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Posted at 2:51 PM ET, 02/28/2011

Virginia lawmakers reflect on legislative session

By Fredrick Kunkle

Now that the General Assembly's annual legislative meeting has adjourned, the budget revisions have been agreed to and all of the many props have been put away -- or eaten -- here are a few (mostly) unedited reflections from lawmakers interviewed about the 47-day session that took up 2,692 bills and passed 1,599 of them:


Sen. R. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania):


On the session and the budget revisions:
"The 2011 session -- on the budget piece -- we have changed the trajectory where the state was going with finances. Instead of multi-billion reductions, we're adding back modest amounts. But at least we have changed the trajectory, which is significant. That I think is important coming out of the worst economic times since the Great Depression."
On passage of a measure to regulate abortion clinics like hospitals:
"The vote [Feb. 24] was a huge, huge disappointment. We put Virginia in an embarrassing situation compared to other states. A woman's right to choose has been diminished. There's no question about that. It was unanticipated. I think we sort of expected there would be stuff like that but it wasn't until it happened that it was really staring us in the face."
On passage of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell"s $2.9 billion transportation plan:
"While I have some concerns about borrowing to meet short-term needs -- again, it's not a long-term solution -- it nevertheless will get some needed and overdue projects for Loudoun and western Fairfax."

Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City:



On the session:
"It's been an unusual session, where there really has not been a galvanizing issue that has pitted the House as an entity against the Senate, as entity against the administration, or the parties against each other. From my perspective, the most contentious issue that has divided parties and ideologies was the [Del. Kathy J.] Byron amendment on the [Sen. Ryan] McDougle [abortion] bill on the clinics. ... That has been where the passion and the ire has taken place."
On how the governor fared, despite the failure of privatizing state-owned liquor stores and overhauling the state pension system:
"I think it's been very good for the governor. ... There's been fiscal restraint, there has not been excessive expanding spending. So from a policy and fiscal standpoint, it's been very good. ... It's a pretty good batting average -- it's better than I did when I was in Little League."


Sen. Frank W. Wagner (R-Virginia Beach):


On the session:
"From an economic standpoint, Virginia has bottomed out. Now, how fast we go, how far we rise -- it's anybody's guess. But the number of the initiatives we're able to do on transportation this year, that was one of my bigger surprises this year -- about the amount of money we've been able to put together."
On the abortion bill:
"What happened [Feb. 24] captured the mood of the place. It was a surprise. But I don't think it was as earth-shattering as some people have been saying. Clinics will have to be regulated -- people act like it's the big stone out of the wall.

"[The governor's] always been very conservative on the abortion issue, so I think that's a kind of a surprise for him -- a pleasant surprise."

Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax):


On the session:
"I think you got a got a transportation plan, a higher ed bill, and no tax increase, I think that's a great year, a great accomplishment."
On the higher education package:
"That's something I've been pushing for a number of years. I might have done it a little differently, but I like that we've increased the number of slots by 1,700 for in-state students, and I think we've accomplished a lot of this with no tax increase.
On how the governor fared:
"I think the governor did well. You get a transportation bill, which has eluded people for years, you get a higher education bill ... and no tax increase -- I'll tell you that's a great year ...

"To his credit, he reached out on a bipartisan basis. I mean, we have breakfast with the governor, a bipartisan breakfast. I know he's called and met with the Democratic Caucus. He's gone and met with them a couple times. One time he went and met with them and just talked to us on the phone and we're, like, 'Hey?'

"I think he's met with more individual members -- part of it is probably a function of the fact that he's a former member -- in a year and a half than either [former Gov. Timothy] Kaine (D) or former [Gov. Mark] Warner (D) did in eight years. I give him great credit for that."
On the impact of the tea party movement:
"I think the Tea Party had a very positive effect on the debate. They said, 'Hey let's not have an increase in spending, not have an increase in taxes.' They're pretty adamant about that. I think they had more of an impact on the overall debate. I think they've said don't increase spending, don't increase taxes -- I think that has really influenced the overall debate on the individual bills. ...

"The Tea Party is a grass-roots movement, and it is having an effect on politics, and I think it's a positive effect. Many of them were Republicans who maybe might have become disaffected for a while, and I think they're coming back to the Republican Party."

Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Richmond):


On the session:
"This year will be remembered as a bag of mixed results. Certainly, the abortion issue came to the fore and was handled in a poor manner. ... It will leave a bad taste in the mouths of many as far as this session is concerned. My caucus will grow wiser from having seen this done. It is awful, though, that this is at the expense of so many women around the commonwealth.

"I also think that the fact that nullification agenda was also significant and I hope will not be lost on the electorate."

House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford):


On the session:
"I think the big story is the accomplishments of this short session. It's as significant a list of achievements as any session we've had in the last 8 or 10 years.
On the passage of new regulations for abortion clinics:
"I thought it was incredibly significant -- something pro-life supporters have been trying to get for years and years, and couldn't get through that ol' education committee in the Senate ... It's a very significant victory for pro-life folks."


Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk):


On how the governor did:
"The governor set out four primary goals in the state of the commonwealth. I think that we have worked towards achieving those goals: Higher ed -- we were successful in passing that. I think that's significant. Transportation -- it certainly garnered a lot of attention and debate and a lot of input from members on each side of the isle and both ends of the capital.

