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Schapiro: GOP Control Not A Rubber Stamp For Gov. McDonnell

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Governor Bob McDonnell may still have his work cut out for him if the Republicans do officially gain a working majority in the Virginia state senate.
Gage Skidmore (http://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/4379679497/)
Governor Bob McDonnell may still have his work cut out for him if the Republicans do officially gain a working majority in the Virginia state senate.

Republicans in Virginia are celebrating wins in Tuesday's elections. The GOP now holds 66 of 100 seats in the House of Delegates, and they also gained at least one Senate seat. They have declared victory in a close race in District 17, but that remains too close to call. WAMU's Rebecca Blatt speaks with Jeff Schapiro -- political columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch -- about the latest in that race and what the results could mean for politics in Virginia.

The latest on the close District 17 race

"If you were talking to the Republicans, you would hear the Republicans say that the Senate is theirs," says Schapiro. "They have declared a victory in the Fredericksburg-area race. Officially, it's undecided between long-time Democratic incumbent Ed Houck and Republican challenger Bryce Reeves."

According to the initial count, Houck, who is the ranking committee member in the Senate Finance Committee -- the most powerful committee in the Senate, trailed Reed by 86 votes. It's possible that he will seek a recount, but it may prove to be an irreversible margin.

What will the Republicans do worth a working majority?

A Republican majority is not a guarantee of a rubber-stamp for Virginia's Republican governor. For example, Bob McDonnell wants to get Virginia out of the liquor business. There are a lot of Republicans now on both sides of the capitol that are cool on that idea.

The other problem that the Governor might face is that, because of the conservative nature of the majority, they might push back on McDonnell, who tends to dial it back on the conservative social issues.

What is at the top of the Governor's priorities?

McDonnell is likely to focus on the firststate budget that is his and his alone. That could include significant changes in the ways that schools are financed and managed. Also, the Governor wants to shift a greater part of the burden of financing pensions onto state workers. It's a tricky issue, because while the state pension fund is healthy compared to many states, it is still underfunded by $17 billion.

What happens if the Democrats retain a majority?

"Given the contentiousness of the selection, the bitterness that it was fought, the Democrats would be intent on giving to the Governor as good as they got," says Schapiro.

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