The Washington Post

GOP-heavy Va. Senate committees irk Democrats

Even as they steamrolled Democrats in the Virginia Senate, scrapping rules so they could heavily stack committees to favor the GOP, Republicans said they were actually being generous to their friends across the aisle.

Sen. Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) shakes hands with Gov. Robert F. McDonnell on the steps of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond on Jan. 10, 2012. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

On opening day of the Virginia General Assembly, Republicans tossed out rules that required committee membership to reflect, as nearly as possible, the proportional party makeup of the Senate as a whole.

The Senate was evenly split after November’s elections, with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. (The GOP enjoys the slimmest of numerical advantages since a Republican, Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, breaks tie votes.)

So without the rules change, about half the committee seats would have gone to Republicans, about half to the Democrats.

With the rules change, achieved with Bolling’s tie-breaking vote, here’s how the committees shake out this year: Republicans chair all 11 of them and have super-majorities on the most prominent ones. Commerce and Labor has 10 Republicans and six Democrats. The Finance Committee has nine Republicans and six Democrats.

Democrats do have a majority on one committee, the Local Government Committee. It’s a whopping nine-six advantage at that. But local government, which has a Republican chair, is considered a second-tier panel without much power.

“I’ve not had a single person since I have been in a leadership position say, 'Saslaw, can you get me on local government?'" said Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax).

Sen. Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) contended on the floor of the Senate that Republicans were, in fact, being more magnanimous with committee slots than Democrats had been when they took power in 2008.

Four years ago, Democrats gave themselves a total of 96 committee seats and gave the Republican minority 72. This year, Norment said, the GOP was giving itself 93 seats and giving Democrats 74.

“I’m wondering if you would be willing to swap on local government with the numbers you have on Senate finance,” Saslaw said. “If the senator from James City were any more generous to us, we’d be flat destitute.”

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.



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