The stunning gains made by Democratic state legislative candidates in last month’s election will make a big difference come January when all the newly elected candidates are sworn in in Richmond.
In the state House of Delegates, the Democrats closed the gap of a wide and persisting Republican majority by picking up 15 new seats in the 100-seat body, and pulled to within a virtual tie, pending the outcome of recounts in four of the races that are now underway.
This moment, the Republicans are clinging to a 51-49 lead, but Democrats are hopeful that they can prevail in one or two of the recounts where the margins are razor thin and irregularities have been documented.
Falls Church’s delegate Marcus Simon, himself easily re-elected last month, told the News-Press in an interview Wednesday that Democrats are optimistic that no matter which way the recounts go, the narrow margin that will be seated in Richmond on Jan. 10 will ensure that logjams on some key policy issues will be broken, especially in less-partisan cases.
He predicted that Medicaid expansion, with $6 million in federal funds daily that Virginia has refused to accept until now, due to its association with Obamacare, will be passed, allowing for a huge expansion in medical coverage for poorer Virginians. “It may require a name-change, a bit of a rebranding,” Simon said, “But I predict it will happen.”
Thomas Bowman, co-founder of the Democrats’ Competitive Commonwealth Fund, told the News-Press that other issues, like universal background checks on gun sales, and some meaningful electoral reforms and other “good government” initiatives are likely to become law, things inconceivable given the lopsided conservative GOP control of the House the last 17 years.
“This is not the year for really progressive reforms, but for a move of the House back to the middle from so many years being stuck in the mud,” he said.
But there is new hope that a repeal of Virginia’s minimum wage law that allows a minimum wage of $2.13 for someone who also gets income from tips will be replaced by something above the current federal $7.50 per hour minimum wage. “It will not be $15 an hour, but it could be $8 to $10 an hour,” he said. Other labor initiatives, such as allowing for a paid 30 minute meal break per shift, may also become law.
He said that depending on how the recounts go (results will probably not be known before Christmas), the reconvening of the legislature could go smoothly with little drama, or quickly degenerate into a plethora of dirty tricks.
No matter the final count distribution, Democrats, he said, are planning to vote in a block on issues, taking advantage ideological and other splits in the GOP ranks.
Del. Simon said that other areas where he thinks that under the current tight margin some positive gains could come is in the areas of campaign financing, government ethics and transparency in election laws.
He also sees the prospect of gains for LGBT equality. He said there may be enough votes to repeal the state’s statutory bans on same sex marriage and civil unions that go back to the 1970s, and also to extend some employment and fair housing protections.
“But we’ll in uncharted territory” come Jan. 10, he said.
Simon said his first opportunity to brief constituents in his district on the upcoming session will be Jan. 4 in an event scheduled by the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors in Merrifield.
But just next week, all members who represent Fairfax County in the general assembly will be invited to attend a Fairfax County government general work session next Tuesday, Dec. 12, 3:30 p.m. in the Fairfax Government Center to discuss the county’s legislative agenda for Richmond and to share their views on what’s likely to happen come the convening the Richmond session next month.