes before the legislature there are multiple points of view and different interests. Each has a legitimacy in the mind of the proponent. The continued challenge that keeps me interested and excited about legislating is the working out of complex issues to the best interest of the citizenry.
Every session of the General Assembly, I am reminded of how much the functioning of the legislature is like a roller coaster ride. Every ride on a roller coaster regardless of how big it may be starts off very slowly.
The steep climb at the beginning is followed by a sudden acceleration as the bottom seems to drop out when the coaster descends into the first drop. While your stomach is still in your throat you go through sharp turns followed by other drops that leave most of us with white knuckles holding on for dear life. There is a great sense of relief when it is all over.
A session of the General Assembly is kind of like that. The first couple of weeks are busy with opening preliminaries, bill drafting, and this year settling into temporary offices. As bills get introduced and assigned to committees that start to meet you get that sense that the bottom is about to drop out. Days get longer and busier as the need to be in more than one place at a time becomes the rule rather than the exception, and the schedule for each day gets longer.
The final product of the session will not be known until the scheduled end of the session on March 10. In the meantime, I will update you on actions taken on the nearly 2,500 bills and resolutions that are moving down the track. Be aware that there are likely to be changes at the next sharp turn or sudden drop.
Hopes that the session would be less partisan with a 21 to 19 split in the Senate and a 51 to 49 division in the House with Republicans controlling both houses were dashed early as mostly Republican-sponsored bills were approved along partisan lines. All gun safety bills were quickly defeated including my bill for universal background checks.
A bill to repeal the current prohibition on guns in churches was passed. Ironically its proponents testified that it would make churches safer! Bills intended to keep the environment cleaner were mostly defeated while some technical and administrative bills related to the environment were passed.
Under the Dillon Rule, localities have only the powers granted to them in their charters or in general law. Many bills have been passed as usual to grant specific authority to a given locality; these are referred to as “local bills.” Many “housekeeping” measures add to the session agenda as they make technical corrections to existing law.
An increasing number of animal-related bills are under consideration as are bills related to hunting and fishing. Major legislation to regulate electric utility rates and expand the use of renewables is still being negotiated. Certificate of Public Need (COPN) for hospitals is likewise being negotiated among stakeholders.
The really big bill, the biennial budget, will be worked out among conference committee members and usually is one of the last bills to pass. The mystery of whether it will include an expansion of Medicaid has yet to be resolved. Many twists and turns are still ahead before the Assembly comes to its final stop for the year. Continue your advocacy on issues of concern to you. Check on the progress of bills of interest to you at lis.virginia.gov.
The experiences of the Virginia colonists with King George III taught them a lesson not forgotten even until today. Executive authorities are not to be trusted. Monarchies are likely to try to take away the people’s rights and property. The assertions of the Declaration of Independence were to make it clear that the people of America had sworn off monarchial government. They were not about to replace a king with a president or a government who might try to exert the kind of absolute executive power they had under the king.
Instead, controls were incorporated in the U.S. Constitution as well as state constitutions to keep the executive authority in check. Virginia’s limitations on the governor were especially limiting. For example, the governor’s term was one year. He could run for re-election more than once, but likewise he could be turned out after just one year. We have loosened up somewhat in modern times by extending the term to four years, but there is a limitation of one consecutive term.
The governor can run for an additional term, but it cannot be consecutive with the first. I think the one-term limitation is unnecessarily restrictive and have voted more than once to allow the governor to run for a second consecutive term. One term may keep a governor under control, but it can also limit his or her effectiveness.
Governor Terry McAuliffe was a high-energy, strongly motivated, hard-charging governor whose accomplishments exceeded those of his predecessors. He accepted the fact he had just one term, and he worked energetically to get all he could done in the relatively short four-year term. He pushed the legislature to get things done, and he did not hesitate to use executive authority when necessary.
He was taken to court by the Republicans for restoring citizenship rights to those who had been incarcerated, but he won and restored citizenship rights to 172,000 ex-felons. He brought about a New Virginia Economy of high employment, job growth, and attractiveness to those seeking to locate a company here.
Governor Ralph Northam who served under the shadow of Governor McAuliffe as lieutenant governor was always recognized as being extremely able but without the show of high-energy and flair of the Governor. No one questioned his ability, but it was widely concluded that he would bring a different style to the governorship. Most expected a mild-mannered, cordial leader who would govern more by consensus.
