From early on, our balance is key. As toddlers, we learn to balance ourselves so we can walk without falling, and then later learn how to go up or down stairs. As kids, we learn balance to stay on a bike, skateboard, skates, and/or skiis. Mom exhorted us to eat a balanced diet and eat some brocolli when we’d rather have had a Twinkie. As adults, we need to balance our checkbooks, be sure our bank account always has a positive balance, and periodically get our car tires rotated and balanced.
We see the principle of balance in our governmental systems. Our state and federal governments are based on systems of Federalism and Checks and Balances, so no one person or group gets too powerful. Reflecting today’s closely-divided America, many of our governing bodies are in closely balanced. We have a 50-50 US Senate, where pro-abortion liberal Vice President Kamala Harris can break ties. Here in the Old Dominion, we have a House of Delegates with a close margin of 52 Republicans – 48 Democrats. In the State Senate, it is narrowly flipped, with 21 Democrats – 19 Republicans. In that body, pro-life conservative Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears wields the tie breaker.
But this is where the balances and close margins break down.
As you may remember from your 8th and 12th grade civics classes, (or maybe from The Schoolhouse Rock videos of yesteryear), much of the decision-making and key votes in legislatures do not take place among the entire body, but rather in smaller committees and sub-committees. Frankly, this set-up this makes sense. With all the bills and issues to consider and vote on within limited time, no single legislature can debate and vote on everything. So, the commitees are where issues are first hashed out and winnowed out. (Ideally, legislators with expertise in a particular area are on committees related to his or her strengths. Thus, a senator from Iowa may be on the Agriculture Committee, etc.) Bills that pass committees are then passed to the whole legislature, and if the bills pass both houses, they go to the governor or president for a signature to become law.
In this way, committees–and who sits on them and chairs them–is incredibly crucial.
But back to our Virginia Senate. Since that 40-member body is divided 21-19, with a narrow Democrat majority, wouldn’t common sense (and common courtesy) imply that all the committes would also have a similar ratio? It is only fair that, since the Democrats have the majority in the Senate, each committee would have a Democrat majority too.
Now, to take this one step further, one powerful committee is the Courts and Justice one. It has 15 members. A fair ratio of 15 would be 8 Democrats to 7 Republicans, right? Yes, that gives Democrats the majority, but it is a ratio reflective of the entire state senate (and for that matter, the entire state.)
But what is a shock to many Virginians, that is not the case. The powerful Judiciary Committee…that oversees courts and judge appointments…has a 9 Democrat – 6 Republican ratio. If you need a fractions refresher, that is two-thirds to one-third.
Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) was originally chair of that committee when the previous General Assembly began. In a surprise move, however, Democrats split that position and made Edwards Co-Chair, along with Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath County).
The powerful Education and Health Committee, that oversees legislation related to hospitals, public health, Covid matters, and pro-life issues, that too has a 9 Democrat – 6 Republican ratio.
Some have noted the name “Health Committee” is Orwellian, in that the current group has a strong pro-abortion record and has it has been dubbed “where they send pro-life bills to die.”
As reported here, Sen. Edwards used his vote on that committee to keep it legal in Virginia to abort unborn babies up until the moment of birth, a procedure that polls show the vast majority of Americans find abhorrent.
Likewise, as reported here, Sen. Edwards also voted to keep materials many dub as “pornographic” in schools.
But wait, the lopsided committee assignments get worse.
We all know money and power are intertwined, and the powerful Finance and Appropriations Committee oversees taxes and budgets. Its composition is 11 Democrats – 5 Republicans…a more than 2 to 1 ratio. Sen. Edwards is on that committee too. As reported here, Sen. Edwards used his perch in that committee to help kill the temporary gax tax “holiday” that Gov. Youngkin and the GOP pushed for, in order to help Virginians struggling with record-high gas prices.
The Commerce and Labor Committee, which debates issues like Virginia remaining a Right to Work state or not and electric rates (which are going up), has 12 Democrats – 3 Republicans. For those who may be math-challenged, that powerful committee has a 4 to 1 ratio. Sen. Edwards is on that committee as well.
The Rules Committee has the power to apply Senate rules and also decides which bills are heard by which committees. As you can probably figure out, the mix of which legislators sit on which committees has a huge impact on whether a bill gets passed or killed. That committee, with 17 members, has a 13 Democrat – 4 Republican split.
For a Virginia that values fairness and equal opportunities, a 21-19 Senate with such grossly-lopsided committees seems unjust as it does not reflect our state’s realities. The 12-3 Commerce and Labor Committee, which has taken upon itself the right to kill or delay tax relief and taken steps to drive up electric bills, has a 4 Democrat to 1 GOP ratio. Such a ratio might apply to San Francisco or parts of New York City, but to all 8.6 million residents of the state of Virginia? Or how about the heavily-gerrymandered district Edwards claims to represent here in Southwest Virginia? Is this part of Virginia 4 to 1 Democrat vs. GOP?
As President Biden might say, “C’mon Man!”
The Roanoke Star has reached out to Sen. Edwards for a comment or explanation of these lopsided ratios, or how he would explain these numbers to Virginians who find them unfair or unjust. However, no response has been received as of publication time.
A flip of one seat in the Senate in the 2023 elections would create a 20-20 Senate, in which Lt. Gov. Sears would hold the tie-breaking vote.
Next fall, Roanoke Valley voters will have the opportunity to right this injustice and help set our Commonwealth on a better path.