Steve Martin

The Pols Are Out And So Are Their Grades: American Conservative Union Releases Virginia General Assembly Scorecard

The General Assembly wrapped up its 2013 business, officially, April 3, at the conclusion of the "Veto" session. Since then, a flurry of scorecards have been released by several organizations, including the Family Foundation's late last week. Usually released throughout the year to coincide with fundraising galas, elections or other events, many organizations this year dropped their ratings in advance of the Republican Convention this weekend and the June Democrat primary. Today, the American Conservative Union released its third annual Virginia General Assembly Scorecard (click here for complete results). The ACU, founded in 1964 by a coalition of prominent national conservative organizations, is known for its annual Congressional Scorecard, considered the "gold standard" of Congressional ratings. In 2011, it decided to take that success to the state level, with a goal of annual rating all members in each of the 50 state legislatures. That year, it graded five, Virginia being the first of those (this  year it will score 20). Consequently, the General Assembly is the first to be scored three times — more firsts for the Old Dominion.

The ACU Scorecard offers three awards: Defender of Liberty Award, for those who score 100 percent; the ACU Conservative Award for those who score above 80 percent, and the not-so-coveted True Liberal of the Commonwealth Award for those who get a zero — and there are a few of those. However, the number of members in both chambers who scored 80 or higher dropped precipitously, with some who have reputations as conservative stalwarts not even even getting to 80 percent.

The reason? Not only were there several immensely important and substantive votes this year on significant policies with massive ramifications, they were voted on multiple times. For instance, the tax increase bill (HB 2313) was voted on three times (scored twice). An ironic twist is that the House budget, which normally rates as a support because of its pretty tight spending parameters and policy language, was opposed by the ACU when it came out of conference committee with the Senate, specifically because the rejection of the Medicaid expansion was stripped out. That also got a second vote because of a gubernatorial amendment. The Obamacare health insurance exchange also made the list and several conservatives got nicked on that, as well.

The ACU Virginia Scorecard is not only the most comprehensive one of its nature in Virginia — complied annually, with more than 20 floor votes on everything from spending, taxes, education reform, securing voting rights, second amendment rights, religious liberty, right to work, life and marriage, and all else that make up the conservative agenda, it's one the most comprehensive state scorecard in the country, as many legislatures, especially part-time ones, rarely let so many significant votes get to the floor. The ACU only scores floor votes and does not score unanimous or immensely lopsided votes, nor partisan votes, with the exception of significant policy shifting bills.

In a statement released today by the ACU, its Chairman Al Cardenas, said:

On behalf of the American Conservative Union, I am pleased to announce the winners of our 2013 State Legislative Ratings for members of the Virginia General Assembly. For 40 years ACU has set the gold standard for Congressional ratings, and we are now able to offer that same level of transparent information to the voters of Old Dominion so they can hold their elected officials accountable at the state level as well. In our third year rating the Commonwealth, we applaud conservatives in the Virginia General Assembly who continue to fight against higher taxes, against Obamacare and for the rights of the unborn.

The ACU's philosophy in its scorecard system is to track . . .

a wide range of issues before state legislatures to determine which issues and votes serve as a clear litmus test separating those representatives who defend liberty and liberal members who have turned their backs on our founding principles — constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values. The votes selected for our Virginia Legislative Ratings were chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.

The Defenders of Liberty Award winners are:

Delegates Rob Bell, Ben Cline, Scott Garrett, Todd Gilbert (TFF Legislator of the Year Award winner), and Margaret Ransone; and Senators Tom Garrett, Jr., Mark Obenshain and Ralph Smith.

ACU Conservative Award winners are Delegates Richard Anderson, Richard Bell, Kathy Byron, Mark Cole, Barbara Comstock, John Cox, Mark Dudenhefer, Matt Fariss, Peter Farrell, Greg Habeeb, Chris Head, Tim Hugo, Sal Iaquinto, Steve Landes, Jim LeMunyon, Scott Lingamfelter, Bob Marshall, Jimmie Massie, Jackson Miller, Randy Minchew, Israel O’Quinn, Brenda Pogge, David Ramadan, Roxann Robinson, Nick Rush, Beverly Sherwood, Lee Ware, Jr., Michael Webert, Tony Wilt, and Tommy Wright, Jr.; and Senators Richard Black, Steve Newman, Richard Stuart, Bryce Reeves, Steve Martin, Bill Stanley, Jr., and Ryan McDougle.

