- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 13, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - The 2015 legislative session kicks off Wednesday. Here’s a look at what’s on the plates of the state’s political leaders:

Gov. Terry McAuliffe:

You might think McAuliffe would be chastened by the Republican-led legislature’s rejection last year of his signature initiative, expanding the Medicaid health insurance program to cover as many as 400,000 uninsured Virginians.

But you would be wrong. Despite the turnover of a state Senate seat that gave Republicans total control of the General Assembly last year, the Democrat has vowed to renew his push for Medicaid expansion. Republican leaders have criticized him for wasting their time with a proposal that’s dead on arrival.

Similarly, McAuliffe has come out swinging on gun control, endorsing restoration of Virginia’s one-a-month limit on handgun purchases and closing the so-called “gun show loophole” that allows firearm purchases from unlicensed sellers at gun shows without a criminal background check.

Such proposals help fire up the Democratic base but stand virtually no chance of passage.

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Republican House Speaker William J. Howell:

The Republican House speaker will preside over the 2015 legislative session with an eye toward shoring up his conservative credentials ahead of a June primary, where Howell will face off against tea party favorite Susan Stimpson.

Stimpson, a former Stafford County Board of Supervisors chairman who was once Howell’s ally, has railed against the speaker and accused him of abandoning his small government principals by supporting tax increases, including former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s $6 billion transportation funding package.

Howell is a Fredericksburg Republican who became speaker in 2003. As one of the top GOP state-level fundraisers, Howell is likely to have a well-funded campaign headed into his primary challenge. But Republicans are keenly aware of the possibility of tea party primary upsets following Dave Brat’s historic primary upset over then-U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor last year.

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment, Jr.:

The Republican takeover of the General Assembly restored Norment, R-James City County, to his position as majority leader. As the Republicans’ point man in the Senate, he’ll be in a position to direct the flow of legislation and will have to corral the GOP’s sometimes fractious ranks on key votes.

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Democratic Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw:

Over a long career in the General Assembly, Saslaw has seen fat times and lean times. The 2015 session will see him dropped down a peg following the Republican takeover in the Senate.

The Fairfax County Democrat no longer controls the flow of legislation on the floor, but he’ll still have a key role as point man for McAuliffe’s legislative initiatives in the Senate. With the chamber closely divided, Saslaw will be looking for opportunities to pick off a Republican vote or two on contentious issues.

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Democratic House Minority Leader David J. Toscano:

House Democrats will continue to struggle to be relevant in the 2015 session, given the Republican supermajority. House Democratic Minority Leader David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, recently outlined his goals for the upcoming session in a private memo obtained by the Richmond-Times Dispatch. Toscano urged his caucus to try and “create dilemmas” for Republicans, particularly those in targeted seats, by getting recorded votes on politically sensitive issues like expanding Medicaid and raising the minimum wage.

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