Home Virginia Politics Ralph Northam’s “Power Sharing”

Ralph Northam’s “Power Sharing”

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(As we close on election week, we’ll see how self-destructive Virginia Democratic politics can be. – promoted by Dan Sullivan)


State Sen. Ralph Northam (D) (VCU CNS)

Voters deserve to get what they voted for.  New York’s “Independent Democratic Caucus” and Washington State’s “Majority Caucus Coalition” don’t seem to care. Neither, apparently, does Virginia State Senator Ralph Northam. This morning, Northam reiterated his openness to “power sharing” with Republicans if a duly elected Democratic majority in the State Senate happens.

While the chattering class of activists, consultants, hacks and flacks that is likely reading this will often be astonished or frustrated by the whims of the electorate, the basic principle that voters deserve what they voted for is fundamental to our existence. Even if it’s not what we wanted, if the voters choose a Republican, the voters should get one. That’s why the very idea that Democrats might nominate State Senator Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Governor is even more galling than nominating an actual turncoat.

In case anyone has forgotten, Northam was minutes away from handing control of key Senate committees away from a duly elected Democratic majority over a judgeship spat. This alone was troubling enough, but it’s absolutely appalling that he would not only lie about what actually happened as if we didn’t have the internet, but he would also think about repeating this maneuver.

What Northam proposes is more sinister. He appears to suffer from the same self-delusions that afflicts “Democrats” in other upper chambers, like the New York State Senate and the Washington State Senate. In both states, voters elected a Democratic majority in the chamber, only to find that certain Democrats thought they knew better.


The New York State Capitol (joseph a)

There’s nothing inherently wrong with a party switcher. While many are opportunistic turncoats, I take a more pragmatic view if their voting record is honest. I don’t regret supporting the few that I have like State Senator Dave Marsden, who since his election has racked up a strong voting record for what was (pre-2011) a decidedly moderate seat. But I’d trust a party switcher who honestly faced the voters more than a “power sharing” weasel. This distinction wasn’t lost on Albert Watson or Phil Gramm, both of whom resigned their seats after leaving the Democratic party and faced their constituents as Republicans in special elections and won. While this move had the self-serving purpose of increasing the legitimacy of their party switch, the principle behind it still stands. Voters deserve what they voted for. A party switcher gives voters enough credit to decide for themselves which party they want.

In New York last December, five Democratic Senators formed an “Independent Democratic Coalition” which gave Republicans most of the power, while Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo impotently allowed it to happen, barely lifting a finger to ensure an actual Democratic majority.

That same month in Washington, two Democrats formed the “Majority Caucus Coalition. In response, Washington Democrats grew a backbone and blasted them for “gross disloyalty” and “perfidious behavior”, permanently barring them from accessing party resources and calling for their expulsion from the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Voters should trust that what they voted for is what they get, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican. They deserve more than being insulted by State Senators who think they know better.

This is not just an issue of tribal loyalty. Brazenly contravening the will of the voters by handing control of key committees to a party voters did not choose is perfidious treason that severely hampers the passage of a progressive budget or legislation. Regardless of Northam’s personal beliefs on women’s rights, the environment, voting reform, and education, a change in committee structures will be far more damaging than his votes would have helped.

The last time Ralph Northam tried to pull his power-sharing shenanigans, Democrats couldn’t afford to expel him and lose his seat. What Democrats can do is prevent him from being the standardbearer of a cheap party that has no self-respect. On June 11th, Virginia Democrats have a choice. Will they be New York, or Washington? Virginia Democrats should emulate Washington’s Democrats, and not Andrew Cuomo, and vote against Ralph Northam.

Twitter: @KentonNgo, crosspost

  • Dan Sullivan

    This, I suppose, is where the purists desperately search for singular sinister issues or events to disqualify either Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor. And if they can’t find one, they find a way to reconstruct events to their advantage. Whatever else you may say about the man, trying to cast Ralph Northam as some kind of Republican mole is beyond ridiculous.

    Let’s begin by pointing out that power sharing, sometimes known as bipartisanship or cooperation, was once a useful concept to achieve goals. In the backrooms that process is not as nice as it appears on the surface, but the one with the strongest arm usually walks out with the advantage. That is usually a contest between the two parties. Unfortunately, in Virginia, the backroom contests pit members of the Democratic Party against each other as often as against the real jerks.