The highest scoring Democrats were Delegates Johnny Joannou and Joe Joe Johnson at 73 and 64 percent, respectively. The both  topped some Republicans, such as Delegate Chris Jones, who scored only 60 percent. Delegate Jones wasn't alone. Speaker Bill Howell only managed to match Delegate Joannou. Senate Republicans saw similar slippages. For example, Senators Jeff McWaters and Frank Ruff, who had scored at least 80 in the first two scorecards, dropped to the low 60s. Majority Leader Tommy Norment and Senator Harry Blevins, who retired recently in mid-term, scored 60 and 57 percent, respectively. Senator John Watkins rated a dismal 48 percent.

Last year, more than 70 Republicans from both chambers scored 80 percent or higher. This year, only 45 did.

The members who earned the True Liberal of Old Dominion Awards are Delegates Delores McQuinn and Roslyn Tyler; and Senators Kenneth Alexander, Janet Howell and Linda Puller.

Primary Thoughts

Now that the dust has settled — not from the earthquake (another aftershock of 4.5 magnitude at 1:00 a.m. with possibly more in the offing) — but from Virginia's General Assembly primary season, some thoughts. First, although my prediction on Monday concerned the general election, it already has taken an embryonic form. It was an exceptional night for conservatives in numerous Republican Senate primaries, yet barely a whisper emanated from the mainstream media about this revolution. Throw in a previously held nomination contest in Hampton Roads as well as some conservatives who were unopposed. it's almost a lock that whether the GOP wins the Senate or not, its caucus, already trending to the right, may become nearly aligned with its House counterparts. But not all media are ignoring this trend or letting it slip them by. John Gizzi at Human Events recognizes it and is one of the few national columnists to trumpet the results.

If the GOP does win control of the Virginia Senate, not only will the caucus have a decidedly different philosophical bent from its past leaders, the likes of Ben Loyola, Jeff Frederick, Dick Black, Bill Carrico and Tom Garrett, among others, joining Mark Obenshain, Steve Martin, Jill Vogel and company, will create a dynamic not ever seen in Virginia history. The possibilities should jump start all ends of the conservative coalition, from social conservatives to limited government advocates, into a turbocharged grassroots effort this fall for an unprecedented opportunity — delivering both chambers of the General Assembly into conservative stewardship.

As for specific highlights: Turnout wasn't great, and there was the earthquake to deal with, but 10 percent turnout was not unexpected. What was shockingly appalling was the 2.5 percent turnout in the Southwestern 21st district. Delegate Dave Nutter took a late gamble by forsaking his safe House seat very late in the process (Roanoke Times), after denying he was interested, and jumped into the Senate race, defeating Tea Party backed Tripp Godsey. He will have to not only gain the Tea Party's enthusiastic backing, but energize a slew of activists to work hard for him to defeat entrenched liberal incumbent John Edwards. In what is still a blue district, Delegate Nutter now has even more work cut out for him.

Speaking of blue districts, now that he's won the 30th district Democrat primary, say hello to Senator Adam Ebbin. More reason than ever to turn the Senate conservative: As left as there is this side of Europe, Mr. Ebbin in the Senate majority will be able to advance every left-wing cause he advocated for in the House, but which met merciful deaths there.

In the hotly contested, newly drawn very red 22nd Senate district, where five Republicans went at it, Louisa County Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Garrett won. Some have asked whether it's a coincidence or irony that the 22nd was the epicenter of Tuesday's earthquake, as hard fought as it was. Bryan Rhode proved good looks, youth and a lot of money can't overcome among GOP voters a perceived slight to then-Attorney General Candidate Ken Cuccinelli (Lynchburg News & Advance).

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia establishment got crushed by the former state party chairman it ousted. Despite former U.S. Senator George Allen and other establishment Republicans endorsing opponent Tito Munoz, Jeff Frederick won the 36th district easily (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star). Lesson for the party royalty: Opposing Jeff Frederick typically leads to his success. He is the supremo at channeling establishment opposition into intense grassroots insurgencies that make said opposition look clueless.

