If you didn't know that Republicans were in control of the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, you should know it by now.
While "jobs, jobs, jobs" is the mantra across much of the country, Virginia's Republican senators and delegates have been hard at work during their 60-day session changing the state's cultural landscape.
Since starting work in Richmond last month, members have voted on an array of socially conservative issues including:
- Drug tests for aid recipients
- Requiring women considering an abortion to have a sonogram, and look at it, beforehand
- Ending funding of abortions in cases of "gross incapacity and deformity" for women on Medicaid
- Allowing state-funded adoptions and foster programs run by religious organizations to turn away gay couples—on religious grounds—as prospective parents
- Repealing the state's one-gun-a-month law championed by Gov. Doug Wilder
- Requiring photo identification when voting. (Some say this could deter voters who don't have a drivers' license for one reason or another.)
Voter ID Bill
The Virginia House and Senate have both passed bills requiring photo ID to vote; the National Conference of State Legislatures' offers a detailed map and information about other states that run the gamut on requirements.
"There are no documented cases of voter impersonation in Virginia and I believe prosecution of a felony is sufficient disincentive to discourage that kind of behavior and I believe the motives of this bill are purely political," Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), said in his blog, The Dixie Pig.
Del. Mark Sickles posted a photo of himself and others on his Facebook page to decry the legislation. "Today I stood with my colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus to oppose attempts at limiting the right the vote," he wrote.
Others are for the legislation. "I’m trying to understand what the controversy of the bill is," said Del. Dave Albo, (R-Fairfax), noting that the provisional ballots are reviewed the day after the election by the local electoral board.
"If they are legit, they get counted," Albo said. "If they’re not legit, they don’t get counted."
A provisional ballot, however, is not counted until the electoral board meets and agrees that the voter is legitimate, the ACLU points out.
A group called Virginia New Majority said Tuesday it went door to door Monday in Albo's district (which he won by 62 percent in November), talking to residents and asking them to contact Albo regarding dissatisfaction over voter ID requirements. Sara Wallace-Keeshen, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a news release that residents were "shocked" at Albo's stance on the issue.
One Gun-Per Month Repeal
Senate Democratic Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) noted that if a person bought a gun each month for the past 20 years, they would have 240 handguns.
“If you need more than 240 handguns, I submit something’s wrong with you,” he said. “Something has gone terribly wrong in your life.”
Former Gov. Tim Kaine, who is running for U.S. Senate, said Tuesday that he is disappointed by the repeal of the "one gun per month" law.
“I am very disappointed in the General Assembly's actions toward repeal of one of Governor Doug Wilder’s signature achievements—Virginia's one handgun per month law," he said in a news release. "I was also disappointed to see that at least two of the individuals in this U.S. Senate race, George Allen and Bob Marshall, have already voiced support for repeal of this legislation."
Women lawmakers last week spoke out against House Bill 62, sponsored by Del. Mark Cole (R-Spotsylvania), that would end funding of abortions in cases of "gross incapacity and deformity."
"Think about the human beings behind this," said Del. Vivian E. Watts (D-Fairfax), pointing to the "tremendous burden borne by someone on Medicaid" if her child is born in such a condition, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.
"I'm sad to see that today we have no compassion for the poor," added Del. Charniele L. Herring (D-Alexandria), saying the bill would "cut the safety net for poor women."
Conservative Agenda: Help or hindrance to McDonnell's political future?
Some pundits say that by signing such conservative measures into law, Gov. Bob McDonnell, often cited as a GOP VP choice, could hurt his chances of becoming chosen for the Republican VP slot by offending independent voters some consider necessary for a general presidential race against President Obama.
The Virginian-Pilot notes in a headline: "Assembly's right turn could be problematic for McDonnell."
McDonnell has to balance politics and policy, Mark Rozell, a political science professor at George Mason University, told the paper.
"He has been very successful governing as a moderate conservative and projecting a bipartisan style of leadership that so much of the country yearns for these days. That's his calling card," Rozell said.
It's a political tightrope of sorts. Vetoing or amending the legislation, he said, risks alienating Republican donors and power brokers who demand solid conservative moorings for their 2012 national ticket.
McDonnell is slated to appear this week with GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney at a D.C. fundraiser Thursday night and in Reston Friday morning before a technology crowd.