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Votes

Commentary: Bipartisan Approach Needed in Evaluating Legislators

— The 2013 session of the General Assembly was a landmark one, according to most everyone who follows politics in the Old Dominion. It passed a sweeping transportation funding package that had eluded approval for at least a couple of decades.

Commentators are saying that the U.S. Congress should look at what happened in Virginia this year and emulate it. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate voted for tax increases that will fund long-needed transportation improvements.

Clearly the passage of the bill was a bipartisan effort. Neither Democrats nor Republicans had enough votes to pass the bill; it took both parties voting together to get a majority in both chambers. Enough legislators from the suburbs, cities and rural areas came together to make up the narrow majorities by which this historic legislation passed.

The governor made it clear from the beginning that this was the session at which action had to be taken to fund Virginia’s crumbling transportation infrastructure. He had no more effective voice in carrying the message forward than in the Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Throughout the legislative session the state chamber encouraged local chambers to come to Richmond to lobby on behalf of the transportation bill. The bill was on the chamber’s list of bills being watched.

The surprise in the state chamber’s position on the transportation compromise came after the session. Recently the chamber issued its 2013 Legislative Report Card that “recognizes legislators for their support on initiatives that will help move Virginia forward.” The landmark transportation bill was given the same identical importance on the report card as 49 other bills, some of which were clarifying existing laws, directing state agencies or creating a study. As a result, more than two dozen Republicans were given an A score even if they had voted against the ground-breaking transportation bill that is expected to create 13,000 jobs over six years as well as relieve traffic congestion.

At a Chamber 2013 Legislative Awards Banquet in May at the Ritz Carlton in Northern Virginia, plaques of achievement were given to at least a half dozen Republicans from traffic-congested Northern Virginia who voted against the transportation bill. Not a single Democrat was recognized for working on and voting for the transportation bill that was seen as so important just a few weeks earlier. Clearly the bill would not have passed without a bipartisan vote.

Fortunately, local chambers of commerce have not been so one-sided in their recognition of members of both parties who worked to create an acceptable compromise. Virginia FREE (www.vafree.com), a non-partisan business coalition that provides objective information to ensure that the General Assembly is receptive and responsive to the interests of free enterprise, evaluated legislators solely on their vote on the transportation bill and recognized Democrats and Republicans alike who voted for it. The Virginia Chamber of Commerce should look at the example of how legislators worked together across party lines for the benefit of the commonwealth and give recognition to this bipartisan effort in the future. The state chamber itself may benefit from a bipartisan approach.