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Virginia Democrats Consider 'Options' To Take Control Of State Senate

Control of the Virginia state senate is very much in flux this legislative session.
Eli Christman: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gammaman/7186599588
Control of the Virginia state senate is very much in flux this legislative session.

Virginia Democrats have won two special elections for seats in the Virginia state senate, which is now evenly split between 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. But even now that Democrats have a tie-breaking vote with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, they still have some obstacles to overcome.

When Republicans took control of the state Senate in 2012, they created a rule that allows them to maintain control over the committees for the entire four-year term of the senators. Changing those rules will require a two-thirds majority, which the Democrats don't have.

That means Democrats face a difficult challenge: how do they use their newfound status to take control over the committees, where most of the legislative action happens? Democratic Senator George Barker says where there's a majority, there's a way.

"There are options, and we are looking at all those now," Barker says. "And if we should prevail on Monday then we'll hopefully figure out pretty quickly what course of action we take on that."

So what's their strategy? The senator wouldn't say, but he did indicate that Democrats would launch a plan for taking control of the Senate on Monday — if the special election recount in the 6th Senate District certifies Democrat Lynwood Lewis as the winner.

University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Kyle Kondick says its possible Democrats are holding control of the Senate as a bargaining chip.

"Maybe Democrats are willing to give that up if they get some sort of big concession on something else. Maybe that's how Medicaid expansion happens," Kondick says.

Last year, for example, Senate Democrats agreed to a transportation package in exchange for the creation of a panel to examine the potential for expanding Medicaid.

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