Viginia Democrats battle for management of state House of Delegates


House Majority Leader M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights) could be speaker if Republicans preserve management. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Whether Virginia’s deep-red House of Delegates turns blue, or a clumsy purple, comes down to some dozen votes and potential handshake offers.

Republicans, who held 66 of 100 seats within the decrease home of the state legislature, noticed their majority soften away Tuesday in a Democratic wave that felled no less than 12 GOP incumbents and flipped three open seats to the Democrats — an unprecedented shift.

With 4 races nonetheless too near name, each events are bracing for the messiest of all outcomes: a dead-even 50-50 break up that requires power-sharing and a doubtlessly ugly battle for the speakership.

That could be triggered if Democrats decide up one of many 4 races which are shut sufficient for a state-funded recount. Republicans have leads tough to beat in three of them, together with Del. Timothy D. Hugo (R-Fairfax), who narrowly pulled forward of his challenger after unofficial outcomes have been tallied. Del. David Yancey (R-Newport News) is simply 12 votes forward of Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds, with provisional ballots nonetheless being counted by means of Monday.

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Recounts would most likely happen round Thanksgiving when elections are licensed.

Control of the chamber has implications for coverage selections affecting giant swaths of Virginians, together with whether or not Medicaid is expanded to an estimated 400,000 low-income residents and new gun management measures are carried out.

Even if Democrats fall quick, they produce other choices to take management of the legislature. They can lure Republican lawmakers to their aspect with the promise of plush committee badignments, or authorities jobs or Cabinet positions provided by Governor-elect Ralph Northam (D).

“There’s always a degree of horse-trading and politics, and people often have discussions about what committees they want to be on and where they want to be,” stated House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville), who would most likely be the chamber’s speaker subsequent yr if his get together prevails. “The first thing we need to do is count the votes and know exactly where we are.”

But the GOP House management stated their majority is safe as a result of they’re badured Yancey will maintain his seat.

“Our majority will be smaller, but our resolve and commitment to good governance based on conservative principles remains strong and unwavering,” stated Del. M. Kirkland Cox (R-Colonial Heights), who is ready to be speaker if the GOP majority holds. “We also plan to serve as a check and balance to any effort to push an extreme liberal agenda, as our constituents elected us to do.”

Earlier within the day, his spokesman Parker Slaybaugh declined “to speculate on how the chamber might be organized in January” if Democrats are in a position to block a Republican majority.

Unlike the state Senate, the place the lieutenant governor breaks ties, there isn’t any such mechanism within the House. Virginia final noticed a fair break up within the House of Delegates in 1999. Democrats held on to the speakership with a parliamentary maneuver, whereas committees that function gatekeepers for laws have been led by two chairs, one from every get together.

“It’s not that it can’t work, but it’s just a total mess,” stated Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), a retiring Republican who served by means of these years.

Political observers say that managing the battle for management of the legislature will likely be Northam’s first likelihood to point out management, with a chance for bipartisanship and to strengthen his negotiating hand.

“This is territory we’ve seen once, and it wasn’t pretty,” stated Bob Holsworth, a veteran observer of Virginia politics. “It was extremely bitter. It will be a test of Northam to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Unlike the person he’s changing, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), Northam has relationships with Republicans within the legislature stretching again a decade, to when he first grew to become a lawmaker. He was so well-regarded by Republicans, actually, that they tried to coax him into altering events as a part of a plot to take management of the Democratic state Senate.

Democrats don’t have all of the leverage if management of the House of Delegates is in play, strategists stated. There are regional and ideological fissures inside the Democratic caucus, and a number of the incoming members have been elected with out the get together’s help — growing the probabilities for defections. Under one state of affairs, the Republicans may delay seating Simonds, if the Democrat prevails in a recount towards Yancey, in time to elect a speaker of their very own.

“If Northam could broker a deal, it would be a major, major accomplishment for him,” stated Ben Tribbett, a Democratic strategist carefully monitoring the House of Delegates races. “But if he tries to get involved and fails, it would be a big loss to start off his term.”

A spokesman for Northam declined to tip his hand on how the longer term governor would maneuver to show the General Assembly blue, however stated he could be true to his marketing campaign promise of working throughout the aisle.

“His talk about bipartisanship isn’t just happy talk, it’s because people want to see government be effective and work for them again,” spokesman David Turner stated. “Republicans would be wise to understand that bipartisanship and having effective government was one of the things we ran on — and won on by a historic margin.”

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The higher chamber of the state legislature may be in play.

Republicans maintain a 21 to 19 edge within the state Senate, with Lt. Gov.-elect Justin Fairfax (D) set to preside over the physique and break ties. Some strategists speculated that Northam would attempt to carry a few of his outdated colleagues from the state Senate — who’re Republican — into his administration.

That occurred in 1998, when then-Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) appointed a Democratic senator as his deputy transportation secretary, handing management of the Senate to Republicans in consequence. And in 2014, Virginia Republicans took management of the Senate after Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) resigned amid talks of a job with a state tobacco fee.

Regardless of the parliamentary maneuvering and who leads to energy, Virginia Republicans are coming into a brand new administration with far much less clout than they’d earlier than Election Day.

“It’s going to be a new day over there in the House of Delegates,” stated McAuliffe, who set a report for vetoing laws handed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly.

Albo, the retiring Republican lawmaker who will likely be changed by a Democrat, lamented the vanishing breed of districts with voters keen to separate their ballots.

“This state is not purple,” he stated. “It’s like dark red and dark blue spots.”

Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.

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