As you may remember from your school days, both the US and state governments are based on three branches of government and checks and balances. Established on the realization that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” our founders set up this (admittedly imperfect) system to help ensure accountability and to keep one person or group from getting total control.
Both the US and State of Virginia have a Senate. However, there are some differences between the two bodies. The federal government has a Senate with 100 members serving six-year terms, but Virginia has a state Senate with 40 members serving four-year terms. Another difference is, US senators serve staggered terms in order to reduce wild swings and sudden changes. For example, Virginia’s US Senator Tim Kaine will face re-election in 2024 but Senator Mark Warner will not until 2026. In Virginia, in contrast, all 40 senators face re-election together. Since the current senate was chosen in 2019, all 40 seats will be up for grabs again next year, in November 2023.
Just as the US is (tragically) so deeply divided politically with a 50-50 Senate, (with Democrat Vice President Kamala to break the ties), Virginia is reflective and also deeply divided, with a 21 Democrat and 19 Republican upper legislative body.
As the vice president has the authority to break ties in the national senate, the lieutenant governor has that power in the Virginia Senate. And whereas Vice President Harris is a liberal, pro-abortion Democrat, Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears is a conservative, pro-life Republican.
“Elections have consequences,” and last fall the voters of Virginia returned the top three statewide offices and House of Delegates (by a narrow 52-48 margin) to GOP leadership. Some key priorities of Virginia Republicans have been to end the grocery tax and pass a gas tax “holiday” during the summer driving months.
However, since the current Senate has been in office since the anti-Trump year of 2019, those 21 Democrats have been able to stymie many of the GOP-led reforms and initiatives. With gas prices at all-time highs, the Senate Democrats defeated the gas tax “holiday” and postponed grocery tax relief by six months.
Virginia was one of the last states to levy taxes on groceries. Since groceries made up a bigger chunk of the household budget for lower-income than for wealthy folks, such a tax falls especially heavily on poorer or middle income Virginians.
Thankfully, through political compromises the state grocery tax was eventually cut. Del. Joe McNamara (R-Salem) has been spearheading that mission for years, and this year, thanks to a GOP governor and House of Delegates, it came to fruition. However, the Republicans wanted the tax to end on July 1, but the Democrats in the Senate insisted it stay in place till January 1, 2023.
So, whereas most people are looking for some extra cash during the holiday season, all Virginians will have to keep paying their grocery taxes till New Year’s Day. I don’t know about you, but during an economic downturn with inflation at a 40-year high and people are struggling, to me it seems mean-spirited and even petty to keep that extra state grocery tax in place an extra six months. Put another way, when people are buying groceries for their Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year’s Eve get-togethers, they will still be saddled with that extra tax.
So please keep these votes and issues in mind when you are told that old legend, “Republicans only care for the rich but Democrats are for the little guy.”
So, in addition to the 40-year-high inflation that President Biden and Congressional Democrats have managed to inflict on our country, we Virginians are still paying taxes on gas and groceries that could have been cut or reduced.
For the record, one Republican in the Senate, Emmett Hanger (Augusta Co.), voted with the unified Democrats to kill the gas tax break.
If you get a kick out of paying high prices for everything, keep voting Democrat. That is the party for you. However, if these crazy prices are putting a pinch on your budget and added stress in your life, remember that too each election day and punish the perpetrators who keep pushing prices up.
The only Democrat in this western-third of the state is John Edwards (Roanoke City.) As has been pointed out here, Sen. Edwards’ many years in office are probably due in no small part to the grotesquely-gerrymandered nature of the district he represents.
There is no shortage of injustices in our system, but one injustice that a non-partisan panel addressed and corrected last winter was ending that gerrymandered district that lumped Democrat-heavy Roanoke City and the Virginia Tech area together, even though those two places are separated by about an hour’s driving time on I-81. That district thus caused most of the rest of the Roanoke Valley to fall into a huge district that spanned from roughly Lynchburg to Smith Mountain Lake to Wytheville. Thanks to more reasonable redistricting, the 2023 elections will have most of the Roanoke Valley in one, unified senate district. It’s about time.
This new seat, District 4, will probably be a showdown between Sen. Edwards and Sen. David Suetterlein (Roanoke County).
This column has pointed out the razor-thin political margins in our polarized nation: a 50-50 US senate, a 52-48 VA House of Delegates, and a 21-19 VA Senate.
However, despite the many thin margins in our politics, many of the powerful committees where much of the work gets done and key votes are taken in the state Senate have obscenely lopsided margins.
That is to be the topic of our next column.