A recount of the votes in the razor thin outcome of the Nov. 7 election in the Tidewater area’s House District 94 has thrown the issue of the balance of power in the Virginia state legislature into the air. According to the latest report on the recount Wednesday, what was a 20 vote lead for the Republican going into the recount evaporated into a dead heat.
On Tuesday, it was announced that the result had been reversed, with the Democrat Shelly Simonds shading her Republican rival David Yancey by a single vote of 11,608 to 11,607. That outcome, which Republicans appeared to accept at the time, was short-lived, however.
A single ballot that had been discarded in the recount was deemed to be a vote for Yancey and was added back in Wednesday. As a result, the Newport News Circuit Court refused to certify Simonds as the winner.
With an apparent dead heat now, to be resolved by a coin flip, the prospect of an unprecedented 50-50 split in the House of Delegates is also now in the air. Further complicating the situation is the fact that another recount, in the 28th House District, is set for today (Thursday), and also faces a legal challenge as 147 voters in the district, which covers Fredericksburg and Stafford County, were given the wrong ballot to cast, and the margin of difference in the election was only 87 votes.
No matter how this all shakes out, hopefully before the new legislature is sworn in on Jan. 10 but not for sure, it is clear that Democrats came through the November election breathing down the necks of their Republican rivals, closing the gap from a seemingly insurmountable 66-34 Republican majority in the House of Delegates to a virtual, if not actual, tie or about as near to it as one can get.
According to Del. Marcus Simon, in a late revision to his column printed in this week’s News-Press, “If it ends up being 50-50, Democrats seem likely to be in a position to insist on a power sharing arrangement that allows us to Chair committees and possibly control the speaker’s gavel. As of this writing, many of those details remain to be worked out (including the outcome of this latest recount).”
The recounts this week have generated new elation among the Democrats, who held a media conference call late Tuesday afternoon where discussions of “power sharing” with the GOP was mulled. The prospect of a 50-50 tie situation “is unprecedented in the 400 year history of the Virginia legislature,” said House Democratic leader David Toscano.
Foremost on the Democrats’ legislative priorities in the new situation will be to reverse Virginia’s opposition to the expansion of Medicaid to cover an additional 400,000 residents, something that the Republican controlled legislature had blocked despite losing millions in federal funds daily to cover its cost. Gains in women’s health, education, economic opportunity and gun control are also being contemplated, they said in Tuesday’s media call.
The Medicaid expansion, something which Gov. Terry McAuliffe has sought in each of his proposed budgets, including the one he presented this week, was always seen as dead in the water because it was seen by the GOP as a part of Obamacare.
But now, the opposition could be reversed, flying in the face of President Trump’s declaration yesterday that the new GOP-backed federal tax reform constituted a repeal of Obamacare.
It was noted in the November election that over 200,000 more Democrats voted than Republicans in the state, and Republicans are being cautioned not to try to take a highly-adversarial stance as the details are sorted out among the virtual tie situations that currently exist.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorialized yesterday, if Republicans “don’t become a minority party this year, they could in the not-too-distant future,” noting that, “the Republican brand currently is so toxic it borders on poisonous. Republicans don’t hold the high ground, to put it kindly. They need to start reclaiming it, or at least trying to. But they won’t reclaim it if they hold onto their last vestige of power in state government like a snarling dog that won’t let go of a bone.”
The Virginia House Democratic Caucus, in a statement following the change in the recount outcome in the 94th District yesterday, quoted the editorial in denouncing the Republicans for “changing their minds” from accepting the recount results on Tuesday to challenging them yesterday.