The historic Republican takeover of the General Assembly has changed some faces in Northern Virginia's legislative delegation, but lawmakers say the group still will be a model of bipartisan, regional cooperation envied across the state.
Two departures and two victories by challengers have shifted power but have not altered the balance between Republicans and Democrats from the Washington suburbs. And although the delegation remains roughly one-quarter of the assembly, lawmakers say it will wield power beyond its numbers on crucial regional issues including transportation and education.
The new Republican majority in the House of Delegates means increased power for GOP co-chairmen from the region: Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (Fairfax) on Appropriations, Del. Harry J. Parrish (Manassas) on Finance, Del. John A. "Jack" Rollison III (Prince William) on Transportation, Del. James H. Dillard II (Fairfax) on Education and Del. Joe T. May (Loudoun) on Science and Technology.
The region is likely to lose three chairmanships in the state Senate. Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) retired from his seat and his chairmanship of the Courts of Justice Committee.
State Sen. Jane H. Woods (R-Fairfax), who was chairman of Education and Health, a powerful position on abortion and many other issues, lost her Senate seat to former U.S. representative Leslie L. Byrne (D-Fairfax).
And state Sen. Charles J. Colgan (D-Manassas) will lose his chairmanship of Commerce and Labor as the Senate's power-sharing agreement expires, giving more power to the Republican majority.
Looking to bolster the region's power in the Senate are two newcomers: Byrne, 53, and Linda T. "Toddy" Puller (D-Fairfax), 54, a delegate since 1992 who won election to the Senate, taking over Gartlan's seat.
Byrne's time in both the Virginia House of Delegates and the U.S. House of Representatives gives her polish and experience not found in most freshman members. Her colleagues expect her to be a force as soon as the session begins in January.
"It's literally like old-home week," Byrne said of her visits to Richmond since the election. "It's many of the same people."
She campaigned heavily on transportation and gun control issues. Both, including a bill to restrict sales of hunting guns to minors, will remain central to her agenda, Byrne said.
Truck safety, one of Byrne's favorite issues during her years in the House of Delegates, is back on her plate. She plans to file a bill requiring more truck inspections. Trucks that come to Virginia landfills would have to pass an on-site inspection or be sent back home under Byrne's proposal, she said.
Byrne also plans to file a bill that would curb telemarketers by creating a list of Virginians who are off-limits to unsolicited calls. To get on the list, residents would send a letter or an e-mail to a state office. Telemarketers who called anybody on the state "Do Not Call" list would face fines of $500 for a first offense and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
The region's other new state senator is Puller, who won Gartlan's old seat. In eight years in the House, Puller won respect from members on both sides of the aisle and helped build alliances with other regions on transportation.
The issue remains at the top of the agenda for Puller and the rest of the delegation, lawmakers said. Gov. James S. Gilmore III (R) has proposed spending more than $2 billion on transportation projects across the state, but many lawmakers and business groups hope to bolster that package.
Puller favors reviving a Democratic proposal in which the state would borrow against the recordation tax, which is collected every time a property owner buys, transfers or refinances a property. Gilmore criticized the plan as fiscally unsound during the election season, but Puller remains a backer.
"I still think it's an excellent idea even though the governor criticized it," Puller said. "It's a good way to leverage tax money."
Taking over Puller's House seat is Fairfax School Board member Kristen J. Amundson, 49, a Democrat and freelance writer who fended off an aggressive push by Republicans to take that seat in southern Fairfax County.
Amundson plans to use her School Board experience to contribute on education issues and hopes that the delegation can win more state funding for Northern Virginia schools.
"On a lot of issues, region is more important than party," said Amundson, who expects her first session to include a lot of listening. "My sense is that as a freshman, the best thing you can do is learn the ropes."
The region's other newcomer to the House of Delegates is Thomas M. Bolvin, 35, a Republican insurance agent who won the Franconia-area seat long held by Del. Gladys B. Keating (D). He joins the new Republican majority, which now controls 53 votes in the 100-member House of Delegates.
Bolvin expects to focus on growth issues and transportation, and he's already lobbying for a spot on the Transportation Committee, which will have no Fairfax member now that Puller is relinquishing her seat on the committee to go to the Senate.
"My number one priority is transportation relief for this area," Bolvin said. "It's the number one issue in my district with the 'Mixing Bowl' and the Wilson Bridge on opposite ends of the district. I think that's what voters elected me for."