The Northern Virginia Daily's Political Depot

A service for our readers outside the Northern Shenandoah Valley... a sampling of The Daily's political coverage, plus unofficial, 'reporter's notebook' stuff. And occasional dry humor...

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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Potts will keep chair by one vote; A1

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

RICHMOND — State Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. is apparently still a Republican.

The Winchester senator and former independent gubernatorial candidate survived a move on the opening day of the Virginia General Assembly by just one vote.

Some 19 GOP members of the Senate voted to strip him of his leadership of the powerful Education and Health Committee — including Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.

This was the second attempt to punish Potts for challenging Republican gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore. Potts’ “Operation Upset” got him on the ballot as an independent candidate, but he came away with only 2 percent of the vote.

An attempt to remove Potts from his chairmanship during last year’s veto session failed when Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine ruled that the move was out of order.

Speaking after the session, Potts said he was sure of the outcome all along.

“I’m delighted,” he said. “I knew going in that it was a fore-drawn conclusion that we were going to be fine.”

Three Republicans, including Potts, voted against a report that would have realigned the committees and left Sen. Frederick Quayle, R-Chesapeake, in charge of Potts’ committee, which deals with matters including K-12 education and abortion.
Quayle; Sen. Charles Hawkins, R-Chatham; and President Pro Tempore John Chichester, R-Fredericksburg, voted with the entire Democratic caucus to preserve the present committee arrangement. Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Clarksville, was absent from the session.

Keeping him in power was all about sending a message to the conservative wing of the GOP, Potts said.

“A lot of my Republican colleagues felt that we had to make a statement to that right wing element of the Republican Party,” Potts said.

Virginia is moving toward the center — and toward Potts’ way of thinking, the senator said. Witness the victory of Kaine and losses by the GOP in the House of Delegates.

A special election this week to replace Republican Del. Preston Bryant, who is moving into the Kaine administration, resulted in a Democratic win.

“Lynchburg yesterday is a very strong indicator of which way this state is moving,” Potts said. “I don’t think there’s any question. The [GOP] House has lost seven seats in less than three years, and they haven’t lost their last seat.”

It wasn’t a smooth start across the lobby at the House of Delegates, either.

An occasionally testy debate between Republicans and Democrats over changes to the rules that will make it easier for committees and subcommittees to kill legislation didn’t sit well with the minority.

“The rules changes are partisan and undemocratic, and they deny hundreds of thousands of Virginians access to their government,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Del. Brian Moran, D-Alexandria, after the day’s session.

“We are citizen legislators, sent here to be the voices of the people who elected us. These rules changes will effectively disenfranchise the voters we represent,” he said.

“This is not the Virginia way,” added House Minority Leader Del. Frank Hall, D-Richmond. “It’s an abuse of power that will harm the citizens of the commonwealth, because it prevents access and stifles debate on the most important issues facing the people of Virginia.”

But it’s all so much bellyaching, said Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock.

“[Democrats] understood that those rules were going to pass and they didn’t have the votes to change it,” he said. And while it does give Speaker Bill Howell, R-Fredericksburg, more power, it’s “much fairer than they were when the other party was in power.”

The changes are designed to move legislation through more quickly, supporters said. With more than 1,000 bills already filed, House leaders need to be able to weed out the field on occasion.

In his opening remarks after being re-elected to lead the chamber, Howell promised to “ensure the fairness of the House’s deliberative process” and “continue working to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of legislative operations.”

Both chambers reconvene today at noon.