The Virginia GOP’s Destructive Palace Coups

By Peter Galuszka

Just how out of control are Virginia’s Republicans?

This week’s redistricting coup attempt staged by prominent Republicans John Watkins and his cohort Thomas K. Norment in the otherwise evenly divided state Senate is as cynical as it is destructive.

On Monday, the pair took advantage of the absence of a key Democratic senator who was attending Barack Obama’s inauguration to spring a plan to redo a redistricting map approved two years ago. Using their temporary 20-19 advantage and with no prior notice, they rammed through their self-serving changes. The redistricting plan was thought to have been settled in 2011.

Kept out of the loop was Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell who said that the uprising is likely to kill any chances for bipartisanship in this year’s General Assembly. Since it is the last legislative session for the one-term governor, the now poisonous atmosphere will make it very hard to move through new legacy programs such as his innovative but controversial scheme to dump the gasoline tax.

Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is fast emerging as a new power broker and possible independent candidate for governor, was told of the plan two weeks ago by Norment, the Senate majority leader, and promptly said no thanks.

Democrats say that the redistricting plan would weaken their control in six districts. Watkins has claimed that creating a new and mostly minority district in south central Virginia would help the state withstand challenges under the federal Voting Rights Act. The new district would include some of the lowest-income counties and cities in the state. But why hasn’t anyone heard of this plan before now?

The episode is bizarre on several levels.

First, stage-managing the plan on the day Henry Marsh, an African-American Democrat who happens to be a key member of the state Senate, is absent attending the inauguration of a president who happens to be African-American stinks of racism. Launching the plan without notice or hearings is the kind of thing that used to happen in Richmond back in the Old South days.

The state GOP has been especially unkind to McDonnell, who may have his faults but still rates well in polls. His hopes for a slot on Mitt Romney’s ticket were dashed after hard-right Republican legislators last year launched their hideous plans to require women seeking abortions to undergo mandatory transvaginal ultrasounds. Virginia ended up the butt of jokes on late-night television. The result: No vice presidential slot for McDonnell.

Hard-line Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli’s run for governor is a pencil in the eye of the GOP establishment, which had all but promised Bolling the candidacy.

Now you have fairly responsible types such as Watkins, a veteran Republican who opposed the transvaginal travesty and is generally sensible, conjuring up coups.

Part of the problem is that the GOP still hasn’t figured out how to deal with the Tea Party movement that set the agenda a couple of years ago. Tea Party influence is still formidable even if it was greatly diminished by Democratic wins in last year’s election.

For their part, Virginia Democrats still haven’t figured out how to play the GOP mayhem and a weaker Tea Party to their own advantage. Until they do, expect more palace coups.

10 Responses to The Virginia GOP’s Destructive Palace Coups

  1. right now the GOP is operating as a loosely affiliated group of outlaws where they can come together on issues that empower them as a group but then internally it’s the ok corral ….

    The GOP – both nationally and in Va are basically warriors. They only thing they really understand and really relish is combat… against perceived enemies… and it’s, as they say, a target-rich environment that includes their own when they cannot agree.

    These days, no one accuses the GOP of “clever” strategies. Everything they do involved holding a weapon of some kind as they try to “convince” the other side.

  2. The 10th senate district was made substantially less safe for Republicans in the last redistricting. Much of the outer edges of the district in blood-red Amelia and Goochland Counties were dropped, along with Republican portions of Chesterfield, and a bunch of Richmond precincts were added.

    Watkins led the coup because he was facing retirement in 2015.

    As always, the only thing that motivates the members of the corrupt General Assembly is getting reelected. All else – including the democratic process – be damned.

  3. LarryG – this is your General Assembly. You know, the one that you think should have dictatorial power over Virginia’s localities.

    And lest anybody think that the redistricting scam is purely Republican, think again. The first redistricting was rife with efforts to protect incumbent Democrats. The scam perpetuated by Saslaw to protect Janet Howell’s seat is the stuff of legend.

  4. I have to admit, the whole thing stinks. Just stinks. Makes me nauseous with contempt. This is a desperate ploy of people who are scared to compete in the marketplace of ideas and electoral politics.

  5. This is at the level of schoolboy pranks, although they are pranks being played with the franchise, a central feature of a democratic society. The GOP, in Virginia and elsewhere, is fast identifying itself as the most dysfunctional of all political elements – a political party that lives in fear of the voters. When that mindset sets in, I think it’s fair to say that a party is finished. Now it’s just Boss Hawg trying to stuff the ballot boxes. The nonsense on the redistribution of electoral votes is more of the same.

    As a Republican, I have to view the Party as pretty much down the drain unless new leadership shows up pretty quickly to call a quick halt to these grab-ass games. To be taken seriously as anything other than a threat to good governance and the democratic process, the party has to spend its energy encouraging voters and welcoming new participants at the polls. Instead they spend their energies, time, and ingenuity trying to figure out how to run and hide from the citizens.

  6. normally an all GOP GA would not be such a scary thing. It’s happened in the past and usually all it really meant was some needed belt-tightening and re-visiting govt agencies to make sure they were still on track and not bloating..

    but now days, having the GOP in charge is a scary thing because of their anti-govt sentiment and their willingness to try to impose arbitrary social values on people.

    that segment of the GOP does not totally rule the party but there are enough of them to essentially make the party dysfunctional and unpredictable in their governance.

    You just never know where the next dirty trick is going to come from – and the only bulk work against it is the more reasonable people in the party allied with Democrats.

    here’s the landscape in front of us: a GA with both houses controlled by the GOP and Cuccinelli in charge.

    This is the governance in store for us and our GOP friends are saying things like ‘ oh well, boys will be boys”.

    • The Republicans in Virginia are not Republicans in any reasonable sense of the word. They are bizarre reactionary loons masquerading as Republicans. On the national stage, I am still very much of a Republican. I remain convinced that Mitt Romney was a better choice than Barack Obama. However, I want absolutely nothing to do with Virginia’s Republicans. They are a bizarre cult led by crazies like Bob Marshall and Ken Cuccinelli.

      It’s a shame that good men like Bob McDonnell and Bill Bolling get caught up in the net of Virginia Republican insanity. However, they chose their party and they must leave or deal with the consequences of their decision.

      Bolling is already half way out the door (at least). When will McDonnell break with the goofballs in the RPV?

    • The only answer is to throw every Republican in every suburban and urban locality out of office. My delegate is Barbara Comstock. She might be a fine person but she must go. She must go because her continued election empowers the psychos in the RPV. She helps provide them committee assignments, she gives weight to their bizarre ideas. I am sorry, Del Comstock but you really need to be voted out of office based on the company you keep.

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