In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey.

I’m a loser by disposition.

I’m a lifelong Red Sox fan. I’m a Democrat in Virginia. I don’t know what to do with success, with victory. It’s utterly alien. I’m suspicious of it. It’s a trap. I’ll just squander it.

So, yes, Democrats took over the Virginia senate last night. It’s a one-seat advantage. And Democrats took back four seats in the house, continuing the steady five-year march to the majority. There are no surprises here. Nobody with any sense expected an outcome much different from this one. I should be giddy. I know it’s not a trap. But I’m less confident that Democrats won’t squander it.

My biggest concern is that senate Democrats will become vindictive. That given a bare majority, they’ll toss Republicans out of every last leadership position, kill their bills in subcommittee, and generally treat them like house Republicans treat house Democrats. The fact is that the senate is populated by some pretty good people on both sides of the aisle. While Democrats and Republicans may disagree fundamentally on some important issues, many Republicans have experience and knowledge that should not be ignored. William Wampler, Ken Stolle and Emmett Hanger all spring to mind as guys with whom I agree about virtually nothing, at least on the contentious issues, but who I know to be smart and capable, and ought to have a seat at the table. To the extent to which they’re more qualified in their areas then any senate Democrats, they should be given more than a mere seat at the table.

There’s no telling what could happen to the senate makeup. A Democrat’s seat could come open at any time, and a tough race could see the senate flip, 20/20 with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the tie breaking votes. That’s not a crazy scenario — it’s utterly plausible. If Democrats burn Republicans, Republicans will turn around and burn Democrats right back. An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

Senate Democrats have an opportunity to set an example for House Democrats, to show how to transition back into power as a humbler, fairer Democratic Party. Maybe we’ll spend another century in power, a return to how things were until 1998. I think we will. But we might not. And if for no other reason than to avoid payback, we should establish standards that are higher than Republicans’ in the past decade and, indeed, Democrats’ for the hundred years before that.

It’s not a trap. But I think we’ll squander it. I hope I’m wrong.

32 thoughts on “In the time of chimpanzees I was a monkey.”

  1. My biggest concern is that senate Democrats will become vindictive. That given a bare majority, they’ll toss Republicans out of every last leadership position, kill their bills in subcommittee, and generally treat them like house Republicans treat house Democrats.

    This would concern me more — would make me wonder just what in hell you’re basing it on — if I didn’t now have the benefit of several years’ worth of reading your first political reactions to things. Your track record’s not really very good. So I’m not going to get at all exercised on behalf of Senate Democrats, or spend any energy castigating you for your consistent readiness to do the pox-on-both-houses thing.

    I will ask you for an example of any legislative body anywhere in the U.S. where leadership positions (committee chairs, etc.) are not held completely by the majority party.

  2. I would urge Nell to consult recent history in Virginia — where not too long ago the Senate worked out a power-sharing arrangement — and also to the House of Delegates, where committees had co-chairs.

    I don’t have the benefit of reading anything Nell has published so I have absolutely no idea where the hell she is coming from.

  3. I am so sad that Connie Brennan lost yesterday, and even more sad that Albemarle county managed less than a 40% turnout of registered voters. What the heck!?! Then I did a little number crunching. If 2,195 represents 40% of registered voters, that means that the registered voter population of the county is 5,488. How is it possible that in a county containing some 90,000 folks, only 5,488 or 6% of the population is registered to vote? Okay, so some of those folks are children or convicts or other folks who are not eligible to vote, but still, clearly the number of eligible folks who are not registered to vote is staggering, not to mention embarrassing.

    I couldn’t help but think of the country from which my mother is, Uruguay. Do you know what their turnout percentage is? 100%. Yup, you read correctly, 100%. Why? Because it is illegal not to vote. You don’t vote, and you lose out on government benefits, not to mention the fines that are assessed. Draconian, you say? Perhaps, but I will tell that when my cousins talk about voter turnout, I don’t dare say a word because though the country in which I live is supposed to be the cradle of democracy, it ranks in the bottom 20th percentile of nations for voter turnout. Something, draconian or not, needs to be done.

  4. Your track record’s not really very good.

    Is that so, Nell? I hope you’ll provide a few example of this. I very rarely make predictions — there’s not a single one in this blog entry — so I’m a bit puzzled as to how my “track record” could be bad. Really, the only prediction that I can summon is my four-year-old forecast that the GA will be controlled by Democrats soon, but that’s not exactly the stuff of psychics.

    I dig it when Waldo gets attacked from the left, and, um, I think that’s what’s happening here.

