- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 13, 2000

RICHMOND Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III called for a 24-hour waiting period before abortions and proposed separating the Lee-Jackson-King holiday in his State of the Commonwealth address last night to the General Assembly, controlled by Republicans for the first time in history.
"When it comes to the most difficult decision a woman must make whether or not to have an abortion I believe she should be fully informed about the medical implications of that decision and have an opportunity to reflect on that information," Mr. Gilmore said.
In proposing a holiday solely for Martin Luther King, the governor said the slain civil rights leader deserved his own day of recognition, apart from the observance for the two Civil War generals.
"The combination of these individuals on a single day creates confusion among our citizens," Mr. Gilmore said. "The time has come to enhance these holidays and give them each their due recognition. I urge you to create individual holidays for Dr. Martin Luther King on one day and Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson another."
It was a day of firsts, as S. Vance Wilkins, Amherst Republican, was sworn in at 12:20 p.m. as the first Republican speaker of the House since 1883. He and 51 other Republicans had been sworn in as a majority party in the House only 15 minutes earlier. With the party's control of the General Assembly, governor's office and other top statewide offices, it marks a new era in state politics.
The House now stands at 52 Republicans, 47 Democrats and one Republican-leaning independent, Lacey E. Putney, who begins his 39th year in the House, the longest-serving member ever. There are 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats in the Senate.
In his speech, the governor described the Republican majority as the start of a new era of cooperation in politics.
"There is a lesson to be learned from this historic moment. Power is not permanent in a democracy. When the day is done, it matters less whether one party has a majority than whether we have created a better democracy," Mr. Gilmore said.
Mr. Gilmore worked on establishing his legacy on technology, asking lawmakers to help him make the Internet accessible to all Virginians.
He also proposed changing the electoral process to require all voters to show identification at the polls, and strengthen party ties by allowing voters to register by party and putting a candidate's party affiliation on the ballot already controversial proposals, even within his own party.
The governor also proposed changes to the system that allows circuit court judges to appoint some local government officials a way, Republicans say, that Democrats maintained power throughout the state. Those changes won't affect Northern Virginia as much, lawmakers said, because the region doesn't have many of the offices that would be affected.
Republicans seemed eager to support the proposal for separating Lee-Jackson-King day, and Attorney General Mark L. Earley said it shows the governor wants to let all Virginians know they will be included as the state moves forward.
Mr. Gilmore is likely to get a chance to sign the abortion waiting-period bill now, given committee changes in the Senate yesterday as a result of Republicans' maintaining a majority in November elections. The committee that had bottled up the bill the last two years gained two members yesterday who are expected to vote for it, while losing former committee Chairman Jane H. Woods, a centrist Republican who was defeated in November's elections.
The bill has passed the House the last two years, and backers say the bill is very likely to pass the full Senate.
Still, Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, the Fairfax Democrat who narrowly beat Mrs. Woods, said Republicans risk losing female voters by making themselves the party "that says women are too dumb" to decide on their own.
In their response to the speech, Democrats called for spending on education and health care. They asked the governor to go along with many of the same proposals they put forth but couldn't pass last year, including dedicating all of the lottery proceeds to school infrastructure. The governor wants to send the money to localities without constraints.
Legislators seemed ready to embrace cooperation, with no dissenting votes on any of the decisions the chambers made yesterday.
"It was their day. We didn't want to rain on their parade," said Delegate Brian J. Moran, the Alexandria Democrat who began his fifth term yesterday.
In his opening remarks as speaker, Mr. Wilkins acknowledged the history of contentiousness between the parties.
"When we engage in the debates and in the competition of ideas, we strengthen each other, and if our motives are pure, we will surely strengthen Virginia by our struggles," he said.
During their century of control, Democrats managed to hold together as a bloc. Many politicos wonder if Republicans can do the same.
The GOP passed its first test of unity this session by securing Mr. Wilkins' nomination and fighting back weak overtures for a compromise candidate between Democrats and centrist Republicans.
The House also voted to keep Bruce F. Jamerson as clerk, and installed Francis P. Datig as the sergeant-at-arms, with no dissenting votes.
Republicans say it's almost impossible to overstate the importance of their achievement.
"It's a sea change. Who would have ever thought I'd be in the majority party?" said Delegate Vincent F. Callahan, the Fairfax Republican who began his 33rd year in office, recalling his first term, when there were a scant 14 Republicans in the 100-member House.
Meeting with members of both parties, Mr. Gilmore was all smiles.
"I have anticipated and looked forward to this session for a long time," he told the group of about 10 lawmakers, from both parties. "I am confident the best times of the commonwealth are ahead."

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