- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

RICHMOND — The Senate yesterday overwhelmingly rejected conservative Republicans’ efforts to strip Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. from his committee assignments as punishment for running for governor as an independent.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who also serves as president of the Senate, ruled that the Republicans’ action was not constitutionally possible because lawmakers were bound yesterday to only consider the governor’s recommendations on bills passed during the legislative session earlier this year.

“This is clearly a matter of business which is expressly forbidden by the constitution,” said Mr. Kaine, who also is running for governor.

The Senate voted 27-9 to uphold Mr. Kaine’s ruling. Mr. Potts, Winchester Republican who has served in the Senate for 13 years, did not vote.

State lawmakers are not scheduled to convene again before the gubernatorial election in November.

Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican,asked Mr. Kaine to enforce a Senate rule that strips any senator out of his committee assignments if the senator switches parties during his or her term. Mr. Potts is chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee.

“The senator from Winchester took it upon himself to leave the Republican Party,” Mr. Cuccinelli said. “He’s abandoned the party.”

Mr. Cuccinelli appealed Mr. Kaine’s ruling.

Senate Floor Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. denounced Mr. Cuccinelli for making what he called an “extraordinarily rare” appeal.

“I am clearly a Republican, and I will remain a Republican,” the James City County Republican said. “Irrespective of my compelling partisan affiliation … I think this is a highly inappropriate motion to be made requesting to overrule the president of the Senate on a constitutional issue that is abundantly clear and the underpinnings of it are strictly politically motivated.”

Mr. Potts, who announced his independent bid for governor in February, repeatedly has refused calls by several groups including the State Central Committee of the Republican Party of Virginia to leave the Republican Party.

After the vote yesterday, Mr. Potts said he thinks “the GOP is on the wrong track.”

“The RPV no more represents mainstream Virginia than a man on the moon,” he said.

Former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, who is the front-runner in the Republican primary, also has denounced Mr. Potts for running as an independent and has called for him to leave the Republican Party. Mr. Kilgore faces Warrenton Mayor George B. Fitch in the June 14 Republican primary.

Yesterday, Mr. Cuccinelli criticized the lieutenant governor’s decision, saying Mr. Kaine “ducked” his responsibility with “an extraordinary twisting of the rules and the constitution to avoid making a hard decision.”

Mr. Cuccinelli said he thinks the majority of senators refused to oust Mr. Potts because as chairman of the Senate Education and Health Committee, he shelters them from tough floor votes on pro-life issues.

As committee chairman, Mr. Potts for years has rejected legislation sponsored by pro-life legislators, including Mr. Cuccinelli.

Mr. Potts also has split with some Republicans over taxes. Last year, he voted in favor of a $1.38 billion tax increase. He has said that if elected governor, he would offer a new tax package to pay for transportation needs.

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