The 2023 regular session of the West Virginia Legislature begins today with the Republicans in absolute control of the agenda.
The 2022 election and party switches have given the GOP all but three of the 34 seats in the Senate. In the House of Delegates, Republicans hold 88 of the 100 seats.
Those aren’t just super majorities; they are super-duper majorities.
In addition, the Governor, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Auditor and the state Treasurer are all Republicans. Democrats at the Capitol are as scarce as hen’s teeth.
Oh sure, the few remaining Democrats can still make some noise in committees and on the floor. They can fume and fuss. They can cajole and try to bargain. They can whine. They can call press conferences. They can even make substantive arguments and salient points.
They can do their level best to affect policy, but in the end, they don’t have the votes, and in the legislative process if you don’t have the votes you lose. So, the Democrats are in an unenviable position where about the best they can hope for this session is to serve as the loyal opposition.
In theory then, the Republicans can do anything they want. I said “in theory” because passing legislation is not theoretical; it is real, and the reality is these Republicans do not agree on everything.
These new super-duper majorities are an amalgamation of many different views and priorities. Cat herding comes to mind when thinking of these Republicans.
Think of it this way: How do you get 120 individuals (88 in the House, 31 in the Senate and 1 Governor), or even most of those individuals, to agree on anything? Throw in the inevitable tensions that build during the session among the House, the Senate and the Governor and you do not exactly have a well-oiled machine.
The growing budget surplus means the state has lots of extra money, but even that adds to the potential for disagreement since there will be myriad ideas within the majority party on how that money should be used.
Take tax cuts, for example. It is safe to say there is overwhelming agreement among Republicans in the House, the Senate and Governor Justice, that taxes should be cut. But what taxes should be reduced and by how much?
How about pay raises for public employees? A PEIA fix? Restructuring of DHHR? Improvements in public education? Infrastructure spending? The list goes on and on.
It was not that many years ago that Republicans were a legislative afterthought. One long-serving Senator, Donna Boley from Pleasants County, can remember when she was the only Republican in the Senate.
Republicans have fought long and hard to have this kind of domination. Now they have it. Let’s see what they do with it. The work starts today.