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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia State Senate’

During the election, you may recall the heated rhetoric on the need to “flip” the Virginia Senate so that conservatives would finally control that body.  Well, earlier today the Republican Party announced the new leadership team now that the GOP has once again claimed control of the Virginia Senate.  Personally, I’ve been looking forward to hearing if Senators would put strong conservative fighters in charge.

Starting off from lowest position to highest, we begin with the caucus whips, Senators Bill Stanley, Jeff McWaters, and Jill Holtzman Vogel.  According to the newly released data from The American Conservative Union, these three Senators have conservative ratings of 100%, 92%, and 85% respectively.  Not too bad, I would say.

Moving on, we have the Majority Leader’s deputies, Senators Ryan McDougle and Steve Newman who have ACU ratings of 92% and 100%.  Again, they are both quite high.

Photo from SenatorNorment.com

But who is the new Majority Leader?  Senator Tommy Norment of James City County.  And what is his conservative ranking with the ACU?  62%.  62%!  You might be disappointed to discover that he is ranked the least conservative of any of the Republican members of the Virginia Senate.

To get a better picture, let’s look at the bills where Senator Norment has not voted conservatively according to the ACU.

“1. Amend Virginia’s Fraud Against Taxpayer Act. SB 831. This bill would have limited the attorney general’s authority to investigate fraud by state agencies and institutions and their wasting of taxpayer dollars on any number of dubious practices. ACU opposes limiting the accountability of state government to its taxpaying citizens. The Senate voted to pass this bill 24-16 on February 3, 2011.” Norment supported.

“2. Special Rights Based on Sexual Orientation. SB 747. This bill would have created a protected class for homosexuals in state government employment. ACU opposes creating special rights or new classes of people based on their personal behavior. The Senate passed this bill 22-18 on February 2, 2011.” Norment supported.

“4. Expand FAMIS Plan Eligibility. SB 978. This bill would have increased the threshold for eligibility for the Family Access to Medical Insurance Security Plan (state version of CHIP) from at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level to at or below 225 percent. ACU opposes the expansion of government-run insurance programs. The Senate voted to approve this bill 33-7 on February 7, 2011.” Norment supported.

“9. Defunding Public Broadcasting. HB 1500 (Budget Bill) Governor’s Amendment #17, Item 123. Governor Bob McDonnell offered an amendment to the General Assembly’s budget proposing the elimination of funds to Virginia’s Public Broadcasting stations. ACU supports eliminating funding non-core functions of government. The Senate killed the amendment by a vote of 13-27 on April 6, 2011.” Norment opposed.

“13. Reform The Virginia Retirement System. HB 1500 (Budget Bill) Governor’s Amendment #86, Item 5.  This budget amendment from Governor Bob McDonnell would put in place reforms to the Virginia Retirement System, including authorizing an optional defined contribution plan for newer employees—ACU supports efforts to reform unsustainable state retirement systems. The Senate, on April 6, 2011, rejected the amendment by a 14-26 vote.” Norment opposed.

But let’s not rely solely on the opinions of the American Conservative Union.  How about another conservative measurement device?  Before each General Assembly election, The Family Foundation releases their report card detailing how “pro-family” each member of that body happens to be.  Going through the same list of Senator leaders this year, we find the following scores: Stanley 100%, McWaters 100%, Vogal 100%, McDougle 100%, Newman 100%, and finally Norment with 65%.  Scanning through the rest of the list, are there any Republicans in the Senate with a lower score than Norment?  Not only is the answer no, there is even one Democrat who ranks higher, Senator Puckett.

For comparison sake, let’s see where Senator Norment ranks poorly according to the Family Foundation:

“2. Non-Discrimination for Sexual Orientation (same as with the ACU above).” The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“3.  Redirect Pro-Choice License Plate Funds SB18 amendment-Would have redirected the pro-choice license plate funds from Planned Parenthood to the Virginia Pregnant Women Support Fund.”  The Family Foundation supported, Norment opposed.

