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Correspondence from Virginia House Dem Leadership to GOP Leadership Provides Context, Background on Republican Bad Faith, Unfairness


Earlier today, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published dueling letters between Virginia House Democratic Leader David Toscano and Speaker Kirk Cox (R), in which Cox “rejected a request from Democratic leader David Toscano this week for two additional seats on the House Rules Committee, saying the disproportionately Republican panel was part of the deal the two struck while negotiating how the House would be organized.” Toscano was specifically asking that the House Rules Committee NOT be exempted from proportionality requirements, as opposed to its current stacked (not to mention absurd) makeup of 11 Republicans and just 6 Democrats — despite the House of Delegates overall being just 51-49 Republican.

Clearly, as Leader Toscano stated in his letter to Cox, “this is neither proportional nor fair,” in that Democrats have 49% of the House but “have only thirty-five percent of membership on Rules.” Making matters even worse, it appears that Republicans – in both the Senate and House – are planning to (in fact, already have been doing so in the Senate) send major legislation over to Rules to be “PBI’ed” (Passed by Indefinitely, aka KILLED), which is NOT what the Rules Committee is supposed to be used for. As the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports, “The Rules Committee typically deals with innocuous administrative matters, but this year Cox is sending it big-ticket bills on contentious issues like guns, abortion, the Medicaid program, Confederate statues, campaign finance, the grand larceny threshold and the minimum wage.”

So that’s what we’re dealing with at this point, despite major Democratic gains on November 7, and despite the highly dubious majority held by Republicans in the House of Delegates, following their….uh, creative legal maneuverings to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in the Simonds vs. Yancey race. Now, clearly I’m not surprised at political parties playing hardball, but for Republicans to then whine – and whine some more – about how Ralph Northam is being soooo partisan, simply by laying out his mainstream Democratic agenda, is a wee bit hard to stomach. OK, yeah, it’s VERY hard to stomach, barf inducing, etc. from these Republican bullies/”snowflakes.” Ugh.

Meanwhile, see below for three emails from House Democratic Leader David Toscano to “Speaker Designee” Kirk Cox back in late December and on January 5, and forwarded to me – on the record – by Katie Baker of the Virginia House Democratic Caucus. Baker’s comment to me, also on the record, was that Leader Toscano’s “words speak for themselves unless Republicans don’t want his words to speak for themselves.”

Note that Leader Toscano lays out an eminently reasonable series of proposals, including that “proportionality [be] applied to composition” of committees and that “votes in subcommittee should be recorded electronically and made available to the full committee and the public.” The good news is that we got recorded votes on subcommittees (which always should have been the case, but better late than never I guess). The bad news is that we most certainly did NOT get proportionality on committees, or even close to it on the Rules committee.  So that’s completely messed up, and it’s 100% the Republicans’ doing, in both the Senate and the House. Something to keep in mind as Republicans kill Democratic bill after Democratic bill, and also as we get ready to vote in 2019 for State Senate and House of Delegates.

With that, here’s the letter sent from House Democratic Leader Toscano to House GOP “Speaker Designee” (as he was calling himself at the time) Kirk Cox on January 5, 2018.

The Honorable M. Kirkland Cox  delkcox@house.virginia.gov

Dear Kirk:

At your suggestion, I write to propose some possible arrangements for organizing the House session this January.  I am sorry that we seem to have a difficult time developing meaningful discussions on power sharing in the aftermath of the recent election.  But whatever the challenges, I hope we will not give up.   We have an important institution to protect and constituents to serve.   At your suggestion, we are putting our proposals in writing.

We both agree that organizing our body starts with the House Rules, as they determine everything from how the Speaker is selected to how committees operate.   In my earlier emails to you, as well as in several of our telephone conversations in the last several weeks, I have suggested that there may be some common interests for us to explore.