Clearly the styles are different, but there may have been a bit of selling short Governor Northam because of his easy Eastern Shore manner. His inauguration speech as well his first speech to the General Assembly were anything but mild or equivocal. They were as strong and as direct as any that Governor McAuliffe delivered. Calling upon his background as a physician, he built a hard case for the expansion of health services to the people in need in the Commonwealth. He is as direct as anyone I have heard speak about the need for common-sense gun control measures. He is emphatic in his defense of women’s reproductive rights.
We may not have a second term for the governor in Virginia, but we have a governor taking over who is going to continue the policies of his predecessor. The difference in the two will simply be a matter of style.
One of the first tasks in a new session of the Virginia General Assembly is to decide who is going to run the show. In the Senate of Virginia, the decision is made by the voters of the Commonwealth when they elect the Lieutenant Governor whose principal duty is to preside over the Senate. In the House, the Speaker of the House is the presiding officer who is elected by the members of the House.
The political party with the most members has control of the House and elects the Speaker. Republicans control of the House is 51 to 49 this session, a sharp drop in the 66-34 control of recent years. The closeness of the balance of power led to some meaningful discussions that should result in more transparency in the operation of the House.
My interest in becoming the presiding officer of the House by being elected Speaker was well known. Once the two disputed delegate elections where decided in favor of the Republicans there was no way I could reasonably expect to win. Only the Republican who had worked in his party and in the legislature for decades was nominated, and he was elected unanimously. That helped the session get underway in a cooperative spirit. There will be ample opportunity for debate when the many bills that reflect the issues before the General Assembly are considered.
What does a Speaker wannabe do when his party does not gain control of the legislative body? I have decided for myself that if I cannot be the formal Mr. Speaker of the House of Delegates then I can return to my role as Mr. speaker (small “s”) speaking out on tough issues that some may want to duck, and I can speak out on institutional practices that are not transparent or fair.
In this way, I can best serve my constituents and the long-term interest of the Commonwealth. I can also serve as a mentor to the many new exciting members that are joining the House of Delegates, and I can help to reduce any feelings of intimidation they might be experiencing. Certainly the legislature provides experiences that are not replicated in any other role in life.
The techniques of mass communication through phone calls, postcards, rallies, opinion writings, and other practices that were so successful in helping to get candidates elected can be utilized in the legislative process to help influence the outcome of legislation. I have already been seeing groups shifting from advocacy for individual candidates to advocacy for issues. On issues like expansion of health care and independent redistricting, a strong public voice and advocacy are necessary for success.
There will be more opportunities for the public to follow the legislature in real-time this year than ever before. Video streams of meetings of House Full Committees can be accessed online. Download an instruction sheet at Live Stream Instructions.
The General Assembly convened for its annual session on Wednesday. Hopes that the historic election results of November brought forth have dimmed somewhat as the drawing of lots to settle the results of the final district race gave the Republicans a one-member advantage to control the House of Delegates. Many wonderful people have been at work on the terms for a power-sharing agreement.
Now the incentives for such reform have diminished with the acceptance of a disputed ballot that led to the Democrats losing a seat that would have made for a partisan tie in the House and much more likelihood of a power-sharing arrangement. There is likely to be some reform of the process but not a change of one-party dominance that has thwarted efforts to deal with some major issues.
I continue to be impressed with the make-up of the House of Delegates as the new members are reflective of the people of Virginia. For the first time in our history women will make up half the membership of the Democratic caucus. The new members bring wonderful backgrounds, expertise, and life experiences that will bring a greater sense of reality to legislative debates. We will make progress on more issues for sure but maybe not as great as I led people to believe when election results were announced.
One of my greatest concerns is that the thousands of men and women who chose to take part in the electoral process for the first time in ways other than just voting not become disillusioned with the process and retreat from it. Make no mistake about it: the outcomes of the legislative and state-wide races in Virginia in 2017 were historic. Voter turnout in these races was greater than in any other year with the same seats to be filled. The solid Republican majority of 66 to 34 was reduced to 51 to 49. Senior members of the majority with more than adequate monies to finance their races lost to a public uprising. All involved in this process can rightfully be proud. All that activity has been focused on campaigning; now we must turn to governing.
I hope that all those who campaigned so hard for candidates will identify one or perhaps several issues upon which they can focus their attention and with the same techniques of phoning, social media, door knocking, rallying and more can help persuade members of the legislature to vote responsibly on the issues. Just as we sold voters on candidates, we need to sell legislators on important issues. Such campaigns can make a difference in the outcome of legislation.
Political parties on both sides will be eager to take credit for the outcomes of elections in which they participated. Without a doubt, the success of elections this cycle came from the women and men who volunteered–sometimes in organized groups or acting as individuals–that made the difference. Political parties can learn from these people. Please do stay involved, for your participation can make such an important difference as the General Assembly lumbers along.