    Yeah, Nell’s a pretty good distance to the left of me. She’s never been a big fan of me saying anything nice about Republicans or less than nice about Democrats. Which is just fine by me — it’s a perfectly reasonable impulse.

  5. Judge, it might mean that Waldo isn’t as knee-jerk far left wing as you may perceive him to be. Or Nell’s waaaaaaaaay more so than most of us. And way more vindictive.

    Me, I like the idea of Democrats taking the high road. It’s not always the most “politically” expedient thing to do, but almost always the right thing. I mean, jeez, someone’s got to do the right thing these days, right?

    So, realistically – Waldo has one (well, two) of the most well researched, well thought out, well referenced (in general) sites I’ve come across when it comes to my home state and it’s politics. He tends to give credit where it’s due. Does he let personal preferences come out? Hell, yeah. Who doesn’t?

    Not to say you shouldn’t feel a little OK when someone you disagree with gets poked at – we all do. But it also provides some perspective.

    Or maybe Nell just needs to chill a little.

  6. I am so sad that Connie Brennan lost yesterday, and even more sad that Albemarle county managed less than a 40% turnout of registered voters. What the heck!?! Then I did a little number crunching. If 2,195 represents 40% of registered voters, that means that the registered voter population of the county is 5,488. How is it possible that in a county containing some 90,000 folks, only 5,488 or 6% of the population is registered to vote?

    Malena, only 3 of the 29 precincts in Albemarle County are in Abbitt’s district. The entire county has over 59,000 registered voters.

  7. The Werner Von Braun solution: Guys like Stolle and Hanger are offered Chairmanships and campaign funding in exchange for swapping their party affiliation. They are afforded opportunities that also reward their constituents. They sit at the table while bold bipartisan legislation is drafted. They become rockstars in the new Virginia Democratic majority.

    Rightwing loons erupt in indignation. Impostor attorneys threaten bogus legal filings. Hyper-conservative Radicals elbow their way into the RPV leadership to challenge the traitors. They are derided, scorned, and marginalized. Nanny-state Liberals complain about the impropriety! Virginia shows the nation what responsible, responsive government looks like. Everybody rides, everybody pays.

  8. Waldo, there’s no reason to give any chairmanships to Republicans in the Senate, and I seriously doubt it will happen. Neither would it be vindictive of the Democrats to take all the chairs. It’s what every majority party does. The only power-sharing that ever took place was for the 20-20 split a few years back.

    And Bubby — “Everybody rides, everybody pays” sounds like something that would go over well in a northeastern nanny state, but not here. Most Virginians — even those moderates who are flexing their muscles at the polls nowadays — prefer to allow people to buy a ticket if they want to, and let them hitch a ride elsewhere if that’s their choice.

  9. Thanks, David, I had forgotten that only part of the county fell within that district. So when the VA Board of Elections reports a 40% turnout, they are referring to the percentage of registered voters within the county that live in that district and turned out to vote? If so, it is still a pathetic turnout…

  10. Waldo, there’s no reason to give any chairmanships to Republicans in the Senate, and I seriously doubt it will happen.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that they be given chairmanships, simply that they be “given more than a mere seat at the table.” Personally, I’d like to see perhaps 1-2 instances of centrist Republicans being given chairmanships — it would an outlandish gesture of bipartisanship on the part of Democrats — but I also appreciate that the odds of such a thing happening are vanishingly close to zero, and for good cause.

  11. Dear I Publius: “Everyone rides, everyone pays” means that the tax on inherited wealth is collected, just like it is collected on working people.

    Your Republicans have blown a Senate majority in Virginia in a record 7 years, I’m looking to build a more durable union. We do, after all have a natural advantage – we’re inclusive, and diverse.

  12. Waldo, you have this backwards…

    Republicans will FORCE a Democratic Majority in the house in 2009.

    Take a look at this article in the washington post today:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/11/07/AR2007110700553.html?sid=ST2007110702507

    In which Del Dave Albo writes his own political obituary:

    Del. David B. Albo (R-Fairfax), who ran unopposed this year, said he’s not worried about losing the House in 2009. “We still have an eight-seat majority,” he said. “They will never take the majority. Never.”

    It’s the most panicked and shrill political comment since Jerry Kilgore at the Homestead.

    We should all keep that article and send it to Dave Albo in 2009 with his quote highlighted when voters demand a Democratic majority.

    The real insight in this article comes from Brian Moran:

    “The lesson learned from [Tuesday's] election is to govern from the middle,” said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria)

    It’s a lesson that Democrats have learned, and from which their victories have emerged. The current crop of Gilmore/Allen Republicans is incapable of governing from the middle.

