Sen. John Edwards: Bolling not a Senator, “has no role to play in reorganizing the Senate”


    The following analysis is from Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke). Bolding added by me for emphasis.

    November 16, 2011

    Letter to the editor:

    Given the recent elections resulting in a 20-20 split between the parties in the Senate of Virginia, some Republicans have suggested that they have the upper hand in drawing the rules, assigning chairmanships and controlling committees because the Lieutenant Governor, who presides over the Senate and breaks tie votes on legislation, is a Republican. However, this is not so.

    The last time the Senate was split 20-20 in 1996, the precedent was established to share power between the parties. This was successfully and amicably done when the Lieutenant Governor was a Democrat. Power was shared; committees and committee chairs were divided to accommodate in a reasonable way each party regardless who might be the Lieutenant Governor.

    Moreover, the Constitution of Virginia does not call for the Lieutenant Governor to vote on reorganization which occurs every four years. His power to vote to break ties does not include all matters. For example, he does not vote on the budget, taxes or the election of judges, as the constitution provides that a majority of members elected to each house is required in such cases.  Va. Const., Art. IV, §11 (budget, taxes); Va. Const., Art. VI., §7 (judicial elections).  Other matters, such as resolutions to amend the constitution, also require a majority of members elected to cast an affirmative vote. Va. Const., Art. XII, § 1 (amendments).  Likewise, he does not vote on reorganizational matters as he is not elected to the Senate.

    On reorganizational matters, the constitution provides that “Each house shall select its officers and settle its rules of procedure.”  Va. Const., Art. IV, §7.  Each house is defined as consisting of members who are elected to the respective house; thus, a majority of members of each house is required to select officers and settle rules of procedure.

    More on the “flip,” including why Republicans can NOT wait until 2012 to complete congressional redistricting.

    The constitution expressly states that “The Senate shall consist of not more than forty and not less than thirty-three members, who shall be elected quadrennially by the voters of the several senatorial districts . . ..”  Va. Const., Art. IV, §2.  The Rules of the Senate – agreed to by both parties – further provides that “A member of the Senate shall be a Senator elected to represent one of the 40 senatorial districts”.  Rule 5, Rules of the Senate, adopted Jan 9, 2008, as amended Jan. 18, 2010.

    Clearly, the Lieutenant Governor is not a Senator and not a member of any house.  He does not sit on committees, does not debate legislation on the floor, and is not elected contemporaneously with Senators.  There is no reason that he would inject himself in reorganization of the Senate every four years.

    In short, since the Lieutenant Governor is not a member of the Senate, he has no role to play in reorganizing the Senate.  The Senate Republican caucus took that position in 1996; that position prevailed then and was accepted and became the precedent for reorganizing the Senate of Virginia.

    Thus, the forty senators will have to decide this issue in the manner they did in 1996. There is no reason they cannot do so when the Senate convenes in January.

    *                *            *

    Some Republicans have also suggested that redistricting of the U.S. House of Representatives should be delayed until the new year when they will have more influence over the new Senate.  Again, the Virginia Constitution is on point.  It states that Congressional redistricting must be done in 2011. Article 11, §  6 dealing with apportionment expressly provides that “The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.”  Va. Const., Art. II, § 6.

    Thus, the legislature has no jurisdiction to reorganize in other years; to do so would allow a majority to take advantage of reapportionment to improve its political position whenever it wishes.

    If the 2011 redistricting session — which was continued until after the elections — fails to agree, the only remedy is for a federal or state court to resolve the matter and redraw the congressional seats in Virginia as required by the constitution.

                                                                           John S. Edwards                                                                     State Senator                                                                  21st District of Virginia

    • RebeccaJ

      Thank you, Senator Edwards, for stepping up to the plate! This is the kind of leadership we need!

      I am tired of the GOP framing the issues and being proactive — EVEN WHEN THEY ARE DEAD WRONG.  

    • Jim B

      I guess Bolling must think everyone is as dumb as himself and would just take his word as face value. Since Senator Edwards has voiced an opinion, where are the rest of the democrats?

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      Bravo, John Edwards. John is a class act in every way. He faced this year the most difficult election he has ever had because he was pitted against a popular member of the House of Delegates with a political base in the newly drawn Senate district. John won handily (56%). I was worried for a long time that he might not pull off a victory, but he did. His remarks above show why that happened. People trust him to represent them.

