by Karl Kurtz
That asterisk in the title is there for a purpose. It's the only way we know of to list a chamber that is officially tied but effectively under control of one party, in this case the Republicans.
In yesterday's developments in the Virginia Senate as reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, challenger Bryce Reeves' (R) election night margin of 86 votes over incumbent Sen. Ed Houck (D) became a more comfortable 224 vote edge when all the votes were counted. Although Houck has 10 days in which to request a recount, it appears likely that the Senate is tied. [Update, 4 p.m., MST: Sen. Houch has conceded.]
Certainly the Republicans view it as a tie that they control. Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who holds the tie-breaking vote under Virginia rules, said:
"Make no mistake about it, there is a Republican majority in the state Senate," Bolling told reporters Wednesday.
"And that Republican majority fully intends to organize the Senate with a Republican majority," he said, including installing a Republican majority leader and Republican chairmen of the key committees.
And the Times-Dispatch goes on to report:
The Senate had been the Democrats' last bastion of power at the Capitol. They held a 22-18 majority until Tuesday, when Republicans ousted incumbent Sen. W. Roscoe Reynolds, D-Henry, by just over 600 votes in the 20th District, and appeared to have removed Houck from the Fredericksburg-area seat he has held for 27 years.
By casting a vote to organize the Senate, Bolling could ensure Republican chairmen and assign members to legislative committees, which could control the flow of legislation in the upcoming General Assembly session.
The Virginia Senate was tied once before after the 1995 election. The lieutenant governor at the time was a Democrat, and it was assumed at first that the Democrats would organize the chamber. But one Democratic senator, Virgil Goode, Jr., who later served in Congress, objected to the idea of the lieutenant governor, an executive branch official, resolving a tied situation in the Senate. He announced that unless the two parties came to the table to negotiate a power sharing agreement, he would vote to organize with the Republicans. Virginia Senate Clerk Susan Schaar says that it took them three days, but eventually the party leaders forged an agreement: a Democratic lieutenant governor presided, each party had a floor leader, the Finance Committee had co-chairs, six other committees had Democratic chairs, and four had Republican chairs. Other than the formal role of presiding, the lieutenant governor had nothing to do with.
Such a scenario seems highly unlikely in 2011. For the time being, count the Virginia Senate as tied.*
*Tied but under Republican control due to the lieutenant governor's tie-breaking vote.