Virginia Sen. Chuck Colgan laments the turmoil he caused in Richmond this month during a budget saga that left his Democratic colleagues severely bruised and further divided a Senate he once respected for its bipartisanship.
Virginia's longest-serving Democratic state senator doesn't regret joining with Republicans to pass a budget his fellow Democrats begged him not to embrace. He regrets only that he gave in to the pleas of his own party 24 hours earlier when he voted against that very same budget.
"When I got back to the hotel [after voting against it], I thought, 'I made a big mistake today,' " Colgan told The Washington Examiner.
It was an ironic twist for Colgan to be cast as the demon among Democrats. The 85-year-old from Manassas was only in Richmond this spring because his party begged him not to retire last year. Without him, they said, Republicans would take over the Virginia Senate, giving the GOP complete control of the General Assembly.
He agreed and helped Democrats hold on to a 20-20 split in the chamber. But then came the budget battle.
Democrats balked at supporting a Republican spending plan, first demanding greater power on Senate committees and later, after being rebuffed, demanding more money for education and social programs. Republicans gave in.
When Democrats also demanded an extra $300 million for the Dulles Rail project, Republicans refused and the Senate deadlocked, unable to pass a budget. But then, Colgan switched his vote. Convinced Democrats had gotten almost everything they wanted, Colgan sided with Republicans in committee and sent the compromise budget to the Senate floor for a vote.
Under heavy pressure from other Democrats, however, Colgan voted against the budget on the floor. Then, just 24 hours later, he switched again and voted for it, allowing it to pass and infuriating Democrats, who claimed Colgan never told them he was going to switch votes.
"Quite frankly, I thought I had. We spent almost five hours in a conference room," Colgan said. "[Sen.] Louise Lucas kept saying, 'I'm [voting] with Chuck.' I guess communication broke down or something. I was surprised they were surprised."
Reflecting on this month's special session, Colgan chalked up the outrage to growing partisanship in a state legislature that long prided itself on bipartisan cooperation. Voters last year left the Senate evenly divided, but Republicans quickly moved to take control, using Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling's tie-breaking authority to organize committees in their favor.
Colgan wants to devote the rest of his term in office to finding a permanent solution for power sharing when the Senate is split.
"This could happen again in three years," Colgan said. "This meanness between Democrats and Republicans and party versus party, it's gotta end."
Not that Colgan plans to stick around much longer to see if it gets better.
"I'm going to serve my four years, and this will be my last term. No questions about that," Colgan said. "It was a tough campaign and a very tough session. But I don't regret it."