Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Working-Class Virginians Counting on Democratic Party

By Thomas Bowman

The 2018 midterm election was the biggest win for any political party in United States history. Looking at the numbers, Virginia sent Democrats to Washington with a clear electoral mandate, picking