Democrats in the Virginia Senate, still reeling from losses in last week’s elections, said Friday that with the chamber equally divided, Republicans should share power with their rival party.
In a statement issued after the first day of a party retreat in Fairfax, Democrats challenged the GOP’s contention that the election gave Republicans control of the Senate.
The Nov. 8 election left each party with 20 seats in the chamber, which has long been considered more moderate than the Republican-led House of Delegates.
With Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) empowered to break tie votes in the Senate, Republicans have asserted that they can control committee appointments and key procedures in the the Senate.
A top Democrat said Republicans are mistaken. “The Republicans are wrong to try and grab power when half the state voted for Democrats,” Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said in the party’s statement. “It’s a question of fairness. The Republicans are trying to overrule the will of the people and claim a majority they did not earn.”
Bolling’s office has said that Republicans are relying on a legal opinion written by a University of Virginia law professor, A.E. Dick Howard.
In addition to hundreds of other bills, Bolling believes he can vote on the budget, tax bills, general obligation bonds, amendments to the state constitution and the election of judges when the Senate is tied. But the state constitution says such votes must be passed by a majority of members elected, and that has led to claims that Bolling should not have a say in those votes.
Democrats say they believe a precedent for power-sharing was set in 1996. Democrats commissioned the opinion by Howard and intended to take control of the chamber. But Sen. Virgil Goode, a Democrat who later switched parties, would not go along unless Democrats shared power, which they did for four years.