John Chichester is causing me concern. He causes me to question my view of where the line is to be drawn among the competing interests of party loyalty, personal integrity, and policy preference.
First, recent events…We all are familiar with the recent General Assembly approval of a transportation funding plan. The Plan passed the House of Delegates by over 30 votes but squeaked through the Senate by 21-18. All but one democrat voted against, and all but two GOP voted for it. Of these three…
Senate Democratic Leader Richard Saslaw abstained to potentially prevent a tied vote. The transportation act had to have 21 votes to pass. If there is a tie, then GOP Lt. Gov Bill Bolling would vote in favor to pass. But if the vote was 20-19, then the bill fails. OK, this is a bit of parliamentary legerdemain, but it is the same thing the anti-ERA folks did 20+ years ago, so it is not unknown.
Legendarily irasicble GOP state Senator Russ Potts has run from the party ever since he begged GOP loyalists to stick with him in a 2003 primary. His vote is not surprising, and he will not be running for reelection. This seat will flip conservative in the next election.
Then there is state Senator John Chichester, who also broke party ranks to vote against the GOP bill.
Across the pond our british brothers have a term called a three line whip. This term refers to a legislative matter of absolute party priority, and all party members are expected to vote for it regardless of personal position unless the party leader lets them off the hook.
Chichester crossed party lines on a three line whip…what to do?
Past History-Chichester is not just the most senior GOP legislator and President Pro Tempore of the Virginia Senate, he was the party nominee for Lt. Governor in 1985. He was a Byrd Democrat who joined the GOP in the wake of the McGovernitis of the early 1970’s…so he is not just a johnny come lately to the GOP cause.
For more on Chichester, see my thoughts from earlier this month.
In the wake of his vote, what is to be done?
Clearly, his desire for new taxes is real. He has regularly proposed higher tax increases for transportation, and even has proposed higher totals than the Democrats. There is no political advantage to be gained for himself by proposing more taxes…so it must be a matter of some conscience.
However, as noted in the above referenced piece, it is also a matter of ego. I think John Chichester refuses to work with other folks simply because he doesn’t have to…he wants things his own way, and will do what he has to get it done.
Interestingly enough, I am betting Chichester is out of step with the Democratic Party on about anything except transportation funding…if he is in step on everything else, I can only assume a “man of conviction” such as he purports to be would change parties.
So, how does the GOP deal with him?
This is one time where I think primarying an incumbent is justified.
It is not that Chichester does not vote the party line, or that he allegedly votes his conscience-these I can deal with. What is unacceptable is how his behavior has grown to be a cancer that prevents the legislature from functioning properly.
First, there is his uncivility toward his colleagues in the House of Delegates. No one’s cause is advanced by saying people you disagree with are “dumb as rocks”, yet Chichester has not only said that about House GOP members but pretty much embodies in his attitude toward those in the House.
Second, there is his legislative practice. It is one thing to offer up legislation that is contrary to that of the bulk of your party. But to do it in such a way that is designed to spit in the face of the vast bulk of legislators from your party, that is another. Chichester knew there was a compromise plan being worked, but refused to be a part of the process. It is possible that had he been willing to work with the House contingent, part of his plan could have been included. But Chichester wants it all, and he wants it now. As noted in a previous post, Senator Chichester was one of the many players in the tranportation funding process who did not offer for public consumtion any type of analysis regarding where VDOT and the Commonwealth stand on transportation as part of justifying a legislative package. He does not offering specific reasons for his tax increases, he does not cite with any specificity how the current budget surplus is inadequate to the current needs, he refuses to try to make his plan part or part of his plan part of the party plan, and he does it all with a stunning lack of civility.
Finally, his tactics are truly destructive to the idea of a two party system. Chichester essentially acts as a third party, trying to use his senority to force through his views. Now that is nothing new. However, by being able to use the Senate Finance chair to give prominence to his legislation, he creates the opportunity for the Democrats to not have to submit alternative legislation.
And this is bad why?…
Because our system works when best when each party offers its own views on what should be done on the critical issues. Instead, on transportation, Chichester has provided them with cover. The Democrats have not offered a TRAMOB plan for the state, and were able to do so in part because they could support Chichester’s plan…giving them a vehicle to ride in opposition to the GOP plan without having to offer their own plan.
As long as Chicheser remains in the Senate, this same type of coverage will continue to occur.
Uncivil to members of his party, unable to work with these same people, unwilling to compromise, and giving the Democrats an excuse to not offer their own substantive TRAMOB funding plan. Any of these would be reason to primary the man, taken in combination it is almost a moral imperative to do so, if not a political one.
It is one thing to take a stand on conscience-it is quite another to repeatedly take steps based in little more than ego that subverts the way a legislative body should work. The Chich needs to either change his tactics, change his attitude, or change his party.