Leahy: Virginia Politics Has Plenty of Surprises and a Heavy Dose of Cynicism
The waning days of 2021 continue to provide surprises in Virginia politics. One is redistricting, which may get resolved before year’s end. The other is the last-ditch push among some Democratic lawmakers to write the abortion protections of Roe v. Wade into the Virginia code.
Unlike Democratic lawmakers, let’s tackle the last point first, and ask the obvious question: Why didn’t Democratic legislators do this when they took full control of state government in 2020?
The Post’s Laura Vozzella reported that Senate Democrats were ready to go with Roe-in-the-code legislation, but were waved off:
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw and Sen. Scott A. Surovell, both Democrats from Fairfax, said for the past two years, they’ve prepared or introduced similar legislation but were asked not to pursue it — by NARAL, an abortion rights group that is now pushing for the special session.
“I had the bill drafted and they directed me not to introduce it — twice,” Surovell said. “The activist community said, ‘No, hit the brakes. Don’t do it.’ It’s awfully rich to hear that [criticism] coming from them now.”
Tarina Keene, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, confirmed that for strategic reasons, she’d asked Saslaw and Surovell to abandon efforts to put Roe or something similar in the state code for the past two years, when Democrats enjoyed majorities in both chambers for the first time in a generation.
Those newfound majorities quickly bred complacency. But the thornier issue is Democratic lawmakers essentially outsourcing their leadership on the issue to outside interest groups.
It shouldn’t have to be said, but here goes: Legislators have a responsibility to listen to their constituents. And after they have listened, they should lead.
Democratic lawmakers listened too well, and for far too long, to a single group. Now, the clock has run out. Those still pushing for lawmakers to do something — anything — between now and the GOP takeover on Jan. 12 are denying reality. The activists and Democratic lawmakers blew their chance to do Roe first — and right — in 2020, immediately after the new Democratic majority was sworn in.
They chose this path. The hard lesson: Do the big thing first. Make your statement, please your base and then get on with the next item. Unless, of course, you’re a hardened cynic who believes it’s better to have the issue than it is to pass the solution. And no one is that cynical, even in Richmond, right?