Meet the new bosses, worse than the old bosses

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A common refrain when an extremist legislature is elected is that the voters didn’t realize what they were voting for. Whenever a lawmaking body goes off the deep end and starts proposing all sorts of laws that were never mentioned during campaign season, charges of bait-and-switch are never far behind.

Thus, as Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly began its most recent session with a raft of anti-abortion measures, it wasn’t a newsflash when Brian Moran, chairman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, complained to the Washington Post that “these bills are not what Virginians had in mind when they elected Virginia Republicans to lead in Richmond.”
But you know what? We’re not buying it.

The honest truth, as we see it, is that Virginia’s conservative caucus knew exactly what they wanted in 2011 and—in a low-turnout, off-year election—they had the numbers to get it. Of course, the fact that a relatively tiny sliver of the electorate can change the balance of power so completely is somewhat distressing. But, hey, welcome to democracy!

Some had held out hope that Virginia’s senate Republicans, having only achieved parity in the chamber, would do the right thing and enter into a power-sharing agreement with their Democratic counterparts. But from the second that Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling announced that he would use his tie-breaking vote to steamroll the opposition, the writing was on the wall.

And what voluminous and bitter writing it is! Although the age of complete Republican dominance in Virginia is young, here’s just a sampling of bills that are likely to pass both sides of the Assembly and be signed into law: A bill repealing Virginia’s longstanding one-gun-purchase-per-month law, a bill that requires voters to present a valid photo ID in order to cast a ballot, a bill that would ban state agencies from even mentioning unions when negotiating contracts on new projects, and a bill that would force any woman seeking an abortion to get an ultrasound and then wait at least 24 hours before receiving the procedure.

And those represent just the low-hanging fruit on the tree of right-wing lunacy. On the horizon is a bill by Delegate Dave Albo that would require prospective voters to prove that they are citizens of the United States, and one sponsored by Delegate Mark Cole that would deny state funding to poor women seeking to terminate a troubled pregnancy (defined as one that would result in a child “with a gross and totally incapacitating physical deformity or mental deficiency”).

The only upside to any of this is that it has finally stirred the oft-somnambulant Democrats to act like a real opposition party for a change. Leading the charge last week was Fairfax’s Senator Janet Howell, who proposed an amendment to the ultrasound bill that would require any man seeking erectile dysfunction medication to first submit to a digital rectal exam and cardiac stress test. Although the measure failed by one vote, it was still a brilliant piece of political theater, and effectively highlighted the hypocrisy of the Assembly’s “small government” majority imposing onerous conditions on a completely legal and routine medical procedure.

It also provided a much-needed moment of levity, which we very much appreciated. After all, with these jokers in charge it looks as though the laughs are going to be few and far between for quite some time.

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