Friday, February 20, 2009

Cleaning up the smokehouse

The General Assembly agreed to a compromise bill to ban most smoking in restaurants. Governor Tim Kaine says he'll sign it quickly, although it won't become effective until December. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 27-13 with Creigh Deeds voting in favor and Emmett Hanger voting against. In the House of Delegates, the vote was 60-39 with Steve Landes supporting the ban and Chris Saxman and Ben Cline voting no.
Smoking will be banned in most restaurants, exceptions being private clubs and restaurants with separately ventilated smoking rooms. The ban does not apply to outside dining areas.
The battle over the compromise bill cut across party lines but the rifts were felt most keenly on the GOP side of the aisle. Many Republicans, favoring a "don't work with the governor on anything" mentality, were beyond miffed when Speaker Bill Howell appeared with Governor Tim Kaine to support a compromise earlier this month. Majority leader Morgan Griffin parted ways from the speaker and there was open talk of choosing a new speaker for the next session - if the GOP stays in control of the chamber.
Final passage in the House found 21 Republicans voting with the speaker and that pissed of the Americans for Prosperity. Ben Marchi, speaking for the right wing group noted:
"A lot of conservatives were surprised that the Speaker would go off on his own and have talks with the Governor without even consulting his caucus."
The divisions in the GOP ranks bode well for the Democrats this November who need to pick up six seats to gain control of the House of Delegates. Delegates like Steve Landes may find some conservatives hedging support because of his yes vote on this one issue. On the other hand, opponents of the bill will have to answer for voting against a reasonable and good policy that is supported by a majority of Virginians.
Gubernatorial candidates may find political smoke blowing in the wind this November, too. Senator Creigh Deeds voted for the ban and the other two Democrats say they support it (of course, they are bystanders to the General Assembly). Republican Bob McDonnell blew warm smoke up conservatives' skirts by opposing the ban.
Republicans, trying to dodge backlash, were successful at delaying implementation until after the election.

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