Local Commentary

Senator Whipple’s Richmond Report

What an exciting week it was for Senate Democrats!

As Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus it was my job to try to achieve a Democratic majority in the Senate this year – and we did.

Many months ago we began recruiting candidates in our targeted races. After the elections of Mark Warner, Tim Kaine and Jim Webb, it was easier to attract highly-qualified Democrats to run for office. The caliber of our candidates was outstanding. Many had held public office prior to running and all were well-regarded in their communities.

Then came the hard work of raising money and identifying supporters. Our candidates knocked on thousands of doors and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Senate Democratic Caucus contributed heavily to the targeted races and, for the first time in Senate races, were able to match the Republicans in fundraising. Thanks to the Governor’s funding of the field program, we did even better at identifying and getting out our vote.

In the end, we defeated three incumbents and won one open seat to win the four seats necessary to gain the majority.

Of course it was a great disappointment to lose the 37th District race by a mere 92 votes. There will be a recount in that district since the race was so close just to verify the results.

Now that the Democrats will be in the majority, our members are abuzz with who will be on what committee and who will be the chairs. It appears that nearly all the female members of the Senate will be committee chairs, a big change for the Old Dominion!

Now we move on to governing.

We have promised that no Republican will be removed from a committee and that it is important to us to work cooperatively with the Senate Republicans in a civil manner to fashion legislation that will be of benefit to all Virginians.

Of course, we are poised to support Governor Kaine and have, for example, a strong interest in his proposal for preschool education for at-risk four-year-olds. We know that there will be many bills dealing with mental health – even before the tragedy at Virginia Tech we knew that community mental health services needed to be strengthened, .and that commitment procedures should be reviewed.

The budget shortfall will pose added challenges. It will require greater focus on our most important priorities as we match revenues with expenditures and search for savings. This week the entire Senate will meet for two days in Blacksburg to be briefed on budget issues.

We hope to engage the House, still with a Republican majority despite Democratic gains, in our quest to govern in a bipartisan and collegial manner. Their response remains to be seen but it is my hope that this approach will prevail.