Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

January 13, 2014

Va. General Assembly opens 2014 session with uncertainty

RICHMOND, Va. — There can be challenges associated with any kind of change, and the change that has been taking place in the Virginia General Assembly since the fall of 2013 has not yet finished its course.

If nothing else, the apparent nine-vote victory by Democrat Lynwood Lewis Jr., over Republican B. Wayne Coleman in the Sixth District special election to fill the unexpired term of now Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam should point to a sharply divided electorate in Virginia. With another special election scheduled on Jan. 21, to fill the unexpired term of now Attorney General Mark Herring, the very real possibility exists that both houses of the Virginia General Assembly could be controlled by the Republican Party while all three statewide offices are held by Democrats.

State Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell — the lone remaining Democrat in Virginia’s “Far Southwest” — said that it was cold in Richmond for the start of the 2014 session, “in more ways than one,” he said. “I think Gov. (Bob) McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth was one of the best that I’ve heard. It was forceful, frank and truthful.” Puckett said that he did not observe a favorable response from many Republicans. “I think Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe, will have to work hard at (building bipartisan cooperation in the General Assembly).”

State Delegate James W. “Will” Morefield, R-Tazewell, said he is hopeful that a bipartisan spirit will exist this session. “The new governor’s office and staff will spend the next few weeks familiarizing themselves with members of the General Assembly,” Morefield wrote in response to an email message seeking comment. “I spoke with (Gov.) McAuliffe a few days ago and I am encouraged with his view of working together with both Democrats and Republicans.

“I will be meeting with the governor in a few days to discuss a number of projects and one major jobs project we have been working on in Southwest Virginia,” Morefield wrote. “Political division does still exist statewide, but I do believe there is agreement among the majority of House and Senate members that we must put our political differences aside and make this a productive session for the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

Morefield said he was proud of the state’s successes during the four years that McDonnell served as governor. He pointed to the $400 million surplus and added that Virginia is one of the few states in the country that has replenished its rainy day fund, maintained its AAA bond rating “and now leads the nation in setting a precedent for fiscal responsibility,” he wrote. “All of the accomplishments over the past four years was done by balancing the budget and not significantly raising taxes and fees.”

Both Puckett and Morefield said that they plan to support the mental health initiative that Gov. McConnell recommended in the State of the Commonwealth address. However, Puckett went on to say that he thinks Virginia’s response to the federal Affordable Care Act is “just good for three years,” and added that the General Assembly will have to take action. Morefield also noted that “the issue of Medicaid expansion” will also be among the challenges the General Assembly faces.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty here,” Puckett said. “Senator Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas) is the longest serving of the senators here and he said that he has never seen it like this before. You can’t give up. The Lord has you here for a purpose, and you have to keep working to serve that purpose.”

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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