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Revenge of Russ Potts: Holding Virginia's Center

The easy column out of Richmond is always the yahoos in the House of Delegates running away with red meat appeals to Virginians who can't get enough of guns and restrictions on immigrants and abortion. The House delivers on these issues every year, and the rest of the state looks on in (mock) horror as the delegates gleefully celebrate their rejection of any doctrine that smacks of liberal tweeness.

Then, a few weeks later, everyone climbs back off the ledge as the Senate, the weary adult to the House's perpetual adolescent, stuffs all the wacky stuff the House has done.

Everything's running according to script in Richmond again this year. This week, the Senate Education and Health committee in a single sitting undid much of the work of the angry right in the House, and that committee's chairman, the still-vaguely-Republican Russ Potts, took considerable pleasure in striking back at the GOP delegates who were calling for his head just a few weeks ago. Potts, whose independent candidacy for governor last fall laid an egg, is considered a traitor by many Repos, some of whom think he undermined Jerry Kilgore's chances to beat Tim Kaine.

But Potts beat back an effort to strip him of his committee chairmanship, and now look who's sitting on top of the world: "We dealt with three topics that were just explosive," Potts said after the meeting at which his committee killed off a big pile of socially conservative House initiatives. "The bottom line is a whole lot of the benchmarks of the far-right mantra went down the tubes today."

Here's what happened: Potts' committee killed the single dumbest bill of the 2006 session, a measure that passed the House by 88-12 that would have banned doctors from asking families about gun ownership or safety--a fairly routine part of any pediatric check-up. (Even in the wildly liberal District, where guns are banned entirely, docs routinely ask that question as part of their safety riff, and lo and behold, there are gun scofflaws even in upper Northwest D.C., and docs say they're pleased to be able to check in with kids and parents about how to assure relative safety in those homes.)

Potts' panel killed both of the House measures that would have blamed the children of illegal immigrants for the crimes of their parents--one would have banned such kids from public colleges in Virginia; the other would have denied those kids in-state tuition.

The committee killed two abortion bills that had passed the House--one, a typically cynical measure by Del. Bob Marshall of Prince William that would have forced abortion clinics to meet the same standards as hospitals, a standard that no one has thought to apply to laser eye, dental or plastic surgery clinics. The only purpose of that bill was to try to shut down the abortion facilities. The other abortion bill would have required doctors to report post-abortion complications to the state.

Potts won't be in the Senate much longer. And many of his moderate colleagues on both sides of the aisle are in the twilight of their legislative careers. The Senate is likely to look more and more like the House in the next few years, as younger members are elected with (and because of their) more polarized political perspectives. Many Senate veterans pronounce themselves worried about their body's ability to act as a check against the House's rambunctiousness in years to come.

But the struggle to hold Virginia's center is already underway at the polls, and this year's special elections in a couple of districts show that the fight against extremism will take place within the House as well as the Senate. Most Virginians don't particularly care for the hardcore liberals or the steadfast conservatives; they crave politicians who will hew to a sensible center. That's why they found Mark Warner so appealing. That's why they rejected Jerry Kilgore's mean-spirited death penalty campaign last fall.

Once Russ Potts and his fellow moderates in the Senate retire, the only way their function can continue is if voters demand and find candidates who eschew the easy road to a polarized politics and present themselves instead as the pragmatic centrists that most Americans, if not necessarily most voting Americans, find simpatico.

By Marc Fisher |  February 24, 2006; 12:41 PM ET
Previous: Angelos Marches On | Next: There's A Train A Comin'--A Tale of Homeland Security


Please email us to report offensive comments.

The Virginia bill on doctors and guns is an attempt at removing the politicization of the medical exams. I myself have gone through these pediatric checklists now that I have an infant, and noticed that there are no questions as to the presence of dangerous chemicals (bleach, prescription drugs, etc.) or swimming pools in or around the home, even though more kids are killed in poisoning and drowning accidents than firearm accidents.

