- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2008

As the joke goes, the simplest way to become lieutenant governor in Virginia is to vow on the campaign trail to eliminate the job.

While the line wins some laughs at the Capitol in Richmond, it also speaks to a lingering thought that the largely ceremonial job must be redefined.

But Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling showed during the General Assembly’s recently concluded session that there is more to the job than just gavel-wielding, delivering speeches and welcoming visitors to the Senate chamber.

“He made the most of a constitutionally limited role,” said J. Scott Leake, spokesman for Senate Republicans.

Mr. Bolling, elected in 2005, used the limited tools as Senate President to insert himself in emotional debates, cause headaches for Democrats and score points with both his conservative base.

“Clearly it was my most successful and productive session as lieutenant governor,” he said.

While Mr. Bolling — a Republican who is widely expected to run for governor next year — has yet to officially announce, history suggests the job is a stepping stone to the governor’s mansion.

His success could provide him some momentum in the expected matchup against Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell, who is also expected to run.

Mr. Bolling credits his performance to a combination of factors — most notably the shakeup of Republican leadership after moderates retired, his own maturation and a little luck.

It started in January after he used his bully pulpit to reach out to angry motorists, becoming the first statewide official to call for a repeal of the “abusive-driver fees” the state started imposing solely on Virginia drivers in the summer.

In February he cast his sole tie-breaking vote, supporting a ban against state funding for Planned Parenthood.

Although House and Senate budget negotiators later reinserted the language, the vote delivered a blow to the chamber’s new Democrat 21-19 majority and gave Mr. Bolling an opportunity to brandish his conservative credentials.

“We all knew how Bill would vote, but the fact that we got to a point where his vote matters was very significant,” said Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax Republican who introduced the amendment. “He still gets credit there because he had to beat Leslie Byrne [who ran against Mr. Bolling in 2005] to vote there and Leslie would not have voted that way. She would have written an additional check herself to pile onto Planned Parenthood.”

Mr. Bolling also ruled on parliamentary procedure, saying lawmakers had habitually violated the state constitution by failing to win the constitutionally required supermajority vote needed to divert lottery proceeds from going directly to local education.

“It comes down to a basic principle of honesty,” Mr. Bolling said.

For years, budget writers had diverted the money into the General Fund. Democrats overruled his decision, but Mr. Bolling’s ruling was affirmed by the state’s attorney general,

“He really cast a bright light on that practice, which I gather some have been giving a wink and a nod to for eight years,” said Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Rappahannock Republican.

Sen. Stephen D. Newman, chairman of the Republican caucus from Lynchburg, called Mr. Bolling “one of the better policy wonks in Richmond” and said he is considering supporting legislation that would provide the lieutenant governor with additional powers.

“I personally believe someone of Bill’s immense capabilities should be used more,” he said.

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