Another loser — Bearing Drift. Perhaps the most influential and most read Virginia conservative political blog, and very dear friends, its endorsed candidates in the four highest profile and contested primaries took a beating — five if you consider the fact that it endorsed Rhode and Mark Peake in the 22nd, hedging its bets. The winner: Social and grassroots conservatives. In many races, all candidates had certified conservative bona fides and other factors came into play, notably, experience and electability. The latter taking in many considerations, such as residence and community involvement and name identification in the most populous portions of the district, for example.

What about the Tea Party? A surprise during the filing period was that the expected shoe did not drop on many GOP incumbents. Only one, caucus leader Tommy Norment of the 3rd district, received a challenge. Instead, Tea Party backed candidates (really, the old-line movement/grassroots conservatives) went another route, gunning instead for newly redistricted and open seats. By and large, they were successful.

Repeal Amendment Defeated, Property Rights On Hold In Senate P&E

This morning, the Senate Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments voted 4-3, on a party line vote, against SJ 280, the Repeal Amendment. The proposed resolution would, if enacted through a constitutional convention called for by state legislatures, allow a super majority of states to repeal federal laws and regulations. Those voting against the resolution by Senator Ryan McDougle (R-4, Hanover) were Senators Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath), Mary Margaret Whipple (D-31, Arlington), Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico) and Ralph Northam (D-6, Norfolk). Voting in favor were Senators Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), Ralph Smith (R-22, Botetourt) and Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach).   Oddly, much of the debate by witnesses was between conservative groups. While many limited government advocates want to re-balance the federal structure between the states and the central government in Washington, D.C., others are concerned the constitutional convention the resolution calls for would open up a loophole to amend other areas of the constitution, particularly the Bill of Rights. However, there is a House version of the resolution, HJ 542, patroned by Delegate James LeMunyon (R-67, Chantilly) and backed by House Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg), that should make it through the House, setting up a second round in the Senate.

Another important proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution, SJR 307, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain, (R-26, Harrisonburg), which would protect citizens' property from the dangers of eminent domain by state and local governments and public service companies, was carried over to next week. That gives property rights and limited government grassroots activists more time to contact members of this committee.

With Signing Of Health Care Freedom Act, National Health Care Fight Moves To Virginia

As the General Assembly began in January, perhaps the most anticipated legislative debate was going to be over the Virginia Health Care Freedom Act. How would this legislation — written to exempt Virginians from the unprecedented individual mandate in the Congressional health care bill — be received after a huge conservative victory in the fall? After all, the campaign was seen as a referendum against the federal government’s increasing control of private business and individual lives. But could it clear the typically obstructionist Virginia Senate? The answer came pretty early in session when five key Senate Democrats joined all 18 Republicans to send it comfortably through to the House where it was met warmly — even 55 percent of House Democrats voted for it. Similarly, the House version made its way through both chambers later in session. It was all anti-climatic until the events of last weekend.

After Congressional liberals rammed through its government-run health care plan, despite overwhelming opposition across the country, and the subsequent White House gloating, all eyes turned to Virginia. Yesterday, Governor Bob McDonnell made it official with what had to be the most widely reported bill signing ceremony in recent Virginia history. With his signature, Virginia has exempted itself from the most significant portion of the new federal law. We congratulate Governor McDonnell, the General Assembly and the bill patrons for their hard work in making history and protecting Virginia families from the federal government’s burdensome overreach and constitutionally questionable actions.

The patrons and chief co-patrons responsible for this major success for constitutional principle are: Senators Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) and Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk); and Delegates Bob Marshall (R-10, Manassas), John O’Bannon (R-73, Henrico) and Chris Peace (R-97, Hanover).

Now, however, even more national attention is focused on Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli as he defends this new law against the government takeover of our health care system. We thank him for his efforts and state and national leadership on this matter, as he does what he was sworn to do — defend Virginia law and the Virginia and United States Constitutions. He, as you can guess, is under a blistering attack from a loud, but determined, minority opposed to the Virginia law and his legal actions against federally run health care. You can support him by signing an online petition found here.

