11/14/12: Follow the legislature in action

This op-ed appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on the date shown.

EIGHT WEEKS from today, the Virginia General Assembly will convene. Already, there are 375 bills to be considered in this, the shorter of the legislature’s two sessions. (It meets for just 30 days in odd years, which happen also to be election years.) Many of the 375 bills are those carried over from the 2012 session.

Among the new bills introduced are some rejected in earlier years, such as those allowing local school boards to decide whether to open before Labor Day and those eliminating the corporate income tax.

Others are reactions to activities over the past few months, such as the one to correct Portsmouth’s charter and the one to lower petition signature requirements for inclusion on the ballot for presidential elections and primaries.

Most of the bills will come closer to the start of the session on Jan. 9. With the 100-member House of Delegates up for election, expect to see a flurry of “brochure bills” introduced: those representing pet causes of legislators that have little chance of passing but that said legislators will nevertheless hype in the fall campaign.

In Virginia, we are never out of election season. Besides the House of Delegates, we will take to the polls next November to elect a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. With our single-term governor — Virginia is alone in the nation in prohibiting its governors from succeeding themselves — the competition for one of those three positions began almost as soon as the November 2009 results were certified.

Republicans have been particularly active. Already, there are three announced candidates for governor, five for lieutenant governor and three for attorney general. The party nominee will be chosen by convention, which means the general public will be presented with a slate picked by party insiders and activists.

Democrats have spent the last three years licking their wounds from the 2009 elections. Although the party nominees will be chosen by primary, only a single candidate has announced for governor and two each for lieutenant governor and attorney general.

With the majority of the House seats likely to be uncontested, the result of partisan redistricting, Virginians can expect a brief respite from the campaign advertising of the past few months. By next fall, though, the airwaves will once again be filled and the mailboxes stuffed.

There’s never a dull moment for political observers in Virginia.

Politics, though, is not governance and for now, the legislative session looms. Localities are rolling out their legislative agendas.

The General Assembly has a new website at a new location — http://virginiageneralassembly.gov. The site is so new that even the Legislative Information System website — http://lis.virginia.gov/lis.htm — still points to the old General Assembly site. Both sites, along with Richmond Sunlight — www.richmondsunlight.com — allow us to stay abreast of the governing that our elected representatives engage in.

In a letter to Richard Price, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government.” Bookmark these sites. And visit them often.