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. 


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.

  • VaPatriot

    Good post Shaun — I think Option 1 is very likely. Question – if you’re Marsh, why not have a proxy in place?

  • EricMcGrane

    I haven’t seen the full language of the transportation bill….once we’ve gotten “out of the hole”…will the sales tax increase sunset and go back to a gas tax? Where will “overages”/surplus revenues be directed…into trans “lockbox”? What I don’t like about this plan is that it takes the pain away from transportation funding and makes it EASY for the politicians. AUTOMATIC, baby!

    I don’t want it to be easy. I want them to kick and scratch to get to the desired funding numbers. This SHOULD be hard. If they’re focused on a trans funding fight, there’s less time to concentrate on taking other rights away. Less time to applaud drones. Less time to promise taxpayer dollars to the movie industry. etc, Repeat as necessary.

    • Glad you said it — moving from the gas tax to the sales tax is NOT revenue neutral. It’s revenue positive to the government… and it is a giant band-aid that prevents the pols from making tough decisions elsewhere.

      Could not agree more.

      • The fact that it isn’t revenue neutral is a plus, not a negative. We have a massive shortfall in transportation funding needs, and nowhere else to get it from. This is one time when a tax increase – strictly to fund a core government function – is the right thing to do.

        • No where else to get? Pshaw! It’s called the gas tax.

        • And not revenue neutral is right. Further, the consumer will not see one penny difference in the price they pay at the pump regardless of whether the gas tax is eliminated. This is the dictionary definition of a pig in a poke.

  • Shaun your indignation over the unethical actions of the Virginia Senate during the inauguration on Monday was honorably noted. But your suggestion of allowing the process to continue for HB 259 in order to execute an outcome palatable or not does not negate the insensitivty and arrogance of the action. Negative based on a historical negative does not promote a positive to a public who grows weary of gerrymandering actions of both sides. For a party who was taken to the woodshed on election day in Virginia to resort to such tactics will not advance conservatism in the eyes of those minority communites it so desperately needs in the upcoming Governor’s election. Bill Howell could show genuine leadership and moral courage, process be damed and put a stop to this and leave his speakership with a legacy of political integrity. But many of us in Stafford County expect him to hide behind the “process” allowing conservatives an arrogant hollow victory which will prove more divisive than the poor attempt at unification and advance through actions which suggest more racial division. There is a process…but this action is clearly not the way. When the question is asked why do Hispanics, Blacks and Asians fail to support conservative candidates?….Look to this as part of the answer. Thanks for your post partner.

    • If Howell were to violate process to repair a violation of process… that would only validate the Senate Republicans’ actions as a matter of legislative procedure. For consistency’s sake — if you truly believe in the process — the House has little choice but to compartmentalize and approve their own lines embedded in HB 259. Should Howell reject the bill on a procedural gaffe… well, then that only means the Senate Republicans were justified in their actions — plus it opens the floodgates for cross-chamber tampering with electoral lines… a big mistake and a total repudiation of long-standing traditions in the General Assembly that make all of this work.

      Not exactly the Virginia Way, now is it?

      • Shaun I hear you….But again using “process” for unprincipled actions does not advance either side of the isle. There is always a choice and using compartmentalization as the rationale continues to demonstrate the politics as usual mindset that allows the public to loose faith in our system….and conservatives are the bigger losers right now. “Three” wrongs don’t make a right….regardess of process. It is called moral courage…I want to believe that is the new Virginia way…to win elections.

  • “it would cement GOP leadership of the General Assembly for the next 30
    years, while … unshackling the GOP from the “no tax pledge” in mammoth

    Calling the “not tax pledge” a “shackle” is delusional, my friend. Nearly as delusional as believing that violation of it has any electoral benefit.

    • Has the “no tax pledge” reduced the size and scope of government?

      The answer is no. Besides, we’re speculatin’ here!

  • Jamie

    I don’t think Obenshain or Martin can vote for the Transportation bill because they face the convention in June. So that takes number 1 off the table.

  • Wally Erb

    “… this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” – President Lincoln, Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863.

    Now our broken political system of partisan lemmings now say “screw the people”, and changed the first Republican President’s time-honored address to “of the party, by the party, for the party.”

    Sorry, anyone who supports this party before country concept is akin to the 1930’s minority German National Socialist party that resulted in transforming allegiance from country to a leader (fuehrer).

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