RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Senate has been a cemetery for the General Assembly's most conservative legislation for more than a decade.
But if Republicans gain three or more Senate seats in next month's decisive legislative elections, conservatives would consolidate their hold on Virginia government and turn state policy hard to the right.
"The stakes have never been higher," said Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, who would lose her chairmanship of the Privileges and Elections Committee should the Republicans win their first majority since 2007.
That is evident from the intensity and tenor of fiercely contested races across the state. It's also clear from the 86 checks for $10,000 or more that were written during the first two weeks of October that together put more than $3 million into play for the stretch run of the Nov. 8 election, according to data compiled by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Democrats hold 22 of the Senate's 40 seats. Should they lose two seats to the GOP, it would force power sharing in an evenly divided chamber with the committees — gatekeepers that determine which bills reach the Senate floor — apportioned equally between senators of both parties headed by Republican and Democratic co-chairmen.
Republicans could prevail once a bill reaches the floor because Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casts the deciding vote in case of a tie.
With a three-seat gain, however, Republicans would have unchallenged control of the Senate, and the GOP would take total control of both the executive and legislative branches of government for the first time since 2001.
In the marquee races where targeted Democrats are in the fights of their political careers, the Republican challengers are avowed conservatives, particularly in rural areas where an unpopular president burdens Democrats.
"This time, if we take a majority, it would be a much more conservative group of individuals than the Republicans who were there before, and people would just have to realize that," said Del. Charles W. "Bill" Carrico, a Republican seeking the seat of retiring Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol.
A Senate takeover is a political imperative for Gov. Bob McDonnell, who knows it's his chance to enact his socially and fiscally conservative goals during the single, non-renewable four-year term Virginia uniquely allows its governors.
His priorities include financing highway construction and repair without taxes, making the underfunded public employee pension fund less generous, reforming education and privatizing state-owned liquor stores.
A Republican Senate could green-light other bills that emerge perennially from the conservative, Republican-ruled House of Delegates and die in the Senate
Carrico, a retired state trooper from Grayson County, has carried his conservative bills for 10 years to Senate committees and watched them die. The bills advanced gun rights, restrictions on undocumented immigrants and state sovereignty.
One bill he hopes to bring back to a more accommodating Senate would allow the manufacture of firearms not regulated by federal law if they are constructed solely in Virginia and are never sold or moved outside the state.
He plans to resurrect a bill that Howell's committee killed last winter that would add an amendment to Virginia's constitution that has explicit protections for prayers offered voluntarily in public places and public events.
The House's most prolific author of anti-abortion bills, Del. Robert G. Marshall, R-Prince William, said he would celebrate a conservative Senate takeover. Among the bills he might bring back is one that would effectively end abortion by granting legal rights of personhood to fetuses.
"For years, they had this rule that any bill that even remotely touched on abortion had to go before the (Senate) Education and Health Committee, which they had stacked with secular socialists," Marshall said.
Other bills that were dead on arrival before the current Senate could make victorious encores in a Senate run from the right. They would:
— Make it a crime for a woman to cause her own miscarriage or to coerce a young woman into having an abortion.
— Require doctors to offer to anesthetize a fetus before performing an abortion.
— Repeal Virginia's 20-year-old law limiting individuals to one handgun purchase per month.
— Allow people with permits to carry concealed handguns to take their weapons onto most any government property, including libraries, emergency shelters and parks. Colleges would also be barred from adopting firearm policies more restrictive than Virginia's, which are among the most permissive in the nation.
— Bar undocumented immigrants from enrolling in state colleges, deny public assistance to illegal immigrants, track numbers of pupils who take English as a second language and allow employers to fire employees for not speaking English.
— Establish an alternative Virginia currency should the Federal Reserve collapse.
— Extend Virginia's often-used death penalty to people convicted as accomplices to murders.
— Compel drug screening for welfare recipients.
— End vaccinations required of all sixth-grade girls against a sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical cancer later, although parents who object can already opt out their children.
"Virginia would be viewed nationally as a laughingstock," Howell said. "Some of the things they want to do would be detrimental to business growth and expansion in Virginia. Our public schools would suffer, as would our human services."
Del. Mark Cole, a Republican from Spotsylvania who has seen dozens of his bills pass the House only die in the Senate, argues that a rightward tilt to the Senate would boost business.
He said he would likely bring back legislation cutting the business and professions occupational license tax and the tax industries pay on machinery and tools.
"It's the only way you'll finally get true tax reform and cut the burdens regulations are putting on businesses," Cole said.
Bob Lewis has covered Virginia government and politics since 2000.Tags: