AFTER A post-election mini-gloat to celebrate his party's takeover of the state legislature, Gov. Jim Gilmore wasted no time reviving his 1998 inaugural "everyone-has-a-seat-at-the-table" posture of partisan armistice. He did so with good reason. However short-lived the harmony may be, the governor and other GOP leaders in Richmond have done their math and realize that the partisan balances of power in the two houses remain delicate. Like it or not, some moderation will be needed, not just for a smooth transition but also to grease the skids for major legislation.
Top Republican state lawmakers have adopted a go-slow approach, even going so far as to talk about "being fair" in their running of the Senate and House--something that never gave Democrats much pause in the past. Revenge can wait, apparently; after all, redistricting should offer Republicans a fine shot at getting more than even. For now, they can be content to decide procedural rules, committee assignments and staff hirings--all new exercises for the Virginia GOP.
Del. and House speaker-to-be S. Vance Wilkins Jr. of Amherst has been talking cooperation with Democrats, aware that he almost certainly will be bound by a power-sharing agreement signed two years ago. That arrangement calls for a co-chairman from each party. The speaker still decides committee sizes and members--which means Republican majorities. For a party that until this decade didn't even have a seat on the all-important budget conference committee, welcome changes are in store no matter what.
One of the biggest questions will be the influence of Northern Virginia in the new lineup. In the state Senate, the region's power could be diminished. The retirement of Democrat Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. of Fairfax automatically opened up the chairmanship of the Senate Courts of Justice Committee and took away a senior Democrat. Another Democrat, Sen. Charles J. Colgan of Prince William, loses his chairmanship of the Commerce and Labor Committee. Northern Virginia's only remaining Senate chairman is Republican Sen. Warren E. Barry, who has headed the committee of utmost importance to this area--Transportation--but who could wind up heading another committee.
The practical answer for Northern Virginia legislators is to do what they have slowly learned to do effectively in recent years: Work out bipartisan approaches to their quests for transportation, education and other state money, and form alliances with other regions to win. The regional delegation still boasts smart leaders from both parties and both legislative chambers. Their ability to stay the course of unity will be more critical than ever.