house of delgates

Virginia might have to wait until the Jan. 10 start of the General Assembly session, or later, to find out whether the GOP will retain its slender majority in the House of Delegates. But Republicans don’t have to wait to play a card that is both magnanimous and prudent. They can offer to share power with Democrats right now.

Why do so? For one thing, Democrats won more votes than Republicans did on Nov. 7. Only gerrymandering prevented Democrats from taking an outright majority of seats in the House. Sharing control of the chamber would be the right and sportsmanlike thing to do.

Granted, politics is a realm where standard operating procedure involves kneecapping your opponent, not helping him out. But there’s always a chance — however slim — that one of the political parties will do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

If Republicans won’t propose power-sharing out of principle, they might want to do so out of self-preservation. If the tide in the handful of contested districts goes against them, they could find themselves in an evenly divided chamber, or in the minority. And if they don’t become a minority party this year, they could in the not-too-distant future. Setting a precedent for honorable conduct now would give them grounds on which to demand Democrats behave honorably, too.

That would improve on Virginia’s long-standing Dirty Rule of Politics, which is: “Do unto others as they did unto you.” For decades, both parties have justified cutthroat tactics with the excuse that the other side did something deplorable in the past, which makes it OK to behave deplorably now. Outside of politics, the only other place you hear such an argument is kindergarten, and it’s frowned upon even there.

The third reason to share power has to do with, for lack of a better word, branding. Thanks to a variety of factors, the Republican brand currently is so toxic it borders on poisonous. Republicans don’t hold the high ground, to put it kindly. They need to start reclaiming it, or at least trying to. But they won’t reclaim it if they hold onto their last vestige of power in state government like a snarling dog that won’t let go of a bone.

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