    Thus, when Albo says “They will never take the majority. Never.” he’s right.

    Democrats will not take the majority, Republican will give it away, by alienating and failing to serve the interests of Virginia’s voters.

    Albo is the last one to be pounding his chest, it’s precisely his brand of ideology and incompetence which will pave the way for an enduring Democratic majority in the Commonwealth of Virginia… including the House of Delegates.

  13. I think they should treat the Senate Republicans with respect and save the vindictiveness for the House Republicans, who deserve it much more. :-)

    (And honestly, I think that’s probably what will happen, based on the experience of the past several years, where major battles were frequently more between the House and Senate than between Democrats and Republicans.)

  14. House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said the two chambers have a history of institutional friction. But, he said Wednesday, “the working relationship is probably going to be the same.”

    What’s less certain, Griffith said, is whether an intense and bitter election campaign will leave Republicans less inclined to accommodate Kaine and the Democrats.

    Less inclined to get something done than your two-year failed effort on Transportation funding Morgan?

  15. “Everyone rides, everyone pays” means that the tax on inherited wealth is collected, just like it is collected on working people.

    Wha? Huh? What does that even mean? The wealthy don’t pay inheritance taxes, but “working people” do? That is doubly ignorant of how the estate tax operates. The wealthy today DO pay estate tax, but the majority of the middle class do not. Of course, it doesn’t take too much for a small business to reach the (currently) $2,000,000 threshold. So there are quite a few middle class “working people” who can lose their family business or family farm because of death estate taxes.

    Besides, the amounts we’re talking about from the estate tax aren’t enough for everybody to “ride” very far. What programs are you suggesting will be paid for when “inherited wealth” is taxed more heavily than it already is?

    Your Republicans have blown a Senate majority in Virginia in a record 7 years

    Did they lose it in 1 3/4 terms, or two 3.5 year terms? Regardless, you’re way off on who holds the record there. Go back to 1991… the Dems lost EIGHT seats in one election. That’s a record that will stand for a LONG time, my friend.

  16. Working people pay taxes on ALL of their income; so the wealthy have no claim that unearned, inherited money should be any different.

    Wage-earning working families are struggling to pay ever higher taxes and “fees” – they don’t need to hear lobbyists for the rich moaning about the tax on daddy’s money.

    Virginia’s rich benefit handsomely from a stable, healthy and educated society, and they are expected to pay for their good fortune. The Virginia estate tax would provide far more money than the ridiculous Republican driver “Abuser Fees”. In 2005 it amounted to $100 million.

    Any small business man/farmer that loses his estate to the inheritance tax isn’t a businessman, he’s a fool. Competent businessmen create divestment plans, and transitions to hand off their operations. But of course you knew that.

    In America nobody has a “right” to unearned wealth – even if they are the child of some important person. We have no need for Titles and Nobility, in fact we reject them.

  17. I think we’re all a bit astonished to see the Republican majority that rode George Bush’s coat-tails so confidently into the Virginia Senate…evaporate by 2007. As my Irish grandma used to say, “Rags to Rags in 3 generations”.

  18. It’s encouraging to see your call for moderation. The red/blue pissing war has to stop before we can begin to intelligently address the major issues that are commonly faced in this state and nation.

  19. By ‘track record’ I was referring to Waldo’s approach to the Democratic primary for Senate in 2006, his early thoughts on Mark Warner running for Senate, and more.

    And I have no problem criticizing Democrats — just for things they’ve actually done, not for preemptive cringing about totally normal, non-vindictive politics.

    In the post, Waldo makes it sound as if failing to allow some Republicans to keep their chairmanships would be “vindictive”, and resulting in “squandering” the Democratic victory — “blowing it”. Now he’s acknowledging that keeping them would be “an outlandish gesture of bipartisanship” and that it won’t happen, “for good cause”.

    I wouldn’t have commented if he’d approached it with that kind of language in the first place.

    And I stand by my request to provide any examples of a legislature where the majority does not fill the leadership positions. As I.Publius pointed out, C.O.’s cite is of a non-majority situation, highly unusual.

  20. By ‘track record’ I was referring to Waldo’s approach to the Democratic primary for Senate in 2006, his early thoughts on Mark Warner running for Senate, and more.

    What was wrong with my approach to the primary? Does it concern you that I thought Webb had a bad campaign and Miller was a bad candidate? Should I have pretended otherwise? My early thoughts on Mark Warner running for the Senate consisted of saying that he can’t run for the Senate and the presidency. Did that upset you?

