There is a standoff in the State Capitol in Richmond these days that may rival the standoffs on the battlefields around Richmond during the Civil War. While the battles between Union and Confederate forces in what some Southerners referred as the “War between the States” involved rifles, bayonets, and cannons, the current battles involve sharp words and digging heels into positions. Saving the Union was clearly the goal of the Northern forces while maintaining the Southern way of life and a slave economy was among the goals of Southern fighters. Opportunities to discuss differences and seek compromise were absent in the Civil War. In the current standoff there may be more discussion and debate but few will compromise on fundamental differences.
Democrats and Republicans have always gone after each other in debates during General Assembly sessions. There are several reasons that I think this year may seem more serious. There is a narrow split in partisanship in the two houses of the General Assembly with Republicans narrowly controlling the House with 52 of 100 members. The Senate is split with the Democrats in control 21 to 19. The split between the legislative and executive branches has the House and Senate filled with experienced members and the executive branch being led by a novice in the operation of government who seems more concerned with his irresistible desire to be president than to learn about the Commonwealth. The Governor’s actions seem to be calculated based on their impact on his presidential bid rather than supporting policies good for Virginia’s residents.
Timing is also affecting the differences among the governmental leaders. Virginia just ended a cycle where both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office were controlled by Democrats. This period was the most progressive in all my years serving in the legislature. Voting rights were expanded to be among the best in the country in making it easy to vote. Human rights protections were clearly defined to include all regardless of who they loved. Access to medical care was expanded. The minimum wage was raised. Women’s reproductive rights were protected. Gun safety laws were enacted to move Virginia among the top states in gun safety.
With the takeover of the House of Delegates and the Governor’s office, there is an effort to repeal all these advances. Bills have been introduced to end women’s reproductive rights, to go back to restrictive voting laws, to loosen gun laws, and to return Virginia to an ultra-conservative Southern state. Fortunately they are not likely to be successful as the State Senate will be able to narrowly repel their efforts.
An unfortunate example of the differences in priorities in the State Capitol is the Governor’s attention to when letters of commendation should be mailed to students and undertaking with the Attorney General an investigation of the school systems involved. At the same time there are children being shot and killed, and the Governor has yet to utter a word about public safety. He only offers thoughts and prayers for the families involved.
Who will win this war of words and policies? The voters in November will decide.