Specifically, we propose the following:

  1. Committee representation be made an odd number, and proportionality applied to composition. Hence, when a committee is now at 22 members, it would be increased to 23, and the majority/minority proportionality be based on that.  If the body was at 51-49, then, the committee composition would be 12-11.  Rules, which is already at 15, need not change, except for proportionality of representation.  If the body reached 50-50, the numbers would be changed to an even number of representatives from each party, and we would choose co-chairs of each committee.
  2. This proportionality would apply to subcommittees membership, and no subcommittee could be less than 7 members.
  3. Votes in subcommittee should be recorded electronically and made available to the full committee and the public as bills are returned to full committee.
  4. For the next two years, the members of each standing committee shall be selected by each of the parties, and then appointed by the Speaker; provided, however, that no present member shall be removed from a committee except by agreement of the member.
  5. The Rules would operate for 2 years unless there was an intervening election.

We both know that we are at a turning point for the House of Delegates.   Virginians are looking to us to reject the toxic attitudes that dominate our federal government and to come together to shape inclusive governance reflecting the wishes of the voters. Virginians are looking to us for leadership, and our work thus far makes me hopeful we will provide it.



Below, see a response from Toscano to Cox on December 30, 2017, requesting a “face-to-face meeting with our teams.”

From: David J. Toscano
Subject: response
Date: December 30, 2017 at 7:55:38 PM EST
To: Kirk Cox
Cc: Kirk Cox, David Toscano

Dear Kirk:

Thank you for your email this morning, December 29, 2017.  I believe developing a sound power sharing arrangement is in our mutual interests for the reasons I’ve stated in our numerous phone calls.  I have only tried to clarify your position since you will not put it in writing.  In fact, that was one reason that we requested the face-to-face meeting with our teams.  In that way, we can hear the same thing at the same time.  Is a face-to-face meeting something you would be willing to  do? If so, please suggest some dates and times and we will be there.  If not please let us know that as well. 

David J. Toscano
Democratic Leader
Virginia House of Delegates


And finally, see below for an email from Toscano to Cox on December 28, laying out a number of – again, perfectly sensible, reasonable points, most of which the Republicans completely rejected and/or blew off.  Grrrr.

From: David J. Toscano
Sent: Thursday, December 28, 2017 4:46 PM
To: Kirk Cox
Cc: kirk cox; David Toscano
Subject: negotiations
Dear Kirk:
Thank you again for speaking with me about possible arrangements for organizing the House session this January.  This historic election has brought a set of challenges to the House of Delegates that were not easily anticipated.  The Democratic vote total in the House races noticeably exceeded that of Republicans this November, and the majority hinges on the results in two seats that will be decided by recounts, lots, and court challenges.  How leadership in both parties handles itself in the next several weeks will be critical to how the voters view the power relationships that emerge on January 10, 2018.  There are media reports suggesting that there may be efforts underway to manipulate the rules and play power-politics in order for Republicans to maintain control over the legislature in January.  If this happens, it will be interpreted as “Washington-style politics,” an approach that has been rejected by increasingly larger numbers of Virginians and one that will affect the public perception of the legitimacy of the House leadership.  For that reason, it is my hope that we can develop an arrangement that will promote inclusiveness in decision-making that will make Virginians proud.
We both agree that organizing our body starts with our House Rules, as they determine everything from how the Speaker is selected to how committees operate.   As I indicated in my earlier email to you, and which you reinforced in our telephone conversation of yesterday, I understand that your caucus would be amenable to new Rules that encompass the following principles:
1.     A two-year arrangement whether the House is at 50/50, 51/49, or 50/49 in party composition on Day One.
2.     Proportional representation on all committees, e.g., the same Rule provision that has been adopted for the last two decades.  I understand you would like to base this on who has been rightfully certified and sworn in on January 10, 2018.
3.     Both parties would choose their own members to serve on committees.  I believe you suggested that the choices be in the form of recommendations that would flow to the Speaker and the Speaker would simply ratify the recommendations, but the principle would still be the same, that is, each party chooses the committee assignments for each of their members.
4.     Recorded votes in subcommittees.
5.     You propose we elect a Republican Speaker even if you are not in the majority, e.g., even if the House’s composition was 50 Democrats to 49 Republicans on January 10.  This is a little unusual since it departs from the typical arrangement where the Speaker is usually from the party who controls the House at reorganization.
At this point, rather than negotiate by email, the Democratic negotiating team proposes that we meet with your team, face-to-face, to discuss these proposals as well as a number that we have.  There are, of course, many specific issues that require resolution; an initial face-to-face meeting would be important to this process.  This should be done sooner rather than later.
We look forward to productive discussions.

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