February 18, 2012

HAVING WON a working majority in the Senate last fall and consolidated their control of state government, Virginia Republicans are pushing a slew of social legislation.

Their agenda disregards Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s warning to avoid overreaching. It does so even though the Senate is split evenly between the parties. The freedom to maneuver comes from a Republican lieutenant governor empowered to cast tie-breaking votes.

The explanation from John Hager, a former state party chairman and lieutenant governor, is that Republican lawmakers were suffering from a case of “pent-up demand,” having been stifled by divided government in Richmond.

Perhaps. But there is no evidence that Virginia’s generally moderate electorate, whose independent-minded tendencies have made the state a critical battleground in national elections, had expressed any similar demand for the GOP’s extremist agenda. Republicans know that; it’s why the vast majority of them ran on platforms stressing economic growth, not restrictions on abortion, gays and illegal immigrants.

Now the GOP has pulled a bait-and-switch on voters. Many of those voters would be shocked by bills forcing welfare recipients to undergo drug tests; conferring the full rights of citizenship and “personhood” upon unborn children at the moment of conception; repealing funding for abortions even when fetuses have gross physical or mental defects; or, in the absence of any evidence of voter fraud, making it more difficult for minorities and the poor — those most likely to lack government-issued IDs — to cast votes.

Virginia’s comparative economic success has been built on business-friendly regulations, the state’s right-to-work law and its proximity to the federal government. It also has rested on Richmond’s reputation for moderate and restrained government. Now Republicans are altering that profile. In so doing they are betraying campaign pledges to focus on jobs and risking the state’s economic prospects.