Speaking to legislators in the ornate House chamber just hours after they had reconvened for the 2013 session, McDonnell (R) made the case for an ambitious legislative agenda — one that ran the gamut from a monumental overhaul of road funding to a relatively obscure effort to save Virginia oysters, the very sort that legislators gobbled down at a post-speech reception at the governor’s mansion.
“If we are remembered at all, we will all be remembered for what we actually got done. Not what we promised to do,” McDonnell said. “Talk is cheap. Results matter. The Virginia way has always been about both fighting civilly for our principles and finding common ground. That’s what happens here in Mr. Jefferson’s Capitol.”
Democrats, in their formal response to the governor’s remarks, said they agreed with McDonnell’s do-it-now pitch but also evoked the battles of the previous session.
“Last year, Virginia’s legislature became known for the fodder we provided to late-night talk shows as the Republican majority passed several bills that injected government between a woman and her doctor,” said Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), the House minority leader. “We cannot afford another session like last year. . . . In 2012, Virginia lost its ranking as the best state in the country to do business because we neglected issues like roads and schools in favor of social issues. It’s time to focus on what’s important.”
The General Assembly got back to business Wednesday without the fireworks that accompanied last year’s opening day. Within an hour, the House and Senate dispensed with the formalities required to declare themselves “duly organized” — managing that task so quickly that they caught McDonnell off guard. A year earlier, the 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats in the Senate spent more than five hours wrestling for control of the chamber, a battle ultimately decided in the GOP’s favor with the help of tiebreaking votes by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R).
A year removed from that fight and from an entire session dominated by partisan standoffs over social issues, voting rights, the budget and Senate power, some legislators said they were eager to work across the aisle on less divisive legislation.
But certain issues — perennial favorites and new ones — were already promising to keep things lively in Richmond.
Demonstrators on both sides of the abortion debate rallied outside the Capitol on Wednesday morning. Overhead, a plane towed a banner urging legislators not to reappoint Helen E. Dragas, the University of Virginia rector who orchestrated the summer’s short-lived ouster of President Teresa Sullivan.