Note to House GOP: Compartmentalize HB 259

So the Virginia Senate had their “coup” or whatever the Democrats want to frame the Martin Luther King Jr. Day “putsch” — that’s all well and good to express indignation.  I certainly did… because during the 1990s when the Democrats were doing it to us, whether through redistricting or by refusing proportional seating, we promised ourselves at least that we would not do business in a similar manner.

The Democrats have argued rather well over process, and I could not agree more.

Which is the reason why the House of Delegates must pass HB 259. 

Why?

Because that’s process.  Despite what the Washington Post might argue, this is not a possibility:

The speaker has said that he would address the issue, if asked. It would be up to Howell, and Howell alone, to rule on the issue.

If he decides the amendment was not germane, the bill is dead. If he rules it is germane, the House will vote on the amended bill. If it passed, it would go to Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) for his signature.

Republicans have been weighing their next move and consulting lawyers who have warned staff members and legislators that they should not speak publicly because of the likelihood of litigation.

Meanwhile, Democrats have been exploring what course of legal action they would take if the bill becomes law, poring over the state constitution, a recent Richmond Circuit Court decision in a redistricting case and similar cases across the country.

Neophytes might ask why this is a bad idea — the answer is simple: traditionally and as a matter of process, the House of Delegates has never interfered in the redistricting of the Virginia Senate, and the Virginia Senate has not interfered in the redistricting of the House of Delegates.

This tradition was reinforced during the power sharing era of then-State Senator John Chichester in 2000.

It would be the height of hypocrisy for Speaker Bill Howell to be asked — and the acquiesce — in any demand to redraw the State Senate lines.  That instance would indeed be a “coup” and a “putsch” orchestrated by liberals scrambling for any way to stop this bill.

The House of Delegates has a responsibility to look at their own lines as if it was separate legislation, compartmentalize the House lines, and vote up HB 259.  Why? Because that follows the process Democrats have held sacrosanct as of Monday, but did not follow during their reign of power in the 1990s and apparently are willing to discard in the near-future.

So who’s responsible for HB 259?

 Let’s be honest what this is about.

McDonnell needs to leave a legacy — that legacy cannot be centered around a $2.4 billion tax hike for transportation.  The Senate Republicans — and I cannot stress how absolutely numb it was to pull that stunt on MLK Jr. Day and then close in tribute to General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson for God’s sake — have communicated their lines via HB 259.  The House of Delegates is duty bound to pass along their recommendations in the same bill without violating tradition or process, and will more than likely communicated the bill to the Governor.

Four scenarios now produce themselves:

1.  McDonnell cuts a deal with the GOP, trades HB 259 for the transportation tax hike.  Thus Republicans are delivered the Virginia Senate for the next 30 years while paying for the ladder to get us out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves.  Anti-tax Republicans howl, Democrats howl, but the Republican Party moves forward and the episode is filed right next to the Democratic 1990 redistricting process on the “how not to” shelf.

2.  McDonnell cuts a deal with the Democrats, trades a veto of HB 259 for the transportation tax hike, and Howell whips two dozen moderate Republicans to vote for the transportation tax hike.   This would send the conservatives into open revolt, and more than likely be the complete opposite of the reputation and political aspirations McDonnell holds today.

3.  McDonnell vetos HB 259, abandons the transportation tax hike to its fate.  This would make the apparatchiks within the General Assembly quite happy and enrage the Democrats… until folks remind them about the 1990 redistricting effort plus the ongoing denial of proportional seating.  Perhaps we can have a conversation about pendulums and precedent?

4.  McDonnell signs HB 259, abandons the transportation tax hike.  Probably the least envious option for the Governor, but also the default position today.  There are no good options for McDonnell at this point — only least favorable ones.

So where does it go?  Option 1 — were I a betting man — would achieve two goals: (1) it would cement GOP leadership of the General Assembly for the next 30 years, while (2) unshackling the GOP from the “no tax pledge” in mammoth style — potentially having the added benefit of squelching any third party slate from Bolling and crew.  This is the bet that whomever orchestrated this deal is making — McDonnell is in a box.

Option 2 would be doomsday — and were I a cynical man, I’d make the argument that such a situation best benefits anyone seeking to split or fracture the GOP’s conservatives off from the party.  Should that happen… expect open revolt within the party.

Option 3 would be the route of cowardice… I truly don’t see that happening, though let’s be honest — stranger things have happened.

For Democrats, there is only one path — resistance.  The problem is… they’ve been “resisting” so long that folks are tired of it.  It’s a lazy approach… and rather than owning up to their own truly heinous (and recent) past on this, the Democrats are prevaricating at this stage.

This all hinges on Governor McDonnell, folks.