This fall the eyes of the political world, once again, will turn to see what Virginia voters decide. Following our historic and successful redistricting, voters will decide on a new General Assembly to represent them.
While the outcome is not known, what we do know is that over 650 years of combined legislative experience will not be returning to Richmond in January.
Dozens of new legislators will bring fresh energy and perspectives to continue, hopefully, down the path of a “more perfect union.” The great American experiment will carry on and change will be in the air. Good!
One change that should occur is in the operating rules of each chamber.
The House of Delegates and State Senate should adopt rules guaranteeing proportional seating on all committees, subcommittees, and legislative commissions.
The rules of each chamber should be fair, just, and representative of the will of the voters. The new majorities must resist the temptation to enact rules that wrongly oppress the minority party.
The House of Delegates will not require much change since they have had proportional representation on almost all committees for over twenty years. Only one committee under current rules does not have proportional seating – the Rules Committee.
The Senate, however, needs to adopt rules of proportional seating and a process for deciding which senators go on all committees, subcommittees, and legislative commissions.
Currently, the majority party in the Senate has 22 members, the minority party has 17 members, and there is one member who caucuses with neither party but was elected identifying as a member of the minority party. That member currently has no committee assignments.
If proportional seating was being applied, basic math would indicate that the majority party with 22 out of a possible 40 seats should have 55% of committee seats. That should make committees with 15 seats have a proportional seating of 8 for the majority party and 7 for the minority party.
Even if you count the non-caucusing member out of proportional seating and have that work against the minority party, the math still gives the majority party no more than 8 seats per committee.
Of note and a further indication of why this matters, two powerful committees – Commerce & Labor and Finance & Appropriations have 12 to 3 and 10 to 5 majority representation respectively. Both should be 8 to 7 if the seating were to reflect the will of the voters.
Both political parties have abused the power of the majority for decades and, in the interest of good and faithful governance, it is time for such behaviors to come to an end.
As candidates for the House and Senate ask for your vote, ask them to change their rules to reflect the will of the voters and seat members on committees in proportion to the rest of their chamber.
Want more seats on committees? Win more seats in general elections. It’s that easy.
Come January, the new General Assembly should write the rules to fairly and justly govern themselves. That one change will help restore trust in our governing institutions.
It’s not only the fair, just, and right thing to do, it’s also long overdue.
CRAIG PARISOT is chairman of the Virginia Foundation for Research and Economic Education (Virginia FREE).