RICHMOND — Democrats and Republicans in the General Assembly are trading accusations that each is focusing too much on divisive and controversial issues, with both sides saying the other is overplaying GOP-led legislation on abortion, gun control and voting rights thus far during the 2012 session.
Democratic legislators made their case Thursday at a press conference. They were flanked by poster boards with headlines drawn from stories on Republican bills that would require women to undergo ultrasound imaging before an abortion, repeal the state's one-handgun-a-month law and impose voter-identification requirements that Democrats say are intended to suppress the votes of the poor, the elderly and minorities.
"It was just last month in his State of the Commonwealth address that Gov. [Bob] McDonnell warned Republicans not to overreach," said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano, Albemarle Democrat. "What we're seeing right now is classic overreach."
Senate Democratic leader Richard L. Saslaw recalled his forecasts during the 2011 campaign season that if Democrats lost control of the Senate, everyone could expect to see a horde of gun bills, anti-abortion legislation and measures they say will suppress the vote.
"And I was 100 percent accurate," he said. "And the leadership — what is supposed to be the leadership in the Senate Republican caucus — is pretty much powerless to stop this."
"What we're doing is, we're on our way to turning this state into another Mississippi — and Arizona. And the current crowd's doing a good job of it," he continued.
Mr. Saslaw said that at this point, there are not the 21 votes necessary to pass a budget, but bristled at any notion of the Democrats being branded obstructionists, pointing out that in 2008, all 19 Republicans voted against the budget.
But what about state Democratic Sens. R. Creigh Deeds, of Bath, and John S. Edwards, of Roanoke, who voted with the GOP to repeal the state's one-handgun-a-month law?
"Can't pick your relatives, can you?" Mr. Saslaw said to laughter.
In response to the Democrats' press conference, House Republican caucus Chairman Timothy D. Hugo, Fairfax Republican, and Sen. Ryan T. McDougle, Hanover Republican, said such claims couldn't be further from the truth.
"Contrary to the assertions of our colleagues in the minority, Republicans working here at the Capitol have developed, passed and now look forward to implementing legislation that addresses the issues Virginians care about: jobs, education, transportation and government reform," Mr. Hugo said. "While our Democrat colleagues remain singularly focused on a small number of social issues, we are enacting the reforms necessary to move Virginia forward."
They also said the House and Senate have advanced significant legislation on economic development, charter-school enhancements and government reform.
Democrats, not the GOP, have introducing questionable legislation, Mr. McDougle argued.
"After members of their caucuses introduced legislation to study the sale of marijuana in [state liquor] stores, to impose a tax on plastic bags, to abolish the Court of Appeals, to reinstate the so-called 'death tax' and to allow convicted drug offenders to receive government benefits, it is little wonder they want to divert attention," he said.
Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, also disagreed with the Democrats' contention that the GOP has ignored his call not to overreach.
"I think it's absolutely false to say that there's been an overreach and an undue focus on social issues," he said.
The governor also said the perception that Republicans are single-mindedly pursuing a social agenda has been created by Democrats and, in part, by the news media.
"About 3 percent [of bills] that have come out of the House have been on social issues," Mr. McDonnell said. "Ninety-seven percent have been on the things that I've been talking about: jobs, transportation, higher education, energy, public safety, retirement-system reform, government reform. That's what I'm talking about. That's overwhelmingly what they do."
Still, Mr. McDonnell said he has been heartened by his discussions with members on both sides of the aisle and is confident they will get things done.
"So I think everybody here ought to take a nice, deep breath. ... Let the process work," he said. "We [have] a lot of great statesmen and stateswomen in both houses, and we're going to get everything done."
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