In a post-session virtual luncheon hosted by Wason Center Academic Director Quentin Kidd, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R-James City) expressed alarm at erosion of Virginia’s business-friendly status while Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said moderate pro-business senators were helping protect Virginia’s business environment — for now.
As an example, Saslaw mentioned the Fair Share Bill, which he introduced in 2020 at the request of a union. The bill would have required non-union members to pay some fees to compensate the union for the cost of representing the non-member. But he said even some Senate Democrats asked him to kill the bill, which he did.
“Even in my caucus, there’s just not the mood there to do away with the right-to-work law,” Saslaw said. “That’s going to be around, I believe, for quite a while.”
He noted that Virginia had attracted Amazon even without a package as attractive as other states, thanks to Virginia’s skilled work force. He cited other laws that Senate Democrats helped vote against because they were too harmful for businesses.
But Saslaw expressed concern about younger legislators pushing for more radical changes. Saslaw said that moderate legislators in both caucuses were facing primary challenges from the extremes. That places pro-business Democrats under pressure, but Saslaw said veteran legislators were resisting the change.
“Particularly as long as Tommy and I are there, I don’t see that favorable climate going away, ” Saslaw told Kidd.
“Will there be attempts to change it? I’m sure there will,” Saslaw said. “They’re all being challenged from the left.”
Norment agreed that Amazon’s presence was a good sign and said that Virginia’s quality higher education system was the number one thing that attracted Amazon. “It wasn’t just a question of chasing the dollars,” Norment said.
“Where Dick and I do disagree is on Virginia’s right to work,” Norment said. “If you do a cross-section of members of the General Assembly with the younger generation, they’re not necessarily reflective of the attitude that Dick and I have raised. I think that when the next results come out of the best places to do business in the country, Virginia will drop.”
Norment said that right-to-work wasn’t just threatened in 2020. “In 2021, there were some direct assaults on continuing right-to-work. We’ve got this communist named Carter, Delegate Carter, from Prince William County, who explicitly put in a bill to repeal right to work, no ifs, ands, or buts. Blessedly, that bill was beaten back, but there were no subtleties about that bill whatsoever.”
Norment cited amendments Governor Ralph Northam made to recently-passed marijuana legalization bills. The amendments require confirmation in another vote.
“He clearly inserted in that bill language and specific provisions that were antagonistic to Virginia’s right-to-work law. And there was no subtlety about it,” Norment said. “I’m not as old as Dick, but I remember when Senator Northam was pro-business. I can remember back that far. And this was a direct pandering to certain constituencies.”
He said that small business lobbyist organizations like the NFIB are concerned about whether Virginia is friendly to small business. He also mentioned long evictions moratoriums as another harm to small businesses.
“I think in the Senate as long as Dick and I are there, and certain other Republicans and Democrats that are pro-business, I think we have that challenge set out for us,” Norment said. “Because particularly some of the more progressive, younger members of the House of Delegates do not see the financial and economic role of Virginia [the same] as anybody on this call.”
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