    I see no evidence that Senator Northam ever intended to leave the Democratic Party. What I did see was a fellow new to the state Senate who played hardball with establishment members of his own Party to achieve his goal. That would be the very establishment that Kenton is trying to rail against here, but his conclusions are absurdly extrapolated. That bit of blue on blue angst titillated the likes of Tommy Norment and a number of Republicans who actually believed they could wrest control of the Senate away from Democrats without a contest.

    By the way, that Party establishment never screwed with Northam again.

    Maybe Democrats have forgotten how or are simply afraid of playing hardball, but they’d better learn again, particularly at the state level across the nation. Slowly but surely, state legislatures are becoming wholly-owned subsidiaries of the right under a well-crafted campaign to mitigate Democratic electoral successes at the national and statewide levels. Unless we find Virginia leadership that is willing to go to the mat in the legislative process, it won’t matter who wins the Governorship this fall.

    If nothing else, Northam proved that he doesn’t back down in the face of any adversary.

    As a non-disclaimer: I have neither endorsed nor contributed to the campaign of either candidate for Lieutenant Governor.  I simply get frustrated by blue on blue.

  • Kenton Ngo

    I think that bipartisanship and mucking with the composition of committees are two different things. What Northam has signaled an openness to is the possibility that voters that voted for a Democratic Senate won’t get a Democratic Senate. Do you really view the “Independent Democrats” of NY or the “Majority Coalition” of WA as models? This is especially annoying because there is precedent for this happening in other states, and when one of Virginia’s potential statewide candidates openly says that this might seem like a good idea, primary voters should take heed.

    It’s perfectly reasonable, in my view, to work across party lines on legislation. It is not reasonable to unilaterally give the chamber to members of the other party when the voters that elected you have a certain expectation of what they are getting. It’d also be a waste of party resources to spend money on a candidate who will take the party label and toss away control when it’s time to go to the legislative mat.

    I don’t really see how such a power sharing agreement would be “going to the mat.” Going to the mat would be taking the seats won in an election and using them.

    This is, of course, all hypothetical anyway, contingent on the party balance in the Senate remaining evenly divided. But it’s a hypothetical we have to think about. I would be willing to put the party-switch flirtation incident behind us, but Northam shot himself in the foot by reopening this for discussion. His voting record has been quite good, negative mail notwithstanding. “It happened in the past, I’m not doing it again” is a lot less worrisome than “I flirted with it in the past, and maybe it’s still a good idea.” I’d look forward to Senator Northam walking this back, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • demomatic

    Seriously, if Dick Saslaw endorsed Northam, then he knows more about this whole “situation” than rumors. Northam is a Democrat, has obviously only ever been a Democrat, and relying on rumors passed to the WashPost by John Frederick isn’t a good method for nominating a candidate.  

  • Seth

    This is the exact quote from Northam

    “When the Republicans took control two years ago with a 20-20 and a tie-breaker Lt. Governor, the first thing that they did was they came in and reshuffled the committees. It was unprecedented, it never happened like that before. And with that shuffling came their social agenda; their attack on women’s health care issues, the voter suppression, the discrimination against the GLBT community.

    So, the first thing the Lt. Governor needs to do as a Democrat will be to put the committees back in charge of Democrats so we can push forward our principles and values. Now, there’s been some talk, “will the Democrats or will the Lt. Governor do power sharing like they did several years ago?” And the answer to that is, ‘no, we won’t, until they play fair.’ And when I say “play fairly”: we need to repeal the ultrasound bill, we need to repeal the TRAP laws, we need to make sure that things like the personhood bill, the discrimination against GLBT, and voter suppression bills–they need to stop. When they stop, and they start playing fairly, then we can talk about perhaps power sharing in the way they did it in the past, the way that we used to get along.”

    And I can tell you–I mentioned this earlier–one of the reputations that I have in the Senate is to stand up for the Democratic principles and values that are important to all of us, but to also listen to good ideas. And at the end of the day, that’s the way things move forward. That’s the way the Commonwealth of Virginia moves forward. We have to sit down at the table and say, “we have a challenge or a problem that we agree on, now, how are we going to move forward and fix it?” You do that by working together. But until we get some cooperation from the other side of the aisle, we will take control of the Senate and that’s the way we’ll be until they play fairly.”

