By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND — If Virginia Democrats think the 2013 election is theirs to lose, they’re well on their way.
Though President Obama has won the state twice, the state Democratic Party is a sputtering machine. Only in the Senate, where they hold 20 of the 40 seats, have Democrats managed to match up with the GOP. Now, through their actions, and inaction, they have squandered whatever political capital they’ve gained.
Voting in knee-jerk obeisance to their bankers at the state teachers union, Democratic senators opposed virtually every major education reform. With the help of a few retrograde Republicans, they killed a modest charter school bill proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell. Even the Obama administration has embraced the publicly funded, independently operated campuses as viable tools for school choice.
No thanks to Democrats, the Senate did approve an A-F grading system for schools and an Opportunity Education Institution to fix ones that are chronically failing. Both measures passed on tie-breaking votes cast by Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
On transportation, Senate Democrats simply spun their wheels and wasted time – rejecting every Republican proposal while offering no constructive alternatives.
McDonnell has dubbed Democrats the “Party of No.” And in their eyes, they have a right to be stubborn as a mule. Still smarting from a redistricting scheme pushed through by Senate Republicans, Democrats may feel justifiably jilted.
But the redistricting episode exposed deeper problems in the Democratic ranks. Politically astute leaders would have simply denied a quorum for the vote. Now Democrats must rely on the good graces of Republicans in the House, where the GOP holds a super-majority, to save their bacon.
As House Speaker Bill Howell, R-Falmouth, erased the gerrymandered maps this week, Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, told the Washington Examiner that negotiations on McDonnell’s $3 billion roads bill will now run smoother.
“We’ll get things worked out,” he said. Translation: Hold onto your wallet.
This is not meant as a blanket indictment of Virginia Democrats. Delegate Joe Morrissey, for example, supported the school-grading bill. The Richmond Democrat also told Watchdog he would have voted for a transportation plan like the one from Republican Sen. John Watkins, who proposed a less costly swap of the current 17.5-cent-per-gallon charge for a 5-percent gasoline tax.
A few more enlightened, free-thinking Democrats like Morrissey could have made a world of difference in the Senate this session.
Professor Quentin Kidd, chairman of the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University, sees dysfunction all over Capitol Square.
“I think voters take broad messages away from the General Assembly session. The first will be about the failed redistricting effort, and second about transportation,” said Kidd, who also directs CNU’s Wason Center for Public Policy.
“Given that the governor’s (transportation) plan had bipartisan opposition, I’m not sure how much the voters will punish Democrats alone. Rather, I think voters will continue to simply be disappointed in the General Assembly as a whole.”
Though senators are not up for election until 2014, Senate Democrats’ performance this session doesn’t figure to help the rest of the party slate in November.
For Democrats to be competitive, they will have to do more than just say no. Pathological nay-saying hasn’t worked out particularly well for either Republicans or Democrats in Washington, D.C.
And simply hurling ritualistic insults at Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the GOP designee for governor, isn’t much of a strategy either.
In fact, Cuccinelli, as the legal advocate for utility customers in Virginia, has proposed legislation to reduce rates by stripping hundreds of millions of dollars in bogus energy credits from big electric companies. Where were the Democrats on this issue? Nowhere.
By their actions, and inaction, Senate Democrats have proved themselves averse, even blind, to fiscal reforms that bring relief to taxpayers. The party’s “social justice” mantra rings hollow when its lawmakers reject education initiatives that empower parental choice and inject accountability into troubled inner-city schools.
It’s hard to see how empty-headed obstinance produces a winning ticket in November.
Contact Kenric Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward