Ever since Sen.-elect Bryce Reeves’ victory over entrenched incumbent R. Edward Houck, Spotsylvania Democrat, in November, the spotlight in Virginia (politically, at least) has been shining directly on Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
As president of the Senate, Mr. Bolling holds the power to break ties, a power the GOP used to quickly declare that they intended to govern as a majority party. The chamber will be divided evenly at 20-20 once the General Assembly convenes next week.
A Richmond city judge has set aside a lawsuit from Senate Caucus Chairman A. Donald McEachin, Richmond Democrat, seeking to block Mr. Bolling from casting tie-breaking votes on matters such as the all-important task of organizing committees, which determine which bills make to the Chamber’s floor and which die a quiet death without a vote from the full body, calling the challenge premature.
Mr. Bolling’s office has consistently maintained that the lieutenant governor does, in fact, have the power to cast such tie-breaking votes on organizational matters. And on Tuesday, Mr. Bolling clarified his role in a memorandum to members of the Virginia Senate and Senators-elect.
In the memo, he argues the lieutenant governor’s “broad reaching authority” to cast a tie-breaking vote as President of the Senate “applies to every matter that comes before the Senate unless another provision of the Constitution of Virginia has expressly imposed a limit on the lieutenant governor’s authority to cast a vote.”
Mr. Bolling also writes that he does, in fact, have the power to cast votes on matters of organization. He points to other areas where the Constitution requires a “majority of members elected” for certain measures, such as appropriations or Constitutional Amendments, to pass.
That language is not used in the section that says that the House and the Senate are tasked with selecting their own officers and determining their own rules, he noted.
Democrats, though, have argued that nothing in the state constitution expressly allows the lieutenant governor “any role” in the chamber’s responsibility to select its officers and settle its rules of procedure.
Mr. Bolling conceded that “members elected” in the cases of voting to issue bonds, elect judges and approve Constitutional amendments do not include the lieutenant governor.
Ironically, he cited the two attorneys general opinions that Mr. McEachin used in the Senate Democrats’ lawsuit - a 1980 opinion from Republican Attorney General Marshall Coleman concluding that the lieutenant governor is not a member of the Senate for the purposes of passing certain bills and another, from Attorney General Jim Gilmore in 1996, affirming the 1980 opinion.
“I recognize that Senators on both sides of the aisle may be disappointed with my conclusions, albeit for entirely different reasons,” he wrote. “However, throughout my service as Lieutenant Governor I have tried to preside over the Senate in a fair and impartial manner, and I will continue to do so.
“In addition, I have taken a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of Virgina, which allows us to faithfully serve the people who elected us to our offices. I believe that what I have outlined above is a correct and impartial interpretation and application of the Constitution of Virginia, and therefore, I will act accordingly on any matters that come before the Senate.”