Conservative Republicans in the Virginia Senate yesterday achieved a significant victory in their caucus leadership elections at the General Assembly Building in Richmond with the election of Senators Steve Newman (Lynchburg, 23rd district) as caucus chairman and Mark Obenshain (Harrisonburg, 26th district) as one of two whips. With the caucus now made up of eight members (out of 19) with legitimate conservative credentials; and six “moderates” either retiring, or who lost renomination in primaries or re-election November 6; and a motivated grassroots movement urging senators to make a leadership change, it was at least what conservatives deserved.
Newman had been lining up support for a run for Republican leader against current leader Senator Walter Stosch (Henrico, 12th district), but when Stosch agreed to step aside in what appears to be a hard-worked compromise, Newman and Obenshain instead were elected to their new posts. Senator Tommy Norment (James City, 3rd district) was elected Republican leader, while Senators Ken Stolle (Virginia Beach, 8th district) and Frank Wagner Virginia Beach, district 7) were elected leader pro tempore (deputy leader) and whip, respectively. Stosch will have an ex-officio role in a new position, leader emeritus.
Obenshain, along with Senator Ken Cuccinelli (Fairfax, 37th district), had been two of the most outspoken conservative senators calling for change at the top. Obenshain went so far as to write Stosch a letter, later made public, detailing what he considered to be the inadequacies and inefficiencies of Stosch’s leadership as well as that of his ruling moderate team, while Cuccinelli addressed the influential Tuesday Morning Group on November 13 calling for top to bottom change in the Virginia GOP. (He also gave an interview to WRVA’s Richmond’s Morning News Weekend on November 24.)
While Norment and Stolle are remnants of the moderate “Gang of Five,” there now are two conservatives and a fresh face in five of the leadership positions in the Republican caucus. Even Norment, philosophically similar to Stosch but seen as more partisan, told the media that he was sorry to disappoint them that peace had come to the caucus. Fortified conservative numbers will do that. So, as predicted, a Republican minority, but a more conservative caucus. It’s only a start, but already it can be seen as progress.