I received emails yesterday from both the House and Senate Democratic caucuses, summarizing what they believe to be their successes during the (about-to-conclude) General Assembly session. Here are the highlights, with my comments in italics.
*"Senate negotiators are fighting for their version of the budget which protects jobs and services in K-12 education, higher education, public safety, and the healthcare safety net."
That's great, but from what I've seen so far this morning, there's not a heckuva lot to celebrate on this front. Unless, of course, you believe that "unprecedented cuts to state spending and core services once thought sacrosanct" and "governmental austerity born of the hardest times since the Great Depression" to be a good thing. I don't. Nor do I consider the General Assembly's unwillingness to raise revenues from the wealthiest Virginians, first and foremost by reinstating the Estate Tax, while slashing funding for programs to the most vulnerable Virginians, to be a badge of honor.
*"The Senate Democrats introduced many bills that passed both chambers of the legislature and await Governor McDonnell’s signature, though many worthy bills were defeated by an uncooperative House of Delegates"
If you're a "glass half full" kind of person, you focus on the first clause in this sentence. If you're a "glass half empty" type, you focus on the last clause. Personally, I'm somewhere in the middle, but probably leaning towards the "many worthy bills were defeated" view of things. On the other hand, the Senate killed many bad bills from the House, such as the infamous "Mark of the Beast" bill and a repeal of Virginia's one-gun-a-month law. So, overall, it could have been better but it certainly could have been worse.
*"The Senate defeated numerous bad bills from the House of Delegates including efforts to repeal Virginia’s crime-reducing 'one hand gun per month' law, a frivolous bill to prevent forced implantation of microchips, a bill that would have allowed unregulated 'super guns', and one that authorized deadly force, instead of proportional force, against any person who sets foot on your property."
On all these fronts, thank goodness that Democrats control the State Senate to offer a "check and balance" against the right-wing Republican controlled House and governor's mansion.
*"The Senate Democrats also fought for the best interest of Virginians in several debates. At the beginning of the session, the Senate Democrats told Governor McDonnell they would not approve his Secretary of Commerce and Trade appointee because he served as a paid board member of private corporations, presenting a conflict of interest. Senate Democrats also convinced Governor McDonnell to present his budget recommendations as all other Governors do. The Governor decided that $4.2 billion in budget cuts had to be made and after weeks of pressure he eventually presented his plan to make those cuts. Finally, Senate Democrats raised serious concerns over Governor McDonnell’s proposed charter school arrangement which would have taken power from local school boards and put it in the hands of a group of political appointees. This arrangement would have violated the Virginia Constitution and Senate Democrats worked constructively with the McDonnell administration and education stakeholders to negotiate a constitutional arrangement that satisfied all parties."
Good work, particularly on the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, although Robert Sledd still ended up with a powerful position advising Bob McDonnell on commerce and trade issues. And on the charter schools, I'm not sure if all the "serious concerns" I heard raised were really addressed. Still, at least they raised them I guess...
House of Delegates
*"Democrats successfully fought for and passed measures dealing with ethics reform (HB 655, Armstrong, D-Henry; HB 330, Plum, D-Fairfax; HB 814 and HB 816, Abbott, D-Newport News), employment opportunities for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (HB 1099, Sickles, D-Fairfax), expansion of eligibility for certain health care plans (HB 315 and HB 317, McClellan, D-Richmond), education (HB 1172, Phillips, D-Dickenson), and health care coverage for members of the Virginia National Guard (HB 1233, P. Miller, D-Norfolk)."
What amazes me more than anything is that Democrats were able to accomplish anything at all, given the fact that they are badly outnumbered in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates.
*"Democrats in the House of Delegates successfully defeated measures that would have restricted citizens' right to vote, including HB 498 (Lingamfelter, R-Prince William) and SB 302 (Martin, R-Chesterfield). These bills would have placed strict limitations on the types of information needed in order to register and vote. Democrats' convincing floor speeches led to the defeat of these regressive bills."
*"Additionally, House Democrats' united opposition brought attention to and weakened the Crown, Cork and Seal bill, which would have exempted a single company from liability for asbestos-related diseases. While the measure passed with a slim margin in the House of Delegates, it was killed in the Senate. This bill, carried by Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott), was an initiative of the Speaker of the House, Delegate Bill Howell (R-Stafford). Speaker Howell pushed this initiative due to his involvement in the conservative group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, for which the Speaker served as chair last year. ALEC is interested in this legislation because Crown Cork is also a member of the organization and a significant contributor to its members' political action committees."
This bill was a disgrace, and Bill Howell should pay the political price if there's any justice in the world. Thank you to House Democrats for fighting this, and thanks to Senate Democrats for driving a stake through its rotten heart.
*"Several measures were introduced by members of the House Democratic Caucus to create a Bipartisan or Nonpartisan Redistricting Commission including: HB 179 (Morrissey - D, Henrico), HB 323 (Plum - D, Fairfax), HB 638 (Armstrong D - Henry), HB 835 (Carr - D, Richmond), and HJ 113 (Barlow - D, Isle of Wight). These measures were defeated in a pre-dawn subcommittee with a vote split along party lines."
Voters should remember this one next November, that's all I have to say right now.
*"Additionally, Democrats in the House of Delegates fought to protect Virginians from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation through several procedures including introduction of bills and amendments, and motions on the floor. Every attempt to protect Virginia's citizens was defeated by Republican members of the House of Delegates."
This pretty much sums it up: Democrats fighting against discrimination, Republicans fighting to keep it going. How can anyone be FOR discrimination? Ask House Republicans.
All in all, this was a rough session, but Democrats can point to a few victories, mostly small. Still, the bottom line is that it's tough when you're outnumbered 61-39 in the House of Delegates, when you don't control the governor's mansion, when your tiny edge in the State Senate is made even more difficult by the presence of several conservative Democrats, and when the economy's a mess. Better luck next year? Or, more likely, after the 2011 elections if and when Democrats (hopefully) make major gains in the House of Delegates? As for 2010, as the saying goes, it was real and it was fun, but it wasn't real fun.