Finally, thanks to all of you who contacted your legislators and worked so hard to defend the founding principles of Virginia and the nation during this General Assembly session. As these uncertain economic times continue, more work will be required in the months ahead to restore our Founders’ vision.

How The Historic Senate Vote On Health Care Freedom Happened

It's not hyberbole to say this afternoon's Senate vote was historic. The legislation it passed in three identically worded bills – SB 283, SB 311 and SB 417 – guarantees Virginians the right to freely choose their health care options irregardless of federal government mandates. It also asserts a notion long ignored but firmly ingrained in the U.S. Constitution. It also shows, from a political perspective, that there are Democrats who understand the small government movement isn't limited to "swastika-wearing" thugs as U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would have us believe. The floor debate wasn't as dramatic as I — and those of us who relish political theater — had hoped. Sure, there were some pointed questions, but judging by the temperment of the questions and their lack of heft, it could have been mistaken for a transportation funding bill. That was an immediate clue the Senate majority knew it had lost more than two defectors from its caucus. If it was only two, there would have been deal making, recesses to sweat them out, arm twisting, all of the above or more.

If there was a surprise, it was in how many Dems defected and who two of them were: Senators Ed Houck (D-17, Spotsylvania) and John Miller (D-1, Newport News). There were rumors about the former last week (acceptable, but believe-it-when-you-see-it) and hope about the latter (no way that's gonna happen). The third new vote, also rumored late last week, Senator Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville), was a more likely possibility. Although the 23-17 margin was a pleasant shock, I rooted for a showdown 20-20 tie that Lt. Governor Bill Bolling would have broken in the affirmative. That would have been more headline grabbing.

Not that the debate wasn't sharp. The questions from Senate liberals to the bills’ patrons — Senators Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk), SB 283; Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) SB 311; and Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester), SB 417 — came from Senators Donald McEachin (D-9, Henrico), John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke), and Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D-37, Springfield), as well as the more moderate Senator Chap Peterson (D-34, Fairfax). But their questions repeatedly missed the point, including questions about contracts, insurance requirements to join athletic clubs, and ex-spouses providing insurance in divorce settlements. Senator Quayle nailed it in his opening remarks when he said, "This bill attempts to reinforce the Constitution of the United States. … The Constitution doesn’t grant rights to anyone. It puts limits on what government can do to us."

Nothing more needed to be said. This being the Senate, of course, more was. Including this gem from the not-smarting-enough-from-his-November-trip-to-the-shed Senator Creigh Deeds (D-25, Bath), who complained that with the economy and employment in bad shape, the General Assembly should not be "legislating in theory." A LOL coming from a guy who was shredded primarily because of national issues involving government intervention. Besides, he should know that it's Washington liberals who have ignored the economy and jobs for an entire year in lieu of health care "reform." But it's not theory. The Constitution is the law of the land. Amazing he doesn't understand that, but his comments today make it clear why his campign was a case study in political disasters, prompting comparisons to other campaigns ("Deeds-like").

At the beginning of session, not many people gave this legislation a chance of getting out of a Senate committee, much less passing the Senate floor by a wide margin. But it happened thanks to a large coalition comprised of thousands of activists from across Virginia, many of whom have been here several times to lobby their representatives and attend committee hearings.

But this is the General Assembly, after all, and nothing becomes law until it is signed. So vigilence is needed. We will stay on top of this legislation — and encourage all supporters to do the same — until it passes both chambers and is signed into law.

Here Are The Five Senate Democrats Who Voted For Health Care Freedom

The five Virginia Senate Democrats who voted for SB 283, SB 311 and SB 417, the Senate bill for health care freedom and defense of the 10th Amendment, are: Senators Charles Colgan (D-29, Manassas) and Phil Puckett (D-38, Tazewell), who both voted for it committee, as well as Senators Edd Houck (D-17, Spottsylvania), John Miller (D-1, Newport News) and Roscoe Reynolds (D-20, Martinsville). See the vote for SB 283 here, which is identical to the votes for the subsequent bills. The bills are patroned, respectively, by Senators Fred Quayle (R-13, Suffolk), Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield) and Jill Vogel (R-27, Winchester).