The Virginia Senate has reshuffled its standing committees and the changes give Southwest Virginia representation on the budget-writing Senate Finance Committee.
Republicans have working control of the evenly-divided chamber and they used that advantage today to install first-term Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County, on the powerful Finance Committee. Carrico gained the seat that had been held by Democrat Yvonne Miller of Norfolk, who died last year.
Committee assignments were adjusted to make room for Miller’s Senate successor, Democrat Kenny Alexander of Norfolk. But Democratic leaders protested the decision by GOP leaders to put Carrico on the Finance Committee. Republicans now have a 10-5 majority on the committee, even though they only occupy half of the Senate’s seats.
Today’s committee maneuvers came three days after Republicans exploited the absence of a Democratic senator to ram through a new Senate redistricting plan. That plan could take effect for the 2015 Senate elections if the House of Delegates and Gov. Bob McDonnell approve it.
“We can stop fooling ourselves by saying that we follow the customs, usages, practices of the Senate,” said Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus. “Because between Monday and today, those practices went out the window.”
Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City County, said Carrico was put on the Finance Committee to bring geographic balance to the panel. No Southwest Virginia senator has been on the committee since former Sen. William Wampler, R-Bristol, retired from the legislature in 2011. Carrico was elected to Wampler’s old seat.
The Senate approved the committee assignments by a vote of 22-18. Two Democrats – Alexander and Phillip Puckett of Russell County – voted for the changes. Puckett said he wanted to make sure that Southwest Virginia has a voice on the Finance Committee.
“I had already been told that it wouldn’t be me,” Puckett said. “I did what I thought was best for the region.”
– Michael Sluss