“10. FLE Required SB967-Would have required localities to teach family life education and would have added anti-abstinence language to FLE law.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“11. Expanded Horse Gambling SB1347-Would have expanded gambling in Virginia by redefining simulcast horse racing to included live or pre-recorded horse races.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“13. State Domestic Partner Benefits SB1122-Would have allowed the state government to offer domestic partner benefits to unmarried relationships.”  The Family Foundation opposed, Norment supported.

“14. Just Compensation HB652-Would have required the government to pay property owners for the total loss of value when property is taken eminent domain.”  The Family Foundation supported, Norment opposed.

What about gun rights?  Is the second amendment important to you?  After a phone call earlier today, I discovered that in 2011, the National Rifle Association graded him a B- and would not endorse him for reelection.  Going back further, the NRA grades Senator Norment as follows: 2007-B, 2003-D, 1999-B, and 1995-B.

As I mentioned back on November 9th, I do not want a Senate Republican leadership in the mold of former Senator John Chichester who gave Virginians what has been billed as the “largest tax increase in Virginia history”.  Well, with a little help (thanks to The Family Foundation), I’ve discovered that only six of the Republican Senators who supported that measure are still in office.  They are: Harry Blevins, Emmett Hanger, Fred Quayle, Frank Ruff, Walter Stosch, and, you guessed it, Tommy Norment.

Although there many different definitions of conservative and thus many stripes of conservative, given Norment’s voting record as shown by the ACU, The Family Foundation, and the NRA, just about every flavor should be concerned by this news.

What I want to know is why in the world is the Republican Senator who is arguably the least conservative of them all given the top spot as Majority Leader in the Virginia Senate?  And, just as importantly, will Senator Norment use his  powerful position to either block conservative legislation or promote laws contrary to conservative ideals?  Is this situation a case of meet the new Senate (2011-2015 under Norment), same as the old Senate (2003-2007 under Norment)?

Photo from newscom.com

So has the GOP learned from the mistakes of 2003-2007 when they last controlled the Virginia Senate?  Or with rewarding the not very conservative Norment as Majority Leader once more, have conservatives been led down the primrose path?

I guess we will find out.

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VC Note:  This brief article regarding the 2011 election comes from the Republican Party of Virginia.

Election 2011: What it Means

 — GOP Supermajority in House, Majority in Senate, Solid Start for 2012 — 

The votes are counted. The canvass is done, and the dust has settled. What does it all mean?

First, let’s look at the lay of the land.

House of Delegates

* Republicans picked up 7 seats in the House of Delegates.

* Republicans now have a 68 seat caucus in the House, the most in history.

* Republicans won 13 of 14 open seats in the House.

* Republicans defeated 2 Democrat incumbents in the House.

* All 52 incumbent Republicans seeking re-election won.

 

Senate of Virginia

* Republicans have won a working majority in the Senate.

* Republicans gained two seats to make it 20-20 with Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling holding the decisive tie-breaking vote.

* Republicans won 3 of 5 open seats in the Senate.

* Republicans defeated 2 Democrat incumbents in the Senate.

* All 15 incumbent Republicans seeking re-election won.
 

So what does it all mean?

First and foremost, Virginians overwhelmingly voted for a Republican controlled General Assembly.

 

Just look at the numbers:

 

House GOP Votes: 757,000, about 61% of all votes cast

House Dem Votes:  419,000, about 33% of all votes cast


Senate GOP Votes
: 771,000, about 57% of all votes cast
Senate DEM Votes: 554,000, about 41% of all votes cast

 

2011 caps a remarkable three-year run for Virginia Republicans:

 

* In 2009, Virginia Republicans won all three statewide offices by massive margins and picked up 6 seats in the House of Delegates.
* In 2010, Virginia Republicans defeated 3 incumbent Congressional Democrats and came within a few hundred votes of defeating a fourth, moving the Congressional delegation to 8-3 and clearing the way for our own Rep. Eric Cantor to become U.S. House Majority Leader.
* In 2011, Virginia Republicans picked up 7 more seats in the House of Delegates and picked up 2 seats in the state Senate.

For three years running, the message from Virginia voters has been clear. We expect them to send the same resounding message again in 2012.

