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EDITORIAL: Tall in the dais

Before House of Delegates Speaker Bill Howell nixed state Senate Republicans’ “ambush redistricting” plan on Wednesday, he studied not only the parliamentary writings of Thomas Jefferson but also the Bible. Maybe it was Proverbs 20:23—“Diverse weights [i.e., thumbs on the scales] are an abomination unto the Lord”—that clinched his call. In any case, it is worth two-and-a-half hearty cheers.

In thwarting the entire Senate GOP caucus—which voted en masse Jan. 21 to prematurely redraw district lines to partisan advantage—and steaming some House R’s, too, Stafford’s Mr. Howell did not make himself the Man of the Hour in Gopdom. But he did render an honest ruling. He decided that the Senate’s major changes in the 2011 district map were not “germane” to the essentially technical House bill on which the Republican solons notoriously grafted them, exploiting a Democratic senator’s absence to ram through their bolt-out-of-the blue revision on a 20–19 vote.

Democrat, independent, or Republican, every fair-minded Virginian should applaud Mr. Howell’s action. Its timing—one day after a full-strength Democratic Senate sidelined Gov. McDonnell’s transportation proposal (carried by Mr. Howell)—does however suggest that the ruling was one of enlightened self-interest. Led by Dick Saslaw of Fairfax, Democrats miffed over their GOP colleagues’ dirty trick had crossed their arms, stuck out their lips, and vowed not to play ball with the governor on his legislative package—never mind that Mr. McDonnell wasn’t in on the dirty doings.

With the speaker’s ruling, though, Mr. Saslaw and his D’s want to hold Republican hands and skip through fields of bachelor buttons. “We’ll work with the speaker and the House on trying to put together a transportation program,” Mr. Saslaw cheerfully told The Washington Post.

Alas for the governor, he may be facing a putsch within his own party. Some Republicans—those who represent the Tea Party rather than ordinary citizens who want good roads—aren’t keen on Mr. McDonnell’s plan anyway because it would raise the sales tax: The governor needed Democratic votes to even get his bill out of the House. Now some Republicans are threatening to oppose his mobility package because of Mr. Howell’s decision to put the integrity of his position—previously held by founders, Lees, and future presidents—above partisan skullduggery.

In fact, Republican partisans owe Mr. Howell a great debt. In Richmond the party has been falling into bad odor, not so much on policy matters like ultrasounds and guns, about which honorable people can disagree, but because it has seemed ready to cheat to win or keep power. Some GOP moves—to award electoral votes by congressional district after two straight Obama wins in Virginia, to change district boundaries eight years early, and so on—make an ugly brand. Speaker Howell has just cooled the branding iron.

Enough kid stuff. In Richmond, 140 adults on the people’s payroll are obliged to craft a good transportation fix and make it Virginia law. The Old Dominion is out of time. To return to Proverbs: “Where no counsel is, the people fall.”


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