Gov. Bob McDonnell paid an unpublicized visit to the office of powerful House Appropriations committee chairman Lacey Putney, I-Bedford, Wednesday, amidst looming legislative intrigue over a controversial Senate redistricting plan and key General Assembly votes upcoming on his ambitious education and transportation packages.
McDonnell said he came to the 9th floor simply to talk education with Putney, the most senior member of the 100-member House of Delegates who caucuses with the Republican majority.
“Just a couple of different items on education,” McDonnell said when asked by two reporters about the reason and discussion during his visit. “There are some bills that are moving through committees that have gotten up here and I just wanted to make sure the chairman was aware of the bills and that these education bills are important to move through.”
McDonnell was asked whether he wanted to see the controversial Senate redistricting bill on his desk.
“I said at the beginning of the session we have two critical priorities — and it was K-12 reform and it was transportation,” he said. “And other things that divert the focus from that are just not helpful to me because I’m trying to get these things done….so that’s my focus.”
The redistricting legislation — rammed through the evenly divided senate when one Democrat was away attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama — dramatically redraws Senate boundaries to GOP favor, shoring up Republicans with slim majorities and weakening districts currently held by vulnerable Democrats, who still hold 20 seats in the 40-member chamber.
The Senate Republican maneuver which drew harsh criticism from Democrats and African American leaders who accused the GOP of packing minorities into an additional minority district in an effort to dilute their influence in other areas.
The bill comes up for a vote in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates Thursday, and the fallout from the power play presents potential problems for McDonnell and Republicans, who need at least one Senate Democrat to back the governor’s transportation proposal and face criticism for passing a redistricting plan without bipartisan support.
One Wednesday, word leaked that Senate Republicans were lobbying House Democrats, including African American lawmakers, in an effort to earn bipartisan and minority support for the redistricting plan.
“They’re looking for cover,” said Sen. Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus.
“I’m hot as a pot of fish grease,” steamed Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth. “They’re making ghettos of our districts. I hope they’re not so naive to fall for this bait,” she said of her House colleagues.
Asked if a resolution to the redistricting flap could be part of a deal that Republicans could broker to earn support in other legislative priorities, McDonnell replied:
I’m not looking at any grand bargain — I’m looking at trying to explain to people why they should go back home and explain to people why a transportation bill that they voted for is good for their districts,” the governor said.
“Some people may be linking those — I don’t link those,” he continued. “Transportation has got to rise and fall on its own and especially legislators that live in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — when they know that this has been a challenge for a decade plus, to get a good transportation bill, I don’t think their constituents care what they think about redistricting or uranium or anything else,” McDonnell added.
“They care about, ‘did you do something to make my roads and bridges and mass transit better. That’s really the question.”