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Virginia Lieutenant Governor Eyes New Power

Bolling likely to cast many tie-breaking senate votes

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It's not as if Virginia Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling likes toiling in relative obscurity. 

He's the first Lieutenant Governor in the Commonwealth's history to serve as a member of his boss' cabinet. Shortly after his inauguration, Governor and fellow Republican Bob McDonnell named Bolling his chief job creation officer, no small title during an economic recession. 

"I've probably been one of the most active lieutenant governors in the history of the state, but there are just a lot of folks who still don't know who the Lieutenant Governor is or what the Lieutenant Governor does," Bolling says.

But things will be different starting in January, with the new legislative session, according to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. As the president of the now evenly-split state senate, the Lieutenant Governor will cast tie-breaking votes on contentious issues. The GOP picked up a few key seats in the senate in November's election, and that body is now evenly divided between the parties, with each side controlling 20 seats.

With Republicans refusing to share power in the senate's leadership, Bolling figures he's about to become even busier than he was before. "It's possible they'll be more of those tough decisions in the coming years -- but that's what I get paid to do," he says.

And it isn't just politicians and political analysts who will be watching Bolling closely; voters will be as well, Virginia Democratic Party Chair Brian Moran says. And since the split between Republicans and Democrats is likely to stay in place beyond the 2013 gubernatorial election, the lieutenant governor's race in 2013 may draw higher profile candidates, Moran adds. 

"You'll probably see more people jockey for that position now that there's this increased importance and visibility," Moran says. 

But others say the spotlight is still likely to be fleeting, despite the McDonnell administration's attempts to elevate the office's stature. 

"If the situation occurs in Virginia where one party really does get the upper hand -- and more than a tie-breaker 20-20 split -- then I think the Lieutenant Governor goes back to being somebody who's really not well known at all," says George Mason University Communications Professor Stephen Farnsworth.

If Farnsworth's prediction comes true, Bolling, and perhaps his successor, would be wise to soak up the attention while it lasts.

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