Vogel’s break with GOP on key votes stirs speculation

Posted: February 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

WINCHESTER — A state Senate committee has advanced a bill that would make Virginia’s voter identification laws more stringent.

Only one Republican member of the committee voted against the measure on Tuesday: State Sen. Jill Vogel, whose 27th District includes Winchester and Frederick and Clarke counties.

In what has become a trend during the 2013 General Assembly session, the Upperville Republican has also not been afraid to break with members of her party on the issues of gay rights and changing the way the state apportions its presidential electoral votes.

Vogel said in a Friday email that not voting along party lines is nothing new for her.

“It has caused a stir on occasion, but it is my job to vote my conscience and what is in the best interest of my district,” she wrote in the email.

According to Toni-Michelle C. Travis, a Virginia politics professor at George Mason University, Vogel’s votes could also be part of a “shrewd” move that is part of a larger battle being waged within the Republican Party.

Travis believes the state GOP is splitting between those who want to move farther to the right and those who want to maintain conservative positions without alienating large swaths of the electorate, and thinks the rigidly ideological conservatives will increasingly have difficulty winning elections.

Vogel — author of the Virginia law that requires women seeking an abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound — may have decided to cast herself as a more centrist Republican.

“It sounds like she’s looking toward the future, trying to survive, and maybe planning to seek higher office at some point,” Travis said.

Vogel, however, indicated that she is happy in her current position and has no plans to run for another elected office.

And while she hasn’t sided with her party on every issue this session, nobody is likely to mistake Vogel for a Democrat. She has voted against all gun control efforts, and joined Senate Republicans to pass a controversial redistricting bill that could skew future state elections more to the right.

But she was the only Republican to vote Tuesday against tightening voting laws so that a photo identification would be required. During last year’s General Assembly session, she consistently voted to make the ID laws stricter.

She was also one of just four Senate Republicans to back a bill that would prohibit the state government from discriminating against employees because of their sexual orientation — despite voting against the same legislation last year (the bill only made it out of committee because Vogel joined seven Democrats to advance the measure, 8-7).

During a Senate vote to confirm the appointment of a gay prosecutor to be a general district judge in Richmond, 12 conservative Republicans walked out of the chamber rather than vote. Vogel remained and voted for the appointment, which was confirmed 28-0.

And in perhaps the most high-profile example of Vogel breaking ranks, she announced her opposition to Republican efforts to change the way presidential electoral votes are apportioned, effectively torpedoing the bill.

Vogel says she has never toed the party line and has worked in a bipartisan fashion in the past.

But this year those actions may carry more weight, indicating with which side of the Republican split she intends to proceed, Travis said.

It is a divide most prominently featured between Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling — who were vying for the party’s nomination for governor heading into the Nov. 5 election, before Bolling dropped out late last year, Travis said.

Cuccinelli, a tea party hero, was the clear choice of the GOP’s most ardent supporters, who will choose the party’s nominee at a convention — as opposed to a primary — in May.

Since Bolling decided to end his bid for the Republican nomination, he has moved to the center as he flirts with a run as an independent, while Cuccinelli has continued to move to the right.

Travis thinks those who follow Cuccinelli to the outer fringes will likely be stranded in the political wilderness.

“Politics is about compromise,” she said. “The future is not going to be positive for those at the extremes.”

— Contact Conor Gallagher at cgallagher@winchesterstar.com