Richmond is all agog over the resignation of State Senate Phil Puckett (Richmond Times-Dispatch), which grants the Republicans a temporary majority in the State Senate, pending a special election which the Republicans are favored to win. According to the RTD, Puckett’s resignation paves the way for his daughter to be elected to a judgeship, while he himself could land on the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission.
All eyes (in Richmond) went immediately to the budget, where according to the Constitution (emphasis added):
No bill which creates or establishes a new office, or which creates, continues, or revives a debt or charge, or which makes, continues, or revives any appropriation of public or trust money or property, or which releases, discharges, or commutes any claim or demand of the Commonwealth, or which imposes, continues, or revives a tax, shall be passed except by the affirmative vote of a majority of all the members elected to each house, the name of each member voting and how he voted to be recorded in the journal.
Normally, that means 21 out of 40. Given that we only have 39 at the moment, 20 should actually work…for the State Senate to pass the budget until the special election. In the grand scheme of things, though, there is a lot less than meets the eye. Here’s why.
First, not every Republican State Senator supported the Republican budget: Walter Stosch (Dave Brat’s patron), John Watkins, and Emmett Hanger all voted with the Democrats to add Medicaid expansion to the budget. In theory, party unity could convince them to change their minds, but there’s no guarantee of that.
Second, there is still the Governor: If one wanted to hand Terry McAuliffe the perfect excuse for a budget veto, coaxing a Senator’s resignation with the promise of appointments for himself and his daughter would be it. I’ll admit, a veto is unlikely, but this deal is excellent ammunition for Election Day 2014, 2015, and 2017.
Third, even if the GOP wins the budget battle, the fight of Medicaid will go on, and this will make it harder to win: According to Christopher Newport University (poll), the Republicans were actually winning the debate on Medicaid expansion. That might, and probably will, change if T-Mac can now claim perfidy from the opposition. This allows Terry McAuliffe – Terry F–king McAuliffe - to run as Mr. Clean, and the Democrats to present themselves as the Clean Team in 2015 and 2017.
Odds are this will even damage our recent nominee for U.S. Senate – Ed Gillespie, the consummate Virginia Republican insider.
We may even see the Republicans cave on Medicaid expansion just to neutralize the issue in 2015.
Fourth, the State Senate is the poisoned chalice of recent times. Let’s say the GOP does win the special election and holds all 21 seats next year, which I’ll admit is still likely despite the above (or because of the previous sentence). Let’s take a look at the fate of the party controlling the state senate after the last six midterm elections (1991, 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011). In all six cases, the party lost the ensuing gubernatorial election. In five of them, they lost House seats and a majority of the statewide races. In three, they lost all statewide races, and in two they lost the senate itself.
Now, one could say even that might be worth it if a Republican Senate would mean greater momentum for limited government, but that just isn’t so…
Every Republican-controlled State Senate in the 21st Century has enacted a tax increase: That’s right; there was the referendum of 2002 (defeated by the voters), the Warner tax hike of 2004 (which, at $1.5 billion, was only half what the State Senate originally wanted), HB3202 (largely overturned by the courts), and Plan ’13 From Outer Space. If anything, it has been minority status that forces Republicans to behave.
Given all of the above, I can’t help thinking that this victory is meager, if not pyrrhic.
Cross-posted to Virginia Virtucon