Saslaw: The New Chichester?

House Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Springfield, could do for the Democrats what former Sen. John Chichester did for the Republicans: Keep them divided and fighting amongst themselves.

In a Sunday column, Jeff Schapiro described a breakfast hosted last week by Gov. Timothy M. Kaine for a dozen prominent Democratic legislators. “Over scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage,” he wrote, “Kaine’s primary concern was dissent among Democrats.” Participants at the breakfast traced the divisiveness to Saslaw, who was present. Del. Lionell Spruill, D-Chesapeake, was angry at the Senate potentate for blocking a crackdown on payday lenders, who, as it happens, had contributed thousands of dollars to one of his campaign funds. Accusing Saslaw of behaving like a king, Spruill got so agitated that the governor had to call time out.

Del. Jim Shuler, D-Blacksburg, also was upset about a deal brewing between Senate Dems and House Republicans that would install Catherine Hammond, appointed by Gov. Jim Gilmore to a Henrico County judgeship, to the State Corporation Commission. The move would ensure an all-GOP SCC.

Saslaw has his work cut out for him if he’s going to schism the Democrats like Chichester did the Republicans. But he shows potential. Humility does not appear to be one of his virtues. He has shown little inclination so far to kowtow to Tim “Mr. Nice Guy” Kaine merely because he’s governor. After all, Kaine will be gone in two years while, assuming the Dems hang on to their Senate majority, the 67-year-old Saslaw could well run the show for a decade or more.

Personalities aside, Virginia’s Democratic Party displays fissures that it managed to paper over while it was in the minority. But now that the party is back in power, it’s clear to see that the Dems include both members of the business class — Saslaw is an Amoco and Mobil gasoline station dealer — as well as populist rabble rousers. While the Dems tend to unite over culture war issues, they represent a broad range of business and demographic constituencies that don’t always see eye to eye when it comes to government regulation.

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  1. Anonymous Avatar

    Catherine Hammond is not “African American.” Her race would be classified as Caucasian.

  2. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Thanks for the correction, Anonymous 12:10. I’ve deleted the reference in the original post.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Good post.

    Only thing is that Chichester was a decent for a republican senator and Saslaw is far from a leader.

    Chichester pissed off crazy rightwingers like Cucinelli, Obenshain, and McDougle. They’ll always be mad, so who cares? Saslaw is pissing off reasonable albeit weaker Dems.

    But Saslaw has some decent qualities. He’s smart, has a strong institutional memory and is assertive.

    He also has a loud mouth, is rude and insulting. He’s wed to developers, dominion, homebuilders and anyone that gives him money.

    Its really funny how many worthless members of the general assembly there are.

    The Democrats taking the Senate hasn’t changed much. Especially with Saslaw running the show. One of his good qualities is that he knows how to get things done, its really too bad he has no good ideas.

    The Dems are so divided on environmental issues, gun issues, and the smoking ban that its hard to get anything accomplished.

    A problem is that most Senate Dems are weak. They remain passive in gerrymandered districts and do not have to ‘fight’ or assert themselves in any way in order to keep their seats. A consequence of their weakness is that stronger Senate R’s and Saslaw can go behind their back.

    Still, most are wedded to special interests, (especially Saslaw), and will do anything lobbyists like Bill Thomas tell them to.

    Look at the SB768 fiasco. No leadership from Saslaw because developers like Till Hazel have bankrolled his entire career. Now the House R’s can take credit for killing that terrible bill.

    I don’t know much about the new class of 2008 senate dems. Hopefully some will become good leaders in the GA.

    – OGS

  4. Groveton Avatar


    These guys (read:GA)seem to be having quite a bad run lately:

    1. The feds pulled the funds for the Rail to Dulles package they were all touting. Everybody seemed suprised, which (in itself) is surprising.

    2. The passed an abusive drive fee law but couldn’t figure out how to fine out of state drivers. Then they fell over themselves each saying they hated the law more than the next guy.

    3. Now we have the regional transportation authorities being declared unconstitutional (or, at least their taxing authority being unconstitutional).

    And Saslaw can’t seem to go more than 2 weeks without gratuitously insulting some group or another.

    What has the GA done right in the last few years?

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    There’s very little difference in the Virginia Senate since the Ds took over. A little more honesty in labeling, but most mainstream politicians in Virginia are owned and operated by developers.

    Say what you about those on the left or the right, but they are generally much more free from control by the real estate industry.


    We need an adequate public facilities law with teeth. Neither a Saslaw nor a Chichester would deliver on that one.

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