RICHMOND – Tuesday's election marks a dramatic power shift in Richmond, pitting an emboldened Republican House majority and governor against a Democratic Party whose hold on the Virginia Senate will be continually under siege over the next few years.
The upper chamber is now the only entity preventing the Republicans from taking complete control of state policymaking, and Republican gains on Tuesday will put them on the offense in January — when Bob McDonnell enters the governor's mansion and the General Assembly convenes with at least five new Republican delegates.
McDonnell, a former state attorney general and delegate, is expected to closely align with the House on policy matters. The governor-elect has promised to abolish state-run liquor stores, route greater general fund money to transportation and spike attempts to raise taxes, among other measures.
“I think in a very serious way, what you're going to see for the first time since I've been in office is we'll have a chief executive who's on the same sheet of music with the majority Republicans in the House of Delegates,” said Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge.
Democrats hold a fragile 21-19 majority in the Senate, which raises the stakes for two upcoming special elections to fill the Fairfax County seat held by Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli and the Virginia Beach seat held by Ken Stolle, who was elected the city's sheriff. Democrats are especially eyeing Cuccinelli's seat, largely because the conservative state senator won re-election in 2007 by fewer than 100 votes. The entire Senate is up for election in two years.
Gov. Tim Kaine, at a Wednesday news conference, suggested the Senate's role would be larger than just fending off Republican initiatives.
“The Senate has had a tradition — both under Republican and Democratic leadership — of being a results chamber and not an obstruction chamber,” Kaine said.
In some ways, the power shift offers a relief for Democrats, because the responsibility of fixing an increasing budget shortfall now rests squarely on the GOP's shoulders. The General Assembly and Kaine already have made $7 billion in budget cuts in recent years, with more sure to come next legislative session. One of Kaine's last acts in office will be to hand off a grim two-year budget to the new McDonnell administration.