This morning Lt. Governor Bill Bolling released a memo detailing his thoughts on his ability to cast the tie-breaking vote in the Virginia Senate.
Virginia’s November elections, if you can remember all the way back to 2011, weren’t the most exciting elections for a lot of people. They lacked exciting national races, voter turnout was low (28% of registered voters, compared to 74% in 2008), and we–somehow–were already deep into the 2012 Presidential election media blitz. The results of the elections were, however, interesting: an even split in the Virginia Senate, which means the tiebreaker goes to (Republican) Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling.
Instantly, Republicans claimed they had a defacto majority and would be using the Lt. Gov’s tiebreaker on any matter (read: most matters) where the voting was strict down party lines. Democrats lamented that such a tactic was an abuse of the Constitution. Someone filed suit against someone else.
This morning the Lt. Governor released a memo outlining his views on the matter. It’s straightforward and a pleasure to read, I recommend it (PDF). It boils down to this bit (in his own words):
Stated differently, Article V, § 14 of the Constitution of Virginia gives the Lieutenant Governor broad authority to vote on any matter that comes before the Senate and results in an equal division, unless another part of the Constitution specifically limits the Lieutenant Governors ability to vote.
The gist is that scattered throughout the Constitution are several powers given exclusively to “members elected” to the General Assembly. While the Lt. Gov is technically a part of the Senate, he’s certainly not elected to the GA. So, in any matter where the Constitution specifies “members elected” he is unable to cast the tie-breaking vote. A couple examples (not a comprehensive list) of what he cannot vote on:
- Constitutional amendments
- Appropriation bills & tax bills
- The election of judges
- The creation of new offices
But all kinds of things remain on which he can vote–including organizational and procedural matters. The suit will most likely move forward, and we’ll be treated to more partisan politics. I did, however, enjoy this parting thought from the Lieutenant Governor in his memo:
I recognize that Senators on both sides of the aisle may be disappointed with my conclusions, albeit for entirely different reasons. However, throughout my service as Lieutenant Governor I have tried to preside over the Senate in a fair and impartial manner, and I will continue to do so.
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