There are and will be many encomiums to the legislative career of Vince Callahan, who recently announced he would not run for reelection to the Virginia House of Delegates. Mr. Callahan chaired the House Appropriations Committee, and was a candidate for Lt. Governor in 1965 and for the US House of Representatives in 1976. Today the WaPo offered a summaryof his long and fruitful career. He entered the House in the last days of the Byrd Machine, and leaves in the first years of the Blogosphere…quite a time period!
One fact resonated…and is food for thought, as it serves us well to consider how things used to be.
When Callahan was elected to the House, there were 14 GOP members v. 86 democrats.
I recall John Dalton saying that the first big change for the GOP to make a real difference in the House came when the GOP got itself to 20 members (around 1971), because that was enough members to force a recorded vote in the chamber. Prior to that the majority could ram through anything it wanted to and allow members to hide their vote by employing a voice vote of the chamber.
The next big step came in 1981, when the GOP got up to 34 members. This meant there were enough GOP delegates to uphold a gubernatorial veto…of course, that year the Governor’s mansion went back to the Democrats, so the GOP didn’t have to worry about upholding a veto for another decade.
Callahan’s retirement brings into focus the great changes in Virginia politics, and serves as a reminder why those changes happened. Over a period of years the Democratic Party in the legislature became sloppy over how they conducted business. They rode over the minority, paid no attention to dissent, and too often professed to know better than their different constituencies. They ignored or mis-appreciated the changing nature of the commonwealth, and one by one, bit by bit, they lost ground…until 1999, when the GOP came into majorities in both houses of the General Assembly.
The question I will offer is simply this…will the GOP learn from the example of the vanished Democratic Majority?
Will they find a message and a vision that resonates with the citizens of Virginia, and eschew the quick fix…and in doing so guide the state for years to come?
Will they emulate the GOP congressional leadership in DC, focus on the retention of power and perquisite rather than the pursuit of sound government, and in doing so face the inevitable whirlwind?
We shall see…