    In the post, Waldo makes it sound as if failing to allow some Republicans to keep their chairmanships would be “vindictive”, and resulting in “squandering” the Democratic victory — “blowing it”.

    That’s not at all what I said, Nell. What I wrote was:

    My biggest concern is that senate Democrats will become vindictive. That given a bare majority, they’ll toss Republicans out of every last leadership position, kill their bills in subcommittee, and generally treat them like house Republicans treat house Democrats.

    I used the word “vindictive” and followed it with a laundry list of what would collectively qualify as vindictive. You have plucked a single thing from that list and ignored the rest, thus decontextualizing my concern and turning it into worry about a single symptom, rather than a collection of them.

    I really don’t know who you’re quoting when you write “‘blowing it,’” but it’s not me. But we would squander our victory if the result of it was that we did all of the things that we’ve opposed when Republicans do it. That would be dominance for the sake of dominance, rather than to actually accomplish something.

    And I stand by my request to provide any examples of a legislature where the majority does not fill the leadership positions.

    Colorado, 2004. Quoth the November 22 Capitol Journal:

    Democrats swiped control of the Colorado Senate from Republicans on Nov. 2 and now at least some of them are seeking to be magnanimous in victory. The chamber’s majority leader-elect, Ken Gordon (D), is considering letting Republicans hold the number two position on committees. The vice-chairs would be able to make decisions whenever the Democratic chairman was not present.

    [...]

    Political science professor John Straayer said he’d never seen the majority party offer vice chairmanships to the minority party in the more than 25 years he’s been monitoring events at the Capitol. “I think what that signals is a desire to avoid harsh partisan conflict and get on with serious attention to the state’s needs and problems,” he said. “You can only hope that kind of olive branch produces more olive trees.” And Straayer is not the only one who sees it that way. Sen.Dan Grossman(D), who favors the power-sharing idea,said, “If the Democrats are going to be anything other than a very temporary majority, we have to understand that getting things done is what got us the majority.”

    One could have declared a few years ago that there’s no state in the nation that has nonpartisan redistricting. Or that there’s no state that’s legalized gay marriage. Or one could point out now that no states have decriminalized marijuana. But what of it? The fact that it hasn’t been done doesn’t prevent it from being a good idea.

  21. The fact that it hasn’t been done doesn’t prevent it from being a good idea.

    No, it doesn’t. In fact, that’s what some call “leadership”.

  22. The Senate is by its very nature more collegial, more collaborative. Saslaw and others had a good bit of clout (but no chairmanships) when the Republicans were in the majority. There are strong across-the-aisle friendships. My guess is that continues, with different people in chairmanships.

    The more interesting dynamic will be House vs. Senate. My take on this is that the two parties in any legislature are the House and the Senate. There was bad blood before. There will be bad blood now. It will now be blamed on partisanship and . . . well, some of it will be. But there will be some conflict that is just the natural tug between two bodies with very different cultures.

  23. Some of you have very short memories. The CURRENT Virginia state senate includes subcommittee chairpersons Mary Margaret Whipple(D)-Senate Education and Health/Health Care and Dick Saslaw(D)-Senate Education and Health/Higher Education. There is no reason we can’t be generous in leadership allocations in the Senate – it makes good sense from several angles.

    The fundamental nature of the battles have not changed – there are still three parties in Virginia – Democratic, Republican and Wingnut.

    I am only truly worried about the third.

  24. Kris makes excellent points. One could say that there is greater similarity between the leadership of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate than there is between the Republicans in the House and Senate. Different cultures indeed.

    The Democrats and moderate Republican leaders in the Senate have worked together effectively on many issues in recent years preventing many examples of extremist legislation that passed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates from being successful in the Senate. I fully expect that such collaborations in the Senate will continue with the Democratic takeover.

    The House of Delegates, where ideology rules supreme among the current Republican leadership, is a totally different animal. The Republican leadership there appears committed to making sure that Governor Kaine and the Democrats have no meaningful legacy above everything else. This will become apparent when one watches what happens to the Governor’s budget recommendations for the next biennium, especially in the House Appropriations Committee. I don’t think this is what most Virginians want from their elected officials.

    If Virginia is becoming more purple, it is in recognition that moderation is what the people want. The Democrats seem to have grasped that principle. The current prevailing Republican methodology for nominations for public office have effectively ruled out those whose political ideology is more moderate. Think Tom Davis versus Jim Gilmore for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate next year. The people of Virginia are now responding to the current Republican litmus tests. Thank goodness.

