On the steps of the Virginia Capitol in Richmond Gov. McDonnell talks with Sen. John Watkins (R-Chesterfield) Jan. 10. The Republican leadership had just finished announcing the joint agenda for the 2012 legislative session. (Tracy A. Woodward/THE WASHINGTON POST)

Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has some advice for legislators returning to the state Capitol on Wednesday after months of squabbling over control of the state Senate: Play nice.

The Virginia General Assembly kicks off its annual session with Republicans eager to grab one last lever of power and Democrats determined to swat them back.

“I’m asking Republicans, ‘Don’t be arrogant, don’t overreach, don’t fight,’ and I’m asking the Democrats, ‘Don’t be angry, petty and political,’ ” McDonnell (R) said Tuesday. “That’s the Virginia way.”

Republicans picked up a pair of seats in the Senate in the November elections and claimed control because Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) can cast tiebreaking votes in the equally divided chamber. Democrats say power should be shared.

Republicans will hold a 68-seat majority in the 100-member House of Delegates — the highest in Virginia history — when 15 new members are sworn into office.

“Not everyone may be happy with the way it comes down, but we’ll get through it and then, I think, people will go back to the tradition of collegiality and just focus on getting stuff done for the people of Virginia,” Bolling said.

For only the second time since the Civil War, both the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion will be controlled by Republicans.

While McDonnell called for civility, Democrats have hinted that they will resort to obscure parliamentary maneuvers and even return to court to try to thwart a GOP takeover of the Senate.

Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond) filed a lawsuit in December seeking to block Bolling from voting on certain matters, including questions of Senate organization. Those are crucial to control of the committees that determine which bills die and which get to the floor for a full vote.

A Richmond Circuit Court judge turned down McEachin’s request for a temporary injunction, saying it was premature because Bolling had not yet cast an organizational vote. McEachin has indicated that he will go back to court if and when Bolling votes on organization.

“We will disagree, and we will disagree forcefully . . . [but] we’re going to act in the highest traditions of the Virginia Senate,” McEachin said.

The two-month session could be the most important of McDonnell’s term, as legislators consider his first two-year budget as well as an agenda to spur job creation, make schools more accountable, shore up the state’s retirement system and ease traffic woes.

“We will not lose focus on creating jobs, improving our quality of life for our citizens and, ultimately, solving problems,” McDonnell said. “We’ll be civil, but we’ll be passionate about the things Republicans and conservatives believe in for the future of our state.”

At a Capitol news conference Tuesday to announce a “More Efficient, Effective Government,” McDonnell was joined by dozens of fellow Republicans, including Bolling, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II, House Speaker William J. Howell (Stafford) and Senate Republican Leader Thomas K. Norment (James City).

Bolling and Cuccinelli, who had not spoken in a month since the attorney general announced that he would run against the lieutenant governor, stood side by side. Cuccinelli gave Bolling a pat, and both of them shared a laugh.

The House and the Senate will convene at noon Wednesday. McDonnell will deliver his annual State of the Commonwealth address at 7 p.m. in the House chamber.

“I want to remind everyone how well we have been working together with divided government the last two years, and though the numbers have changed, I want that to continue,” McDonnell said.