Walks the Plank
GOP majority in the General Assembly is big enough
to engender intra-party factionalism and payback, as
Preston Bryant discovered after backing last year's
Rayburn, the legendary Speaker of the U. S. House of
Representatives said famously, following FDR’s
landslide election in 1936, “When you get too big
a majority, you’re immediately in trouble.”
did he mean? When
you have a narrow majority, it’s easy, out of
necessity, to focus on the common enemy.
What does that do?
It forces governance.
When things are close you have to govern.
your majority is big enough, you don’t have to pay
a whole lot of attention to the minority, or to the
governance part of the equation.
When your majority is big enough you have the
leeway to settle some internal scores with your
it’s just the Cain and Able in us, but some folks
find that luxury, that temptation, too hard to
what’s the "trouble" in any of that?
What Rayburn knew, but didn’t articulate,
is that there seems to be a self-correcting
mechanism built into this political process.
Rayburn knew that internal foolishness is how
majorities are lost.
House Republican leaders and Speaker William J.
Howell, R-Fredericksburg, in particular learn that
lesson before it’s too late?
The jury is still out on that one, but the
evidence to date is scant in that regard.
you’ve read in most places about the so-called
"cohesion" of House Republicans going into
this session of the General Assembly is little more
than spin—and wishful thinking.
may make happy faces in public, but inside the House
Republican Caucus anger, suspicion and distrust are
the order of the day and the pro-tax/no-tax factions
are as pronounced as they’ve ever been.
Even Howell’s hold on the speakership
year some of his own troops threatened him with
removal if he allowed Gov. Mark Warner’s $1.5
billion tax package to go to a full House vote.
The opening ceremony Wednesday was a
make-happy display of fictitious unity.
The irony is that some observers —this one
included—think that Howell owes his position to
the Lynchburg Republican who led the 17
"breakaway" centrist Republican House
members in guaranteeing passage of Warner’s tax
package last year.
enraged many traditional Republican allies across
Virginia earlier this year when he dumped Bryant
from House Appropriations in a move widely seen as
pure retribution, his reassurances to the contrary
felt the lash of pay-back, too.
Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, once a member of
Howell’s inner, inner circle did manage to keep
his Appropriations seat, though he was in cold, deep
space orbit as the week began.
the heels of Howell’s move against Bryant, there
ensued intense by-partisan discussions in some
quarters aimed at sacking Howell and elevating
Bryant to the speakership—a long-shot, high-risk
gambit at best, but one rendered dead-on-arrival
when Bryant declined to be a party to it—or to
even discuss it.
fundamental mistake Virginia Republicans make is to
believe that the Republican-Democratic split
reflected in the House membership is a true
reflection of Virginia.
It is not.
House makeup is badly skewed by the
Republican-authored redistricting plan.
But Virginia is not a 62-38 Republican state.
It never was. It
is Republican, but not that Republican.
The true number is probably closer to the
point being this: Virginia
Republicans don’t have as much room to fight among
themselves as they may think. Democrats have picked
up four contested seats in a row.
don’t know what Bryant’s motivations were in
declining to participate in discussions about
Howell’s tenure as speaker—discussions
originating with others, in and out of the House.
Despite everything, he still seems to
maintain some respect for Howell.
And he certainly has allegiance to his GOP
House caucus—again, despite it all.
Nevertheless, this time around he walked the
retribution plank alone.
Bryant probably understands what ol’ Sam
Rayburn was talking about.
-- January 17, 2005