Virginia Senate Republicans ruled out power sharing with Democrats on Wednesday, with Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling casting the vote that broke a 20-20 deadlock.
Republicans rejected a Democratic motion to evenly apportion committee seats and oversee them with co-chairmen.
With the vote, Republicans assert control of both the legislative and executive branches of Virginia government for the first time in 11 years, giving Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell the opportunity to enact a broad array of conservative legislation.
In debate about the normally mundane issue of organizing the Senate, Democrats decried Republican changes that would give Republican senators majorities on the Senate's standing committees, the gatekeepers which determine which bills advance to floor votes and which die.
After rejecting a Democratic proposal to share power, the fight began over a Republican alternative to dominate the Senate even though they have the same number of senators as the Democrats.
Democrats contended the state Constitution requires the Senate's rules and organization be determined only by senators, noting that the lieutenant governor -- who presides over the Senate and votes only to break ties -- is elected statewide to the executive branch of government.
“I would submit that this is a violation of the Constitution of Virginia,” said Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke.
Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr., the Senate Republican leader, airily dismissed the Democrats' objections.
“I will not get into a constitutional debate with you on the floor of the Senate on this issue or any other issue,” Norment said.
He said the constitutional provision the Democrats raise “does not address the sovereign ability of this body to organize itself.”
What remained unclear was whether the vote and what Edwards called “an unconstitutional power grab” would revive a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court filed in December that sought to restrain Bolling from casting the decisive vote based on the same constitutional issue. A judge rejected Democratic Sen. A. Donald McEachin's request for a temporary restraining order against Bolling, ruling that no harm had occurred because Bolling had not yet voted.