  25. @Waldo:
    I shouldn’t have used the phrase ‘track record’, because it’s not your predictions that I fault (you don’t make many if any), but your analysis.

    Taking a look at the Webb-Miller piece you did just before the primary to remind myself, I acknowledge the overall point of your post: Webb the stronger candidate, Miller the stronger campaign. Several people made the cogent point that campaigns were far easier to improve than candidates, which proved out in practice.

    Your reluctance to take a position on the race is part and parcel of the kind of blogging you choose to do, and I respect that. It has the advantage, among others, of making far fewer enemies. But reflexive even-handedness has its own drawbacks, and one of them is mushy, muddied analysis.

    “Harris Miller … has nothing inspiring on his resume. There are no particular negatives in it (I can’t see the problem with his having been a lobbyist)”. In 2006, when the overweening power of corporate lobbbyists and the many corruption scandals tied to them were one of the most powerful issues dragging down Republican candidates, you saw no problem for Miller there?

    “[Miller's] treatment of Sen. Allen can be rather harsh — the first time I saw him speak, I bristled a bit at what I perceived as insufficient respect befitting the office, no matter how much I dislike ‘Senator Spitcup,’… “Miller’s attacks on Sen. Allen left me sympathizing with him.”
    This kind of reaction is what makes many people admire your writing, and it’s admirable on a personal level. But it reflects a dimness about the actual political situation (particularly the actual political situation of 2006) that clouds political judgment.

    Your post on Warner, Sen. vs. Gov.:
    “…a Warner candidacy [is] considerably more palatable to Democrats like myself, who believe that it’s crucial that he run for governor. I maintain that it would be better for Democrats and better for Virginia if he returned to the governor’s office. It’s not particularly important to me that the state be represented by a pair of Democrats”
    Let’s just say that we differ there. Your analysis of the dynamics of the statewide races leaves out an important possibility that Deeds, should he fail to get the Democratic nomination, has a perfectly good plan B: run again for Attorney General.

    The political world you wish for — in which sensible members of both parties work together to solve the problems facing their constituents — will not come about until the rigidly ideological, radically right-wing Republican party of Virginia hits bottom. We’re still a good ways from that; wishing for centrism all around won’t get us there, and will continue to cloud sound political judgment.

    Finally, this ticked me off from someone who proclaims himself a Deeds supporter:
    “better still to have both chambers and the governor’s office. (That’s ostensibly to put nonpartisan redistricting into place, but I’d put my money on the Dems forgetting all about the non part of that phrase about five minutes after getting the majority.)”

    I’ll take that bet, given that Deeds is the most prominent and tireless supporter in the party of ending partisan, winner-take-all redistricting.

  26. Bill, you make an excellent point about the three parties. As for the chair positions, there’s a BIG difference b/t committee chairs and subcommittee chairs. I don’t think there is any precedent in Virginia politics for a minority party holding committee chairs.

  27. Nell, I see what the problem is here. It’s not that I’m factually wrong in my statements, it’s that you simply don’t like me. My outlook on life and attitude toward the responsibilities of elected officials is in fundamental opposition to yours. Which is perfectly fine — nobody is obliged to like everybody else. I certainly know plenty of people towards whom I’m similarly disposed.

    I do want to respond to one specific point, though, your claim that I’m calling Creigh Deeds a hypocrite. I didn’t suggest — or even think that — that my own senator would change his view on redistricting. I know him better than to suggest that, and he knows me better than to think that I’d suggest that. But I do expect a hell of a fight to get Democrats to support the nonpartisan redistricting that they’ve claimed to support for nearly a decade now.

    With your assertion that you’d “take that bet,” I was all prepared to write up the terms of the bet, but I realized that it wouldn’t be fair, since Senate Democrats are already bailing on their commitment to nonpartisan redistricting. That didn’t last long, did it?

  28. I apologize for not catching this sooner, but we need to have a little talk. The Red Sox have won two titles in four years. They’re not losers and it doesn’t matter that we used to be. Fans of teams like the Cubs and Indians HATE it now when Red Sox fans say stuff like that. In 2004 we could say victory was foreign, but after going 8-0 in the World Series, we’re winners now. Let’s act like it.

    Same thing in Virginia. Winners don’t talk about being vindictive or what might happen when they lose. Winners know the last win doesn’t mean anything because there’s another contest coming up, and if you don’t immediately focus like a laser on getting it done, you’ll be toast.

  29. I was accustomed to the annual disappointment that was the Red Sox for 93% of my life. As I wrote: I don’t know what to do with success, with victory. It’s utterly alien. I’m suspicious of it. Such change does not come easily.

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