Virginia Senate Goes Rogue! A By Hook or by Crook Update

In the last election Blue Michigan voted to repeal the controversial law which allowed an unelected, state appointed despot, I mean manager, to take over cities and towns in financial trouble.  No matter.  The Republican controlled state legislature — the same one that gerrymandered the hell out of the congressional districts in that state — passed the law again, only this time in such a way that it could not be repealed by referendum.

I remember the hackles that the “I Hate Gays” bigots spat when court after court  repealed California’s anti-marriage equality Prop. 8.  “The courts are subverting the will of the people!” they decried.  But I guess when it’s an elected legislature that subverts the will of the people by re-passing the same law folks just voted to dump, then it’s OK.  Right.

In the same spirit of By Hook or By Crook, Virginia’s state senate pulled a doozy.  The Virginia Senate is divided equally, 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans.  Under normal circumstances, to get anything passed would require some level of bipartisan support, otherwise everything would end in a 20-20 stalemate.  But then, in the dead of night as most folks slept peacefully, the Republicans of the Virginia Senate convened behind closed doors, away from the glare of the cameras, and voted to redraw the districts for the Virginia Senate, districts that had only been redrawn a couple of years ago. . .

What?  It wasn’t in the dead of night?  It wasn’t out of the glare of cameras? Then how did they pass the new district lines, which coincidentally favored Republicans, in so divided a chamber?  What Democrat would vote for that?  Well, none did.  Here’s what happened.

This vote occurred Monday, January 21, while the rest of the country observed the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and celebrated the inauguration of President Barack Obama to his second term.  So first off, Monday was a federal holiday and a holiday in Virginia, too, but apparently not for the Virginia Senate, which clearly felt that passing this redistricting bill was the most important thing in the known universe.  Or it became the most important thing in the known universe when some clever member of the Republican caucus realized that one of the Democrats would be out of town on January 21, 108 miles away in Washington DC to attend the inauguration.

The lawmaker who had the audacity to spend his Dr. King Day at the historic second inauguration of the nation’s first African-Americna president is Virginia Senator Henry L. Marsh III, a long time fighter for civil rights and the first African-American mayor of Richmond.  He has served in the state senate since 1991.  His vote absent, the Republicans convened the Senate, passed the redistricting plan by a vote of 20-19, and then adjourned.   Needless to say, Senator Marsh was not amused.

I get this image of a bunch of guys standing in an office, scratching their heads, wondering how they are going to gerrymander the districts into their favor, when suddenly one of them peeks through the window blinds and notices Senator Marsh heading down the walkway out of the Capitol towards his car and driving away.  Can’t you just see it?  Then the one who spied upon this event would excitedly call out to his cohorts, “Hey! Marsh is leaving!  He’s driving away!  Hurry, let’s convene the Senate!”  And then maybe one of the other ones would be like, “But isn’t it a holiday today?”  To which someone else would say, “Who cares!  Let’s do it!”

Shady doesn’t even begin to describe this level of dastardliness.  This is one of those scenarios that’s so unbelievable that if I had written it as a short story and submitted it to journals, none would publish it because they’d say that it was just too silly to be believable.  But in the age of By Hook or By Crook, nothing is too shameful, nothing is too unbelievable.  As both the Michigan and Virginia examples demonstrate, Republicans will stop at nothing to ensure that they control everything.  To hell with the voters.

I noted, as many did, Congressman Eric Cantor’s face as he listened to Richard Blanco’s inaugural poem.  Natasha Lennard at Salon called his expression a grimace.  Many felt that he probably just didn’t get the poem, it bored him, whatever.  Part of me now thinks something more sinister could have been going on in Mr. Cantor’s mind, as well as the minds of his fellow Republicans.  They sat and listened to the pageantry of liberal ideals and inclusiveness that was the inauguration and likely thought to themselves, “Enjoy it while you can folks.  He’ll be the last Democrat you’ll see in the White House for a loooong time.”  Given the stunts they have pulled, from gerrymandering to holding votes when they knew they could get away with it, I don’t doubt that they’ll do everything possible to make such thinking come to pass.

Oh, and just in case the message wasn’t clear.  After taking their “get-it-while-you-can” vote, the Virginia Senate did adjourn in recognition not of Dr. King, on whose holiday they voted, but in honor of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson, whose birthday happened to be January 21.

Seriously.  You really can’t make this shit up.

© 2013, gar. All rights reserved.

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