__With Democrats taking Senate in Tuesday elections, higher education may change__
Democrats will take control of the Virginia State Senate after gaining the four seats they needed to end a decade of Republican rule in that chamber.
p. The election is already being hailed by national and state press as more evidence of Virginia’s shift from a reliably “red” Republican state to a “purple” state and could mean a new direction for state policy on key issues such as transportation, the environment, health care and higher education.
p. Virginia’s recent Democratic tilt is likely fueled by the fast growth and changing dynamics of the Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads regions. Within Hampton Roads, Williamsburg was among the few communities to elect Republicans both to the Senate and the House.
p. Student turnout in the first election since Williamsburg’s revision of its registration laws was impressive.
p. “The Student Assembly’s exit polling estimated that 10 percent of the voters at the Stryker precinct were students, which is what would be proportionally expected from students,” Student Assembly President Zach Pilchen ’09 said.
p. The lack of choices spurred some voters to write in their own choices, yielding some interesting results. Pilchen said that Steven Nelson ’10 finished second place in the race for Williamsburg Sheriff.
p. With their majority in the state Senate, the Democrats gain the power to assign committee chairmanships, and the new arrangement will likely tilt heavily toward Northern Virginia. Sen. Charles Colgan (D-Manassas) now stands in line to chair the Finance Committee, which could mean increased spending on colleges and universities such as the College that have suffered budget cuts in recent years, according to The Washington Post.
However, George Grayson, government professor and former Democratic member of the House of Delegates is not fully convinced.
p. “While the Democratic gains certainly increase the strength of the Governor and the advocates of higher education,” the fact that House is still firmly in the control of Republicans, some of whom are “skeptical” of increased higher education spending, spells an uncertain future for Virginia colleges, he said.
p. Grayson points to problems in the U.S. economy relating to an unsustainable period of growth and the declining international power of the dollar, which may further strain Virginia’s budget.
Higher education may also be affected by a stall in Republican efforts to deny admission to illegal immigrants, a measure opposed by most Democrats.
p. Analysts at The Washington Post and The Virginian-Pilot point to the intensity of anti-immigration campaigning and a relative paucity in transportation and education-related platforms as a key factor in Republican losses across the state.
p. Whatever the elections’ effect on higher education, it will draw even more national attention to Virginia for the 2008 election from both political parties. This was the most expensive state election in Virginia’s history, with the candidates raising a combined $60 million. By comparison, the state’s controversial bad driver fees, another bane for Republicans this election, are expected to generate only $65 million this year.
p. As Delegate Brian Moran (D-Alexandria) put it, “The lesson from this election is to govern from the middle.”