Posted by: K.Singh | February 24, 2006 1:10 PM

The Virginia bill on doctors and guns is an attempt at removing the politicization of the medical exams. I myself have gone through these pediatric checklists now that I have an infant, and noticed that there are no questions as to the presence of dangerous chemicals (bleach, prescription drugs, etc.) or swimming pools in or around the home, even though more kids are killed in poisoning and drowning accidents than firearm accidents. The American Academy of Pediatrics is on record for recommending that its members harangue parents to remove all firearms from their homes, not just lock store them safely.

Posted by: K.Singh | February 24, 2006 1:12 PM

Maybe we should actually listen to our doctors for a change.

Posted by: Gun Crazy | February 24, 2006 2:26 PM

I dunno Mark -

It's hard to call Potts a Moderate. Not after the campaign that he ran for Governor. This guy's a liberal.

Posted by: Virginia Centrist | February 24, 2006 3:10 PM

The Virginia legislature is ensuring that the conservatives come out in droves this fall to vote for the ban on gay marriage. I hope that Virginians realize that this isn't a gay/lesbian issue--it's a gimmick to make sure that Democratic inroads are halted in the important 2006 election. Hey... it worked in Ohio in 2004 and got GWB reelected.

And by the way, even if you might think you might be in favor of such a ban, read the language carefully and also remember they want to add it to our Bill of Rights... yes.. our Bill of RIGHTS. I didn't know you listed nonrights (and took away rights from some citizens) in a Bill of Rights.

Posted by: TBG | February 25, 2006 10:18 AM

As to Mr. Singh's comments, I would note that most doctors I know are conservatives and tend to be Republicans. I hardly think this advice is being given by a bunch of crazy liberals. More likely the idea is this -- usually it's going to be the mother bringing in the kid for the exam. She's going to be aware of the lye under the sink problem, etc., but it might not occur to her that she has to deal with guns too. Also, she may need the moral force of the doctor's advice to deal with the gun situation.

Posted by: Peter | February 25, 2006 5:20 PM

Forgot to add -- the abortion complications reporting bill was phony too -- abortions are one of the safest medical procedures -- 100 times safer than appendectomies, ten times safer than tonil removal. And safer than childbirth by a factor of nine.

Posted by: Peter | February 25, 2006 5:26 PM

Not really a comment, just a suggestion to other commenters: Please post links to the information you are quoting so that we can go look at it ourselves instead of just taking your word for it. Thanks.

Posted by: Rob | February 26, 2006 12:12 AM

I am amused at the assumption that I am a guy (not that it matters that I am).

Per the general request, here are the links (if anyone cares):

CDC mortality statistics database(fatal/non-fatal)

You can query the database for different variables (cause, age, etc.)

The most recent info on the 0-18 y/o groups (pop. roughly 77 million):

Non-fatal accidental injuries:
Poisoning 112484
Drowning 4283
Firearms 3201

Fatal accidental injuries:
Poisoning 437
Drowning 1000
Firearms 127

Am. Acad. Peds' own words:;105/4/888

(from the Summary and Recommendations):

1. The AAP affirms that the most effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries to children and adolescents is the absence of guns from homes and communities.

a) Firearm regulation, to include bans of handguns and assault weapons, is the most effective way to reduce firearm-related injuries.

b) Pediatricians and other child health care professionals are urged to inform parents about the dangers of guns in and outside the home. The AAP recommends that pediatricians incorporate questions about guns into their patient history taking and urge parents who possess guns to remove them, especially handguns, from the home.

Posted by: K.Singh | February 27, 2006 12:25 AM

Re Revenge of Russ Potts - If the VA State Senate is doomed to go the way of the House of Delegates, then it truly is time for a concerted campaign to dump the Dillon Rule. The political chaos that would ensue can't possibly be any worse than the embarrasing record of failure that the legislative sessions of recent memory have produced. DUMP DILLON - kinda catchy aint it?

Posted by: B. Smith | March 2, 2006 3:11 PM

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