By Carten Cordell │ Watchdog.org, Virginia Bureau
ALEXANDRIA — Bill Bolling’s announcement that he had dropped out of the governor’s race made waves through political circles Wednesday, but it’s the job he is leaving, as lieutenant governor, that could really change the face of Virginia policy.
The race for the No. 2 spot in Old Dominion government looks to be as contentious as the anticipated governor’s match-up between Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe. But with a deadlocked state Senate, the power to move legislation will depend on who replaces Bolling.
The Senate is split down the middle — 20-20 — and for nearly two years, Bolling , as president of the body, has been the Republican tiebreaker on legislation not related to the budget, on which the lieutenant governor does not vote.
With an overwhelming majority in the House, Republicans could face a logjam of opposition if the Democrats were to win the lieutenant governor spot.
“If you had a 20-20 Senate and a tiebreaker Democrat (as lieutenant governor), you would see somewhat of a lock up in policy,” said Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun. “You would really have an impasse between the Senate and the House. I think it would somewhat paralyze Virginia government, because you would not have the ability to break the Democratic stalemate in the Senate.
“Anything that came up out of the House, they would have the clout to stop it.”
After Virginia went to Barack Obama in November’s national elections, Democrats have been hoping to capitalize on the momentum and shift power on the state level.
To do it, the party will be watching who emerges from a state primary. While it’s still early, former White House Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra was the first official candidate to say he’s in the race. State Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Accomack, also appears to be gearing up to run.
A Facebook page touting a Northam campaign was created Nov. 16, and a campaign kickoff is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Norfolk.
Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Fairfax, said candidates like Northam would have the political prowess to move bills through the Senate and stem the amount of social legislation seen in the previous general session.
“The Democrats having control of the Senate will bring a lot more balance to the public policy debate,” she said. “I know we are not going to have the heart-wrenching, in my view, discussions on women’s rights, women’s reproductive health and how women should be treated in the 21st century.
“The whole social agenda would go away because the Democrats would be able to kill the bills in committee. It will go back to a better, centered and more progressive view of the state.”
But Geoff Skelley, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said if the 35-year history of the state electing a governor from the opposing party of the president holds true again, a Democrat lieutenant governor could make for some compelling legislative gridlock.
“It would make it more interesting trying to get legislation through,” he said. “It would definitely force more compromise. Basically any time one party controls one chamber and another party controls the other, you end up with a lot of logjam and impasses. We have seen that at the national level, and it’s true at the state level as well.”
Craig Brians, associate professor of political science at Virginia Tech, said the GOP is still very strong on the state level, despite the outcome of the national election. To buck that trend will take less party focus, more turnout and a unifying message.
“All they need to do is go look at Tim Kaine’s playbook (for the U.S. Senate race),” he said. “Make it clear that the person who is running is running to be a representative of Virginia. To work for the people of Virginia versus cleaving tightly to this particular issue or that particular issue that might be seen as divisive by voters, and then really mobilize.”
Contact Carten Cordell at [email protected]
— Edited by Kelly Carson, [email protected]