140 Characters to Start a Frenzy

Every legislative session comes with a giant, hidden pinata, waiting to burst open and send countless parties scurrying for the goodies inside. Yesterday, the pinata exploded as it seemed, for a moment, that there might be a power-sharing agreement about to be announced in the Senate.

Interesting. And really, considering the timing, right as bills crossover from one chamber to the other, potentially huge (not that the casual Senate observer would likely detect any difference in how the Senate conducts itself…that body remains, largely, a bastion governmentphiles).

But who upset the agreement? Depends upon who’s asked. Ben says it was a premature Twitter from Jeff Frederick, Delegate and RPV chairman, that scotched the deal.

If so, then bad on Jeff. And even more, who knew Majority Leader Dick Saslaw was such a techie?

Then again, perhaps this was a deal that looked solid before the unwashed masses were told of its existence. That’s the spin from House Majority Leader Morgan Griffith:

Representatives from the Senate Republican Caucus informed several members of our House Caucus today about what they characterized as an imminent power-sharing agreement. In addition, it was indicated to members of our Caucus, myself included, that this information was already known and was public.

I suggested to Chairman Frederick that he get the word out, minus the details. Jeff did not post anything other than an unnamed D was looking at leaving their caucus and power sharing negotiations were underway.

There is no reason to believe that Delegate Frederick’s posting on Twitter, which happened several hours into the day’s activities in the Senate, affected the outcome. Perhaps, it was the visit by the wavering democrat with the Governor of the Democratic National Committee. Regardless it is clear that the partisan makeup of the Virginia Senate is tenuous. Morgan Griffith

Sounds plausible, doesn’t it. Not everyone buys it, however. And there is plenty of room to wonder about the timing of who knew what. In the time it takes to explain the matter, though, most folks have lost interest.

Over on his Facebook page, Sen. Mark Obenshain paints a somewhat more clear picture of events on the Senate side, where the real action was all along:

Notwithstanding the fact that today is crossover day – the very busy final day for each chamber to act on its own bills — the session began about 4 hours later than planned. There was almost an outbreak of good government, but that was narrowly averted. Whew! Here’s what happened. There has been bipartisan concern expressed over the leadership and operation of the Senate Finance and Courts Committees. The concern came to a head today. Notwithstanding the fact that there are 19 Republican Senators and 21 Democrats, we began the day with enough Senators to reorganize these two committees – naming as co-chairs of those Committees Senators Wampler and Stolle – both Republicans – effectively forcing bipartisan cooperation in the running of these two critical committees. After 4 hours of meetings behind closed doors and with the Governor, the threat of bipartisanship passed, partisan fever and the status quo prevailed. Although the impasse was abbreviated, it should be noted that it took great courage and principle for someone to stand up to his party’s leadership. Governor Kaine, as Chair of DNC, flexed his muscle today – successfully. It is a sign of the increased partisan power he will bring to the Capitol in his new position – and it has come at the expense of good government.

Sen. Obenshain doesn’t mention Ralph Northam, and that stems, no doubt, from senatorial courtesy. Even so, his account does add layers of context that initial reports lacked.

The most important of those is the increased intertwining of the Governor’s role as chief executive with his duties as DNC chairman. There’s nothing wrong with Gov. Kaine — or any governor — cracking the whip within his party. It’s part of the job.

However, adding the DNC chairmanship to the mix does give this particular governor a bigger club than most. And if he’s using it over matter as deeply parochial as who chairs a state Senate committee, then we can only imagine what the future holds for other Democrats who stray from the reservation. But really, who wouldn’t pay money to see Kaine go toe-to-toe with Chuck Schumer? It’s the political nerd’s equivalent of Ali-Frazer.

Now how does all of this reflect back on Jeff Frederick and his Tweet?

Those who bay for his blood will use it as another example of his perfidy and demand his head on a spike this afternoon. Those who see the fault residing elsewhere will point to Griffith’s email as the real scoop and everyone who’s anyone knew this was deal was coming apart anyway. Perhaps…though the conceit that this was “public knowledge” is overwhelming. There’s a big world beyond the General Assembly Building, you know.

I can’t say how this will affect Mr. Frederick, except that it has drawn a lot of attention to the fact that he has a Twitter account.

And if the last day or so has taught him anything, it’s that 140 characters (or less) are all you need to start frenzy.