The election of state Sen. Ralph S. Northam, D-Norfolk, as Virginia’s next lieutenant governor gave Democrats reason to cheer by providing what is potentially a critical tie-breaking vote in an evenly divided Virginia Senate. But the apparent election of Sen. Mark Herring, D-Loudoun, as attorney general — and the time involved in a recount challenging his razor-thin victory over Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg — raises the distinct possibility that winning the statewide offices could put Senate Democrats at a numerical disadvantage when the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 8. Currently the Virginia Senate has 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. Ties on most issues are broken by the vote of the lieutenant governor, who presides over the chamber. For the past eight years, that has been the prerogative of Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican.
Since 2012 when the Senate became evenly divided, Bolling’s tie-breaking vote has enabled the GOP to effectively control the chamber and organize its committees with Republican majorities and chairmen.
It has also given support to legislation passed in the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a 2-1 advantage. For example, Bolling’s vote helped pass legislation — sponsored by Obenshain — that starting next year will require voters to present photo identification.
With Northam in the job in 2014, the numerical advantage would presumably shift to Democrats — if Herring’s 165-vote margin prevails in the recount and the party holds onto Northam’s and Herring’s seats in special elections for their seats.