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This morning, citizens across Virginia awake to a day much like any other.  The sun has risen, the temperature is fairly warm, and life proceeds steadily onward.  The politicos among us, still weary from the toils of yesterday, look to the results of Election Day and are instilled with either hope or dread depending on one’s perspective.  So what are the results?

The biggest topic is the Virginia Senate.  So far, the Republican Party has netted one seat with Bill Stanley’s narrow win over Roscoe Reynolds in the 20th district.  The 17th district is still too close to call with Republican Bryce Reeves currently enjoying a 136-vote lead over incumbent Edd Houck.  It seems very likely that a recount in that district is coming soon.

Although the GOP has made gains, it certainly isn’t the slam-dunk that many conservative and Republican activists had hoped.  Assuming Houck emerges victorious, the Democrats will retain control of the Senate.  If Reeves wins, then the chamber will be evenly split with Republican Lt. Governor Bill Bolling likely casting the deciding tie-breaking vote in many circumstances.

One question that has troubled me throughout the campaign is, assuming the Republicans gain control of the Senate (or have a 20-20 tie), who will lead the party in that chamber?  Will it be a fiscal, social, and constitutional conservative?  Or will it be someone in the mold of former Senator John Chichester?  Even though I’ve been told by several sources that we will not return to such days, unless the GOP chooses a leader based on conservative principles, and not merely on seniority, I remain concerned.

Before moving on to the other races, I believe it is important to recognize that conservatives could have made their gains greater, but they spread their resources too thinly.

Looking at the unofficial results, the GOP ran pretty close campaigns in the 1st, the 33rd, the 36th, the 37th, the 38th, and the 39th.  However, the party devoted efforts to wide range of other races and thus ended up short in so many places.  As Bearing Drift stated in the most recent issue of their magazine, the 36th and the 38th districts leaned Republican and yet both were lost.  If money and volunteers were used in a wiser fashion, would the GOP now have a 21 or 22-seat majority instead?  To use a sports analogy, why gamble so much and swing for a homerun when a simple base will win (or at least tie) the game?

Here at home, Republican Bryan Hutcheson will be the new Sheriff of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.  Even though the city was close, Hutcheson captured an amazing 66% of the vote in the county.  Congratulations to Mr. Hutcheson and his campaign team for their decisive win.

Moving north, Craig Orndorff emerged the top vote getter in the four-way race for Soil and Water Conservation Director in Shenandoah County.  Best wishes to him in his new position.

With the House of Delegates firmly in Republican hands, not too much attention has been given to that chamber.  However, given my ties with a particular House of Delegates seat, the last area of interest is the 93rd district.  As I mentioned previously, this district became a little more Republican after redistricting.  Mike Watson of Williamsburg capitalized on shift by defeating freshman Delegate Robin Abbott of Newport News.

Over all, things haven’t changed too much here in Virginia.  I’m sure pundits from both sides of the aisle will spin the results to declare victory for their cause boldly stating that either President Obama has been repudiated or vindicated.  Personally, I don’t think this election demonstrated a huge shift, but rather serves as another testament to Virginia’s conservative-leaning principles.

As the ink begins to dry on Election Day 2011, we prepare for 2012.  Given the limited space on my car, today is the annual ritual of bumper sticker removal.  So long Delegate Wilt and Senator Obenshain.  I expect to see both your names on my vehicle for the 2013 cycle.

The ceaseless political battle continues again soon.  But, for the moment, let’s come together as Virginians united and savor a respite.  The time for reflection and introspection is at hand.

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In about eight and a half hours polls across the Commonwealth of Virginia will open.  On the ballot, we will find each member of the House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate, and a whole host of local and constitutional offices.

The most talked about aspect of this election statewide is control of the State Senate.  Currently, the Democratic Party enjoys a 22-18 majority in that chamber.  Most commentators, myself included, believe that the Republican Party will pick up several seats.  The two questions are: how many seats will the GOP gain and where will they enjoy the greatest success?

Here in the Shenandoah Valley, neither the House nor the Senate races are particularly interesting.  Most incumbents are unopposed and the one Delegate who is challenged, Delegate Dickie Bell of Staunton, should win handily.  As I’ve mentioned, the race for Sheriff is the most exciting contest in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.  Of course, I’m also interested to hear the outcome of the school board race in the county too.