    Can you be anymore clear? This type of blue on blue bashing is bad for all Virginia democrats.

  • libra

    isn’t all that good — a possibility, since English is not my first language — but I don’t see how the link to the Pilot, provided by Kenton Ngo as proof of Northam’s lying (“as if we didn’t have the internet”, presumably to check the facts) about being “minutes away” from switching allegiance to GOP. The article’s title itself says he spurned the offer. The article says he was approached and told them to take a hike. How’s that a proof of anything other than that he remained firmly in the Dem camp?

  • Here’s a link and a sentence from the article that’s relevant to this discussion:

    Northam said he would put Democrats back in charge of key committees in the Senate, positions lost when Republicans effectively gained control of the chamber with current Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling tipping the balance slightly in favor of the GOP.

  • DJRippert

    Everybody should keep their eyes on the main event: Cuccinelli vs McAuliffe.  McAuliffe and Chopra would be two Northern Virginia candidates who have never held elected office.  In a race that will be decided based on turnout, that isn’t a positive.

    Northam adds a lot for independents and so-called RINOs who can’t stomach Cuccinelli and Jackson.  He has experience in the state senate.  He’s a medical doctor and not a professional politician.  He brings a rural / small town perspective that McAuliffe lacks.

    Chopra is like a good wine that just doesn’t pair well with McAuliffe.  If the Democratic nominee for governor was Chap Petersen then Chopra would be a great choice.  With McAuliffe, not so much.

    Kenton – I heard you were in Florida.  Glad to read your commentary about Virginia.  

  • Susan Mariner

    It’s been a long time since I made a comment on a Blue Virginia post, but I can’t let this posting stand without comment.

    Sorry Kenton. I’ve really enjoyed your writings over the years and admire your ability to draw inferences from data, but this time you’re way off base.

    I first got to know Ralph when I worked closely with him on his 2007 State Senate campaign.  I have since gotten to know not only him better, but his family, his personal friends, his colleagues, his medical and political staff, his patients, people he grew up with, went to college with, etc.

    And based on everything I know of Ralph, I can say without any hesitation that I have never known anyone (involved with politics or not) who is more honest or more ethical than Ralph Northam. From what I’ve learned over the past 7 years, Ralph has been this kind of person since childhood.

    So Kenton, it’s clear to me when you say that Ralph is lying that (1) you’re wrong about what Ralph said (thanks, Seth, for providing the actual quote that demonstrates what really happened) and (2) that you do NOT know Ralph. And I’m actually very sorry that you don’t because Ralph has touched the lives of so many people in so many positive ways.

    Ralph Northam isn’t showy. For a man so accomplished, it’s amazing how humble and down to earth Ralph is. And though Ralph is kind and soft spoken, he has a backbone of steel, and he will fight for what’s right. Ralph embodies leadership.

    I am proud to support and endorse Ralph Northam for Lieutenant Govenor. He is a great Democrat and will be an outstanding standard bearer for our party and our progressive values.  

    GO RALPH!!!!  

    (And, yes, of course, if Aneesh should win the primary, I’ll certainly support him.)

  • lsockett

    Sen. Northam called me personally on the phone three Saturdays ago to ask for my support.  We talked about various issues, particularly his actions on women’s health issues, for about 15 minutes.  I was so impressed — most politicians say the bland pleasantries and then move on.  Since then, people from his office have called twice to follow up with me.  The personal attention I’ve received from Sen. Northam and his staff has made a very favorable impression on me.  In contrast, I received a boring robocall from A. Chopra, and a negative mailing, which I was really surprised to see.  A. Chopra hasn’t presented me any reason to vote FOR HIM — he seems to be just trying to tear Sen. Northam down.  I’m worried that A. Chopra has never run for anything before and has not demonstrated any ability to win even the smallest election, much less the second most powerful position in Virginia.  I was at a political party last night where, on the surface, people were supportive of A. Chopra, but when I talked to them personally, they all whispered that they liked Sen. Northam better and feel he has a better chance to win in all areas of Virginia.  I’m going to go to the debate Wed. night at GMU in Arlington and try to get more of a sense of these two candidates.