Protests take fo­cus off bud­get fight

Democrats’ com­plaints about po­lice ‘disin­gen­u­ous,’ GOP says

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

Virginia Repub­li­cans were hopeful that a week­end away from the re­cently toxic en­vi­rons of Rich­mond would help thaw a pro­tracted stale­mate over the state’s pro­posed two-year, $85 bil­lion spend­ing plan. But the week­end ar­rests of more than 30 ac­tivists protest­ing anti-abor­tion leg­is­la­tion has only fu­eled the par­ti­san flames that have en­gulfed the Capi­tol.

About 1,000 demon­stra­tors as­sem­bled Satur­day in front of the Capi­tol Bell Tower, and later moved to the steps of the Capi­tol. When demon­stra­tors re­fused to leave, more than 30 peo­ple were ar­rested by the state’s Capi­tol po­lice, who were out­fit­ted in riot gear, toted semi­au­to­matic weapons and had guard dogs at the ready.

Democrats on Mon­day pounced on what they saw as overly ag­gres­sive po­lice ma­neu­vers, liken­ing the scene to 1960s-era demon­stra­tions.

“Our state Capi­tol is be­com­ing an armed gar­ri­son,” said Sen. Janet D. How­ell, Fair­fax

Demo­crat. “Not since the ‘Mas­sive Re­sis­tance’ days in the ’60s have I seen such a dis­grace­ful dis­play of ex­ces­sive po­lice pres­ence in my state.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Richard L. Saslaw, Fair­fax Demo­crat, said that in 37 years in of­fice, he’s never seen such a dis­play of force.

“I think I’ve about heard it all,” he said.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Thomas K. Nor­ment Jr., James City Re­pub­li­can, though, called such state­ments “ex­ceed­ingly disin­gen­u­ous,” point­ing to Democrats’ con­tin­ued fo­cus on so­cial is­sues, notably a mea­sure that would re­quire women to un­dergo ul­tra­sound imag­ing be­fore they have an abor­tion.

“They are passed, they are gone, and they are in no way tied to the fis­cal de­ci­sions this body needs to make,” he said, re­fer­ring to an on­go­ing stale­mate over the state’s twoyear $85 bil­lion spend­ing plan.

Democrats, dis­pleased with Repub­li­cans’ or­ga­niz­ing the cham­ber as a work­ing ma­jor­ity de­spite a 20-20 split, twice have voted in lock step against ver­sions of the bud­get. The tiebreak­ing vote of Re­pub­li­can Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, used to help the GOP as­sign Re­pub­li­can ma­jori­ties to ev­ery ma­jor com­mit­tee, does not ex­tend to the bud­get.

Demo­cratic Cau­cus Chair­man A. Don­ald Mceachin, Hen­rico Demo­crat, quickly dis­abused Mr. Nor­ment of the no­tion that the party would sud­denly go silent on so­cial is­sues, which have fast be­come a ral­ly­ing cry for the party both in the state and around the coun­try.

“If you think that the so­cial is­sues are not go­ing to be the em­pha­sis of the up­com­ing bud­get de­bate, then you are sorely mis­taken,” he said.

Gov. Bob Mcdon­nell, a Re­pub­li­can, wel­comed res­i­dents to ex­er­cise their First Amend­ment rights at the Bell Tower — as he did at a school­choice rally ear­lier in the ses­sion — but he said Democrats would likely want to re­think their Mon­day words, call­ing them “very dis­ap­point­ing.”

“Capi­tol po­lice are in charge of Capi­tol ground,” he said. “They’re out­stand­ing pro­fes­sion­als. They’re well-trained.”

He said he un­der­stood it’s late in the ses­sion, that leg­is­la­tors are worn out and that there is still much to do, but that at­tack­ing law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials for do­ing their jobs was be­yond the pale.

“It re­ally has crossed the line,” he said. “It re­ally is way over-the-top. I call on them to apol­o­gize. . . . I would hope they re­al­ize how far out of line they are when they say things like that.”

Mr. Mcdon­nell re­it­er­ated his con­cern that Democrats were still hold­ing up the bud­get process in a po­lit­i­cal dis­pute over rep­re­sen­ta­tion on com­mit­tees. He called the spat over com­mit­tee as­sign­ments “be­low the dig­nity of the Virginia peo­ple” and “not the Virginia way.”

Ear­lier on Mon­day, Mr. Saslaw and Mr. Mceachin re­sponded to a let­ter the gov­er­nor had writ­ten to them last week ask­ing, es­sen­tially, what it would take to get Democrats to vote for the bud­get.

“A well-put query, the re­sponses to which we be­lieve have fallen on deaf ears,” they wrote. “Clearly, the an­swer lies in the best in­ter­ests of Vir­gini­ans, not the rad­i­cal agenda of your party.”

They re­it­er­ated that Democrats would not vote for a bud­get that, for ex­am­ple, would bump 4,500 el­derly peo­ple off Med­i­caid and fund K-12 ed­u­ca­tion be­low 2007 lev­els. They said they also ob­ject to us­ing $69 mil­lion of set­tle­ment money from a law­suit over il­licit fore­clo­sure prac­tices to sup­ple­ment lo­cal­i­ties and brace for po­ten­tial fed­eral cut­backs, rather than put it di­rectly to­ward peo­ple hit by the hous­ing cri­sis.

“We are ea­ger to work with you to craft a bud­get that works for all in our Com­mon­wealth,” they said in the let­ter, “rather than sim­ply scor­ing par­ti­san po­lit­i­cal points.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Top: Virginia State Po­lice stand by as pro­test­ers are re­moved from the front steps of the state Capi­tol in Rich­mond on Satur­day. Above: Virginia Capi­tol Po­lice ar­rest more than 30 of the pro-choice ac­tivists when they re­fused to dis­perse as or­dered. On Mon­day, Virginia Se­nate Demo­cratic lead­ers crit­i­cized what they called an overly ag­gres­sive po­lice re­sponse.

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