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Votes

Political Season Puts Herring in a Tough Place

The Virginia General Assembly can be a difficult place for a legislator like Sen. Mark Herring.

Herring (D-33) holds one of the few competitive seats in this year's General Assembly elections and some observers say the upcoming political season has made him a target in the Republican-controlled General Assembly this year.

Several of Herring's bills were killed early this legislative session for what some believe was purely political reasons.

"They are really after him. He had good bills that went down in flames," said Fairfax County's Deputy Attorney Karen Harwood during the Fairfax Board of Supervisors' state legislative briefing.

In an interview, Herring chose to focus on his positive outcomes this year.

Even in the politically-charged atmosphere, the senator said he was able to get several pieces of legislation passed. For example, he said he successfully pushed a bill allowing changes to the Leesburg charter through the General Assembly when other legislators had not been able to.

"I feel great that I was able to get one of my bills through a tough committee and subcommittee. Previous efforts before I was elected to get similar measures passed had failed and yet I was able to get it through," he said.

YET OBSERVERS say Herring appeared to be targeted by Republicans. Some of Herring's proposals received a unanimous vote in the Senate Ñ where Republicans control by slim margin Ñ but then died in House of Delegates committees Ñ where Republicans exceed Democrats by several votes.

Democratic lawmakers said Herring's killed bills did not always appear to be controversial and efforts to vote some of them down appeared to be aimed solely at making the senator look bad.

Republicans disagreed, saying there were very legitimate reasons for turning down Herring's legislation.

"Anybody that knows me and my committee knows that I am fair with everyone. [The bills] got a fair hearing," said Del. Riley Ingram (R-62), chairman of the counties, cities and towns committee.

Ingram's committee was responsible for killing several of Herring's bills, including the Leesburg charter legislation initially, even though several people considered it nonpartisan.

"It was pretty clear that it was a purely political vote. Charter changes are about as uncontroversial as legislation gets down here," said Del. Kris Amundson (D-44), who sits on the committee.

The Senate had unanimously supported the Leesburg legislation and the committee eventually reconsidered it when a Republican, Del. Joe May (R-33), showed his support for the bill.

"I went down to the committee room. Mark needed some help to get some things sorted out," said May, who represents Leesburg.

On other bills, Herring did not appear so lucky. Some of his more technical pieces of legislation Ñ including a provision to protect residents from being sued by private companies for testimony given at public hearings Ñ were shot down before they could be heard on the House of Delegates' floor.

Even when Herring's bills passed out of committees, Democrats said there were efforts by Republicans to pass over the legislation.

"There were some efforts to delay their consideration. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the bills were passed by the House," said Del. David Poisson (D-32) who represents a portion of Herring's district.

REPUBLICAN legislators said that, despite what Democrats might think, Herring's bills faced a tough time because of their merit and not for political reasons.

"The House has a tendency to scrutinize bills more. We do a good job of checking these bills out to see if there is anything wrong," said Ingram.

May also said that aspects of some of Herring's bills, like the Leesburg charter legislation, are considered controversial. For example, the Leesburg amendments would allow the town to require new developments to meet design requirements, a provision that some legislators object to.

"I was instrumental in getting the [same] charter change for Purcellville and it faced opposition in 2004," said May.

Del. Terrie Suit (R-8), who voted against the Herring measure in both the committee and on the House floor, opposes architectural districts and design review boards because they are over burdensome and costly for residents, said her staff member Barrett Stork.

HERRING does make an attractive target for Republicans. Although he won every precinct during a special election in January 2006, several people see his coming race as up for grabs since it was held by Republican until last year.

"We definitely think he is vulnerable. It's a more competitive seat for the General Assembly. We will definitely be out in full force to take those seats back," said Loudoun County Republican Party chairman Paul Protic, who added that his organization expects help from the state Republican Party for the race against Herring.

Herring is certainly not the only legislator in the race who might be targeted by the Republicans. Poisson, said he has also faced a difficult time getting some legislation passed.

"That is not unique to Sen. Herring. I had a number of bills that were defeated without consideration at all," he said.

Poisson, who also took office last year, said he doesn't take the political side of legislating too personally.

"I am not in the majority party. It is not like people are ganging up on me. They are not going to help someone who unseated a member of their party and make it more possible for them to remain ensconced in their seat," he said.

He added, "I don't think they are villains or bad guys. It is just part of the process."

Legislators also said senior representatives tend to be tougher on the greener counterparts like Herring, who served his first full session this year.

"There is a bit of a hazing process. They used to be much tougher on me," said Amundson.