By Peter Galuszka
What seems one of the wildest General Assembly sessions that ended on Saturday was actually a healthy display of democracy in action. It could presage a fundamental way that things are done in Richmond.
True, a new Republican and conservative majority in the House of Delegates pushed odious wedge issues at the General Assembly that made Virginia the laughingstock of national late night television. These include attempts to force women to have transvaginal ultrasound exams before they have abortions. In a slap at gay and transgender citizens, it made it harder for them to adopt children.
It pushed back needed health exchanges to get insurance as the Obamacare deadline approaches. Keeping our priorities skewed, public school kids still will have their start-date dictated by huge, profitable theme parts like King’s Dominion and Busch Gardens. Legislators came up with an empty tank when it came to funding transportation projects. And the legislature set up the repeal of the one-handgun-a-month law that could revive Virginia’s key role in pistol trading by East Coast criminals.
That said, a lot of other mayhem was thankfully put to rest. Racist immigration-based citizen checks got nowhere as did a law to burden public school teachers with extra and unneeded reviews. Amazon will be forced to pay sales taxes like everyone else, torpedoing a sweet-heart deal used to attract the digital retailer by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. The Senate killed a bill that would have singled out poor women by forbidding them from having abortions if the fetus has gross abnormalities.
With all this social agenda nonsense, the General Assembly didn’t get on with its most important task p-p- passing a budget –, but it will meet again to do so. Not to first time this has happened.
What has happened, and is very encouraging, is that this is the first time in years that the average public actually gave a damn about their rights to be heard in the legislative process. The State Capitol’s bucolic lawns saw thousands of protestors, including the arrests of 30 or more by state police SWAT teams armed with nightsticks and machine pistols and dressed in protective armor that made them look like fearsome Michelin Men.
What made the scenes so unusual was that most of the participants were middle aged women outraged that McDonnell and the hard-right Republicans would suddenly start dictating some extremely private parts of a woman’s life and deny her what the U.S. Supreme Court says she can do. We’re not talking the long-haired types of my Vietnam generation or more recent Occupy Richmond (or Wall Street or Seattle) people.
For far too long, state politics has been a good old boys’ club run by big corporations who bankroll think tanks and legislators led by the hand by lobbyists. Bill wording can be cut and paste jobs from national right wing outfits. People with opposite points of view are usually sliced out of the loop.
When McDonnell appointed a subcommittee within a state mining department to study the highly controversial notion of uranium mining in Southside, he picked as its head a former natural gas lobbyist with no experience with radioactive issues. She announced there will be no public hearings before her group sends its recommendations about whether or not lift a near 30-year-old ban on uranium mining. This is typical of the way Bob McDonnell and people like him see the world and regard their voters. They are not to be seen. Not to be heard.
While it is doubtful that McDonnell and his ilk will get the message, the outrage over the behavior of the General Assembly by everyday people shows that the old, behind-closed-door way of doing business is over. McDonnell and his spokesman Tucker Martin, can blame the news media. The State Capitol Police, with McDonnell’s acquiescence, can call out the SWAT teams all they want.
One thing they can’t do is kill the spirit of the man who actually designed the State Capitol building that was the locus of so much outrage. That spirit will outlive them all.