- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 9, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - A Democratic senator briefly broke from her party Tuesday to support Republicans’ pick for the Virginia Supreme Court but changed her mind after a private meeting with Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Portsmouth Democratic Sen. Louise Lucas joined Republicans on a committee vote to endorse Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston for the high court. Lucas told reporters after the vote she voted for Alston in exchange for Republicans agreeing to advance the judicial career of her neighbor and political mentor.

But about an hour later, Lucas told The Associated Press in a brief interview that she changed her mind after meeting with Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. She also later issued a statement saying she would be supporting McAuliffe’s pick for the high court, Justice Jane Marum Roush.

Lucas’ brief defection is the latest twist in a long-running partisan spat about who belongs in the Supreme Court seat.

McAuliffe appointed Roush last year, angering Republicans who blasted the Democratic governor for not consulting with them first before selecting her. Though Republicans control both chambers of the General Assembly, they’ve been unable to muster enough votes in the Senate to replace Roush with Alston. Roush’s temporary appointment to the Supreme Court ends this week, though the governor could reappoint her if the General Assembly doesn’t elect a replacement during the 2016 legislative session.

After her vote for Alston, Lucas said GOP Majority Leader Sen. Tommy Norment had made her an offer she could not refuse: Vote for Alston and the GOP will replace him on the appeals court with her friend Portsmouth Circuit Court Judge Kenneth R. Melvin.

Lucas initially said her mind would not change and expressed frustration that many of her bills had not become law during her 25 years in office.

“I need to be able to have something that I can say I did down here since so much of the stuff that I try to do gets killed,” said. “This is a big deal to me. This is probably going to be, maybe, the most significant thing that I’ve done since I’ve been here.”

Her support for Alston was all the more remarkable because she’d previously been one of his most vocal critics, calling him a “pawn” of Republicans. Lucas said she still felt like Alston was a pawn, but said she felt like one too and didn’t mind.

“There was a song we used to sing back when I was a young woman, ‘You don’t mind being used if it’s used for the reasons that help please you,’” Lucas said.

Yet less than an hour after making those remarks, Lucas met with McAuliffe and changed her mind.

Brian Coy, the governor’s spokesman, declined to discuss what was said in the meeting. Sen. Donald McEachin, Democratic Senate caucus leader, who was also at the meeting, said McAuliffe did not offer Lucas anything specific in return for her support but was “wonderful” and “very sympathetic.”

Lucas issued Tuesday evening saying: “I have spoken with Judge Melvin, and he said he is ‘perfectly satisfied’ as a circuit court judge in the City of Portsmouth.”

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