"And while we've had additional revenue in our budget, our challenge is the structural balance going forward. That's the one thing that's still to be decided. The economy has picked up, no doubt about that. But there are still so many questions within our nation's economy ... "
On the session:
"I think the mood's been good. I haven't seen any real major flare-ups on the floor. I think it's been collegial. On the appropriations committee, for example, we've had both R's and D's in meetings before the budget came out getting briefed, and getting involved in the process, and I think it's borne some fruit as far as votes on the floor."


Del. David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville):


On the session:
"I see very little highlights of the session at this point. ... I guess the story is that much like what's gong on nationally, Republicans are feeling their oats and pushing through measures they think are important, ranging from immigration to abortion to right-to-work, and a variety of constitutional amendments. I guess if anything stands out in my mind, it's that piece of it."
On the impact of the tea party movement:
"I think it's driven more by powerful forces within the Republican Party who have been looking for an opportunity to push a social agenda nationally. I f you look at what's being advanced here, some of it is fill-in-the blank legislation. [Toscano was referring here to House resolution HR72 calling on Congress to halt EPA regulation of air-quality]
"That's not really what we should be about in Virginia, but that's what's happening. We would be much better focusing on Virginia problems and not trying to make this legislature into an arm of some national organization trying to push a particular agenda."
On the session:
"Maybe I've been here too long [since 2006] but it hasn't been that contentious this time. I think in some ways, people have gotten along a lot better this session. I mean, you have some flare-ups. But it doesn't feel the same as when I got here when I think there were gratuitous killing of bills simply based on a person's party. There's not as much of that going on right now, at least that I see. I think a lot of people are looking at the merits a lot more. If it's a good bill it doesn't matter if it has a "D" or an "R" attached to it. That's the run-of-the-mill bills -- you get into social issues it gets much more partisan."

Del. James M. LeMunyon (R-Fairfax):


On the higher education package:
"To put more seat space in public universities -- I think that's significant, I think people have been talking about that for a while. Several of us from Northern Virginia are still going to keep an close eye on what percentage of those seats go to in-state students versus out-of-state students, but I think we're headed in the right direction."
On the impact of the tea party movement:
"Their No. 1 bill was the repeal amendment. [LeMunyon was referring to a measure he sponsored that would have allowed two-thirds of the states to repeal federal laws.] I'm thrilled that it passed the House, not thrilled that it didn't pass the Senate. It turned into more of a partisan issue, frankly, than I had hoped."

"They're certainly a right-of-center interest group in favor of limited government property rights, and I think that impact was felt. I think it was felt in this session by the bills that came forward. ... What the Tea Party has done is it's energized people who favor limited government -- who favor government, frankly, leaving people alone -- and they brought some new people, who for whatever reason were political bystanders, into the political process. So I think that's always a good thing."

On how the governor worked with lawmakers:
"The governor's been very good, and he's been very accessible to people on both sides of the aisle. He certainly was last year. And people really appreciate that. He's had some small sitdowns with folks just on issues. ... He doesn't hesitate to say, 'How do you think I'm doing? How do you think the team's doing working on the executive branch?' I think that means a lot to people on both sides of the aisle."

House Minority Leader Ward L. Armstrong (D-Henry):


On the session:
"I've said on more than one occasion: Don't confuse motion with progress. There was an awful lot that did not happen. There was no permanent fix for transportation. We not only pulled out the credit card, we maxed it out on that. And I don't think that any significant progress is going to be made, particularly in Northern Virginia, on transportation.

"Apart from that, we did a little bit on higher education, although. ... I don't think we did little more than scratch the surface on that."

On bills to boost economic development:


"At the end of the day, my district is focused on jobs -- and I think all around the commonwealth -- and we've done a little more on economic development. But it appears that we're spending an awful lot of that economic development money on large corporations, particularly Northrop Grumman. Yes, we got their headquarters, but then they turned around and laid off people at the shipyard. We spent an awful lot of money for no net gain in jobs."
On how the governor fared:
"It was mixed. I mean, he had a pretty substantial loss with his ABC thing ... it couldn't even get a vote on ABC, which underscores again it was a terrible proposal from the get-go.

"He probably scored a political victory with transportation. I'm not certain that he scored much of a policy victory because I don't think his transportation plan is going to build much road ...

On how the governor collaborated with lawmakers:
"I know that the leadership of my caucus had breakfast with him two or three times -- although not much gets discussed or done at those, other than he enunciates his position. But there wasn't a lot of input gathering. We did have one Democratic leadership meeting with him in his office. I know he met with a group of Democrats from Northern Virginia.

"But the problem remains in the House of Delegates that the majority party decides what it wants to do without consultation and input with the minority party. I never had a meeting with the speaker [William J. Howell (R-Stafford) or with [House Majority leader Del.] Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) about, 'What do you think about transportation or education -- or whatever?' They never meet with us. Our members on appropriations -- they see the subcommittee reports five minutes before they're voted on. We get no input.

"It's almost incredulous to a group of fourth-grade Virginia history students that you have adults who don't talk to one another over major policy positions in the commonwealth. I think it's better in the Senate, but in the House, it's the Berlin Wall."

On the mood of the session:
"As far as I'm concerned, I think it was very contentious. They stood up and railed against me for fighting on behalf of electric regulation reform for three or four days on end, and my position against the telecom bill. I think it's the most contentious session since I've been down here."

By Fredrick Kunkle  | February 28, 2011; 2:51 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, Fredrick Kunkle, General Assembly 2011, House of Delegates, Rosalind Helderman, State Senate  
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