More than halfway through the regular 60-day session of the General Assembly, the mood has turned decidedly tetchy. What a difference a (special election) day makes. The atmosphere soured the day after former Democrat State Rep. Perry Clark beat Republican Debbie Peden in a Feb. 14 race to determine who would serve the 37th senatorial district after the state Supreme Court disqualified Virginia Woodward and Dana Seum Stephenson.
As Sen.-elect Clark cooed on election night, it was “a major blow to Senate President David Williams.”
Clark’s brass signaled that he might take an antagonistic tone with Williams, a posture freshmen and veteran senators have regretted. Reportedly at Williams’ behest, Minority (Democrat) Floor Leader Ed Worley persuaded Clark to alter his plan to be sworn in by his friend, Supreme Court Justice Martin Johnstone. Evidently, Williams was so disappointed with the court that presiding over the Senate while Johnstone administered Clark’s oath might have felt too much like Al Gore crossing paths with Chief Justice Rehnquist at Dubya’s first inauguration.
The day after Clark won his race and fellow Democrat Ron Weston landslid into the House seat that Clark vacated, Democrat Tim Shaughnessy stuck a thorn in the side of the GOP by asking why no fiscal impact estimate accompanied a bill exempting active-duty armed services personnel from paying state taxes. Williams testily invited Shaughnessy to delay consideration of the bill, which elicited a silent, crumpled face and extended debate punctuated by petty crossfire.
On Monday, House and Senate Democrats, including Reps. Mary Lou Marzian and Jim Wayne, inveighed against the Governor’s appointment of two judges — both Fletcher campaign donors — to review his power to pardon targets in the ongoing investigation of merit system abuses. The critics were careful not to impugn the integrity of the jurists, but GOP defenders had an indignant conniption. Expect more intrigue as the session enters the usual, vexing legislative bottleneck.
BY STEVE SHAW