      I also firmly believe that Freeda Cathcart, a first-time candidate who put herself forward late in the game to run against Chris Head in a district drawn to make it even more Republican than it was before redistricting, contributed to John’s victory because their districts overlapped in 10 precincts. Freeda knew how to get out the vote and, I’m sure, increased Democratic voter turnout.

      With no money to speak of, Freeda pulled 34% of the vote through hard work and knowing how to run an effective campaign. If anyone wants proof that having people on the ticket for Democrats to vote for enhances the chances of party success, I point to Freeda as proof.

    • Will Radle

      Virginia Democratic Senators have properly ignored the partisan bluster from the other side. When it is time to move forward with reorgnization, simply show the historical evidence and ask them to show reason why Virginia’s General Assembly should veer off course.

      Democrats will win this tactical battle, just stand up for yourself when necessary.

      Let them trip first.

      A. Will Radle, Jr.

      Creating a Culture of Listening

    • Goldmanusa

            Unfortunately, Senator Edwards’ position is not nearly as cut and dried as he maintains, a point, while not the main one, I make in my piece today.

            First, the 1996 power-sharing agreement isn’t a precedent especially given the posture of Democrats, since they agreed with Professor Howard’s memo saying they had the power Bolling claims now. The only reason the Democrats back then didn’t push for all the power was the refusal of Democratic Senator Virgil Goode to agree: he insisted on power-sharing or threatened to bolt to the GOP [which of course he did as Congressman a few years later].

           Secondly, there are precedents in the U.S. Senate, and I am told in other states, for the legal position claimed now by Bolling and also by Lt. Governor Beyer back in 1996 ala Professor Howard.

            This doesn’t mean Howard was right then or Bolling now, but it is important, as I wrote today, for Democrats to beware of being hypocrites on the subject, this serves no long run or even short run purpose.

            My article discusses how the new Senate will organize. The current rules of the Senate don’t bind the new Senate any more than does the 1996 agreement.

            From what I understand, the new Senate meets under normative parlimentary rules until they settle on their own rules. These basic procedures do allow the presiding officer to break a tie on all matters, so you can do the math from there. .

            Democrats could prevent the Senate from having a quorum, since this takes 21 elected Senators, so Bolling doesn’t count.

            But such a walk out hardly seems a successful political strategy.

            As for the Constitutional provisions cited by the Senator, they can be interpreted – indeed I think they are best interpreted – as keeping Mr. Bolling out of the organizational side of things unless allowed by Senate rules.

            However, the law is not nearly as clear as he says, given other parts of the Constitution, nor is it also clear whether the Judiciary wants to wade into this thicket of a co-equal branch of government.

            Now, there may be other ways to convince the Senate GOP they need to back off their “nuclear” option so to speak. The Senate has a lot of things it has to do, the Constitution limits the LG’s rule in this stuff, and a deadlock doesn’t help the GOP.

            I have a hunch there are few cards yet to be played. Whether they make a difference or not is unclear.

            But bottom line: Elections have consequences, this is not just about the law, this is a heavy does of real politics.

            Democrats can’t possibly get the best outcome for them if they insist on seeing fhis is a black and white thing, with no shades of gray.

            What Democrats may lack in terms of legal muscle they might be able to find in political moxey if they are so inclined. I hope they are.

             But it seems doubtful to me that John’s position, while pleasing to activist Democrats, is going to be the deciding factor in the real outcome.  

    • RebeccaJ

      The same way the GOP always does. We are SICK of Democrats starting negotiations from the weakest position. That is how we ended up in this split position in the first place; we got hosed in state redistricting.  

      Whether we “win” or “lose” Democrats want our leadership to fight, to be more tactical and to show that all our blood sweat and tears is appreciated and reciprocated by them.  

    • TXIconoclast

      Since Edwards brings up the issue (unintentionally I guess) of leadership in the Legislature, is there any word on who the new leaders will be?

      There was an snippet from the morning news roundup that said McEachin will be the new Caucus Chair in the Senate.

      Is there any word on the leadership in the House?  I know Ben Tribbett has been posting snippets at his blog…

      The issue of failed leadership seems to have come up after the election, but I haven’t really seen anything (unless I haven’t been looking in the right places).