Nearly one month ago, Virginians went to the polls and elected Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam and Mark Herring to lead the Commonwealth over the next four years. With over two million votes cast, Mark Herring eked out victory with some 165 votes. As we go to press, the State Board of Elections has certified Mark Herring as the winner. However, his opponent has asked for a recount. It is unlikely there will be any changes in the outcome but it is an understandable and necessary process. There has been plenty of speculation about challenges and contesting the vote. Despite the close count, it is time to close the page on this election
That withstanding, two vacant Senate seats will be filled by special elections. Soon to be Lt Governor, Senator Northam, has represented the 6th District that takes in the Eastern Shore, part of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. In Loudon County, Senator Herring will vacate his senate seat. The Governor will call for the special election(s) soon. I don’t have to tell you how important those two seats are to my caucus and the balance in the Virginia Senate. For the past two years, the Senate has been equally divided with 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats. Lt. Governor Bill Bolling has cast a tie-breaking vote 50+ times. Dr. Ralph Northam will be the tiebreaker when the newly elected Senators are sworn in.
We have plenty to do to get ready for opening day of the General Assembly on January 8. Three days later, Terry McAuliffe will be sworn in as Governor. Since the day after the November election, he has been working on putting together the best possible team for his administration. We have some of the brightest minds I have ever known as part of the transition team. I look forward to working with our new Governor and his Cabinet to keep Virginia moving forward.
A few days before the Senate Finance Committee met for its annual retreat in November one of our colleagues suffered a great loss with the passing of a son desperately in need of mental health services. Senator Deeds, a loving father, did what he thought best for his son and family when he stayed with his son after he was not placed as an inpatient on the night before he attacked the Senator and ultimately took his own life. As a father it pains me to think of such a horrible experience and outcome. It also begs the question if someone as well connected could not get the attention required for his child, how does the average, often desperate, parent deal with a similar situation?
It is high time we took a serious look at the rise of mental health disorders and what we are doing about them in Virginia as well as in this nation. The statistics are staggering. Sadly 25 percent of Virginia’s prison population has been identified with mental health issues. Of that same number, over 56 percent have serious mental health disorders. Clearly, we have a problem of epidemic proportion that needs to be addressed.
The General Assembly will be tasked with passing a biennial budget in 2014. The outgoing Governor McDonald will introduce the budget plan to the Joint Money Committees on December 16. After that the legislature will begin its process for crafting the budget. There are growing needs to be addressed in funding for education, mental health and our aging infrastructure just to name a few. Unlike the federal government, we must produce a balanced budget.
In addition to the budget, we will have the usual 2000+ bills drafted for legislative action. It will be a very hectic session. I will keep you posted on the issues that matter most. If you are planning to visit Richmond during the General Assembly, be sure to stop by my office, Room 613 in the General Assembly Building.
Here’s hoping that you had a great Thanksgiving and are enjoying the holidays. I’d like to give a pitch for our small business merchants during this gift-giving season. Falls Church is a vibrant community in which to live, eat, shop and play. Before I conclude, I’d also like to congratulate Delegate Markus Simon on his election to the House of Delegates. I am confident he will serve our community with the same distinction and compassion as Jim Scott did during his tenure in elected office.
Senator Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at [email protected]