Political games-playing was on display again this week when state senators and delegates gave the governor’s special session on gun control an hour and a half of their time — and then abruptly adjourned.
That decision may well backfire.
Gov. Ralph Northam was angry. So were many other Democrats who were the victims of the Republican-controlled legislature’s recent ploy. So are plenty of Virginians who want action on gun control.
Instead of taking action or even offering compromises, the majority members of the General Assembly simply adjourned. Their only act was to arrange for any gun-control bills to be sent to the Virginia State Crime Commission for study. They had coordinated this show of strength through pre-emptive backroom politicking.
What’s more, one of their most powerful members had signaled that he was ready to deal on gun control.
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, previously had filed a bill that would have banned people from bringing guns into local government buildings, a restriction that has been heavily supported by gun-control advocates following the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
That Mr. Norment would support, much less patron, a gun-control bill surprised everyone.
Scarcely 24 hours later, though, his office surprised everyone again by announcing that he would pull the bill.
The Senate leader apparently even surprised himself. “[T]he reason behind it was that I probably was too smart by half,” he said. “I must say that in this theater of politics that I had some Machiavellian thoughts.”
Machiavellian? “Marked by cunning, duplicity, or bad faith” (Merriam-Webster)?
The statement encourages speculation. Did Mr. Norment think to lull gun-control advocates into a sense of false complacency — the better to deliver the death blow when the special session was abandoned? Did he plan to stir up gun-rights advocates to a heightened pitch of resistance? Who knows?
It’s clear, though, from the reference to Machiavelli that his actions were intended as some sort of political manipulation.
Each side has been accusing the other of playing politics with the big issues facing Virginia today. Republicans claimed that Mr. Northam’s quickly called special session was an “election-year stunt.” Previously, Democrats had said Republicans were merely playing election-year politics in their proposal to discuss possible hearings on sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax during the gun-control session.
Meanwhile, Republicans’ failure to take the session seriously could have strong political repercussions.
The backlash from gun-control advocates has been swift, heated and often bitter. Republicans might very well have stoked the opposition and strengthened Democrats’ intentions to take control of the legislature.
Democrats made remarkable gains in the most recent election; they already are already emboldened. Now they have been mocked and toyed with — and are likely to treat Republicans’ actions as reason to intensify their resistance.
The commonwealth is better served by a political system in which the opposing parties challenge each other, even confront each other — because such challenges can result in compromises. With input from both sides, legislation can be chiseled, refined, adjusted and adapted to serve the greater good.
The commonwealth is not served by a system in which the parties seek to destroy each other, as exists now. In seeking to annihilate each, they’re also destroying us, the people of Virginia and the “common wealth” that we should share.