With the decisive victory by Democrat Jennifer Wexton in Tuesday’s snow-bound special State Senate election, it appears that Democrats will control the State Senate in Richmond, and that will propel Sen. Richard Saslaw, who represents Falls Church, into the role of Senate majority leader. If this outcome holds, Saslaw told a town hall meeting in Falls Church last Saturday, “Boy, are things going to change!”
The development remains contingent, however, on a recount of last week’s special election in Norfolk, where Democratic Del. Lynwood Lewis was certified as the winner, but by only a nine-vote margin, triggering a request for a recount by his GOP challenger.
The two special elections were to fill seats vacated by the Democratic winners for attorney general, Mark Herring, and lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam, in November.
If the outcomes hold, the State Senate will be made up of 20 Republicans and 20 Democrats, with Northam, a Democrat, as the tie-breaking vote when needed. It gives the Democrats effective control, including taking control of all of the committees.
In comments at the town hall meeting at the Falls Church Community Center Saturday, Saslaw told a large gathering that if the Democrats gain control, “Boy, are things going to change if I get back in charge.”
All the chair positions of the Senate committees will switch over to Democrats “before you can blink your eye,” Saslaw said, saying it will not come a minute too soon as the current Republican head of the Education and Health Committee has only a religious high school education and will be replaced by a Democrat with a degree from Princeton.
Saslaw and freshman State Del. Marcus Simon held forth at the town hall, which was the best attended of one of these kinds of events in Falls Church in memory. Four members of the Falls Church City Council, the school superintendent and assistant city manager were among those in the crowd, which remained keenly attentive and ready with questions for two full hours.
While the Senate appears to be going over to Democratic control, the House of Delegates remains solidly in Republican hands by a 67-33 margin, the Democrats picking up a net of only one seat in the November election.
Simon, who was elected for the first time in November to replace retiring veteran Jim Scott, said that the Democrats didn’t do better in part due to some “bad luck,” saying that if less than 2,000 votes had been spread around differently, Democrats would have picked up six seats in very close races. He said it was also due to candidates entering races late and with minimal experience, a problem that will not be the case the next time around.
But despite the fact that the speaker of the House of Delegates has already said he is against the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia under the federal Affordable Care Act, the new Governor Terry McAuliffe has said it will get through once it gets down to the nitty-gritty of conference negotiations on the budget next month.
Simon has made quite a splash in his first week in the House of Delegates, gaining some regional publicity for a bill he introduced criminalizing “revenge pornography.” It is aimed at preventing a former boyfriend or girlfriend from posting pornographic images of an “ex” online to embarrass them.
He has introduced HB 578 to make it a crime to use campaign funds for personal use, and yesterday argued his first bill on the floor of the House aimed at making residential property disclosures more efficient.
One of the hottest early bills, making it out of the Senate with two Democrats slots temporarily vacant, was SB 236, protecting students engaging in voluntary prayer, engaging in religious activities and wearing religiously-oriented clothing and accessories on a school campus.
Saslaw told the town hall meeting in Falls Church last Saturday that he expects McAuliffe will get a lot done in his four years as governor, because he has a “let’s make a deal mentality.”
He’s got the kind of personality that “sucks oxygen out of a room,” Saslaw quipped. Whenever he speaks, it has “the excitement quotient of announcing a cure for cancer,” he added.
He said McAuliffe’s “let’s make a deal” outlook is similar to that of his long-time friend, former President Bill Clinton. It means a lot can get accomplished, he said.