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A good week in Richmond

Published 10:35am Sunday, February 10, 2013

Observations on this and that in Richmond …

Give Speaker of the House William Howell credit for putting statesmanship above partisanship.

Howell, a Fredericksburg Republican, singlehandedly nixed a dangerous power grab by GOP colleagues in the Senate that might have caused great harm to Western Tidewater and poisoned the fragile but encouraging spirit of bipartisanship that has emerged during this session of the General Assembly.

Republican senators a few weeks ago ramrodded through a rare mid-decade redrawing of Senate election boundaries to create a sixth black-majority district and, not coincidentally, make other districts friendlier to GOP candidates going forward. So narrow is Republicans’ current advantage in the Senate that they could only pass it by waiting until a Democratic senator left town to attend President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Howell correctly ruled the amended bill out of order because it was not germane to lawmakers’ original intent, which was to make some technical adjustments to House of Delegates districts that were redrawn in 2011.

For now at least, Franklin and Southampton County residents don’t have to worry about being gerrymandered into a nutty new Senate district running all the way from Franklin to Danville.

Good call by Howell.

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It’s good to see freshman Del. Rick Morris, R-Carrollton, getting some traction in his effort to scrap the antiquated way that Southampton County appoints its school board members.

An unelected selection commission that now chooses school board members would be abolished, and county supervisors would appoint the school board unless the county ever chose to have an elected school board.

The House unanimously approved Morris’ bill, which now goes to the Senate Education and Health Committee for consideration.

The current system is deeply flawed, principally because no one involved in school leadership is accountable to voters. Under the new system, at least voters will have the option to give the boot to those who appoint the school board. The selection commission is accountable only to an appointed judge.

Here’s hoping the Senate acts as quickly and decisively as the House.

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Gov. Bob McDonnell’s controversial solution to decades of inaction on transportation funding has hit a predictable roadblock in the Senate, where Democrats aren’t crazy about abolishing the gasoline tax in favor of a small increase in the general sales tax.

McDonnell’s plan had sailed through the House after gaining support from several high-profile business groups and labor unions.

The good news, thanks entirely to McDonnell’s pushing the issue, is that the General Assembly will almost certainly do something about maintaining and improving the commonwealth’s crumbling highway infrastructure — after decades of doing nothing.

If so, it will be because McDonnell forced the conversation. Regardless of how one feels about the specifics of his plan, his leadership should be appreciated.

STEVE STEWART is the publisher of  The Tidewater News. He can be reached at steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.

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