In years past, you would often find me outside polling places, working for a candidate or the party.  This year, though, I’m trying something new.  I’ll be working for Rockingham County to help oversee one of their many polling places.  From 5 AM to 9 PM, you will find me at this post.  It’s going to be a long day, but whether you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or an Independent, we can all agree that ensuring proper voting and fair play is a central element of our election process.

Anyway, if you live in Virginia, I want to remind you to vote tomorrow.  Sure, this election may not be as glamorous as the 2012 Presidential race to come, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it.  After all, if you want to have a voice in your state and local government, now you have your chance!  Polls are open from 6 AM to 7 PM.

Vote Virginia!

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As I continue my exploration into the world of gerrymandering, yesterday Virginia’s Division of Legislative Services released three suggested redistricting maps, one for the House of Delegates and two for the Virginia Senate.  In this article, we will be focusing on the Senate.

Here is our current map:

Current Map of Virginia Senate Districts

Is there significant gerrymandering in the system?  Absolutely.  Along the border with North Carolina, one can find bizarre images.  Going from west to east, something is a bit off with the 19th, 15th, and 18th districts.  And look at Creigh Deeds’ 25th.  It includes his home in Bath County next to the West Virginia border and then travels along a narrow corridor until it widens to pick up the liberal city of Charlottesville and the surrounding area about 100 miles away.  Is it only foolish hope to expect anything better?

Help is on the way!  As stated, there are two plans circulating, one Republican under Senator John Watkins from the 10th and one Democratic from Senator Janet Howell of the 32nd.  Let’s first tackle the Watkins plan.

Watkins Proposal

The first thing you might notice is that the number of your Senate district has likely changed.  I’m not sure why he would alter the numbering system.  It seems to me to be an unneeded annoyance.  More importantly, is there gerrymandering in the Watkins plan?  You bet!  First, he maintains a fair number of gerrymandered districts from the current map, such as the 37th.

The 37th (formerly numbered the 19th); with its trunk and reaching branches, it sort of looks like a tree.

Holy smokes!  A mushroom cloud!  Is someone launching nukes?  No, that’s only the proposed 18th district.

The 31st (formerly the 26th) may not seem too gerrymandered, but as a resident of the city of Harrisonburg, I can tell you that I’m not too happy about it.  If the district needed to grow, why wouldn’t it expand south to include most, if not all, of the remaining portion of Rockingham County?  Instead, it leaps over the Blue Ridge Mountains to pick up part of Culpeper County.  Why, oh, why?

Let’s move on to the Howell plan.  Is it better?

Howell Proposal

I’m grateful that Howell doesn’t modify the numbering scheme, but that alone doesn’t make it a worthy suggestion.

First off, you’ll note that Howell’s plan retains the heavily gerrymandered 25th.  In addition, sort of like the proposed 31st under Watkins, the 24th district sneaks across the Blue Ridge to include part of Culpeper County.  But there are other offending districts, too.

What’s going between the 20th and the 15th?  I used to draw similar shapes when I was bored in school.  What is the conversation here?  We need the city of Danville and the eastern part of Pittsylvania County in the 20th.  What about the western portion?  Stick it in the 15th!  While we are at it, let’s give the 15th a nice new hat by including Amherst County too.  And how much, if any, of the 19th district is within it’s current borders?

If you draw an eye around Lazy Oak Corner, one can easily see the 18th district as a monster looking to consume the western half of the 13th.  Just plain ugly.

I’d include more maps, but with each new image WordPress is taking more and more time to upload them.  Instead, I invite you to explore the redistricting website yourself. Chances are, you’ll have to download a new plugin to make the site work.

You should note that I haven’t even begun to consider party gains under these two proposals.  Nevertheless, I’d wager that the Watkins plan will result in more Republican victories while the Howell proposal will do likewise for the Democrats.  Both have their share of flaws and obvious gerrymandering and should be rejected…or at least heavily modified.  At the end of the day, I hope that the General Assembly refuses both of these plans and draws compact districts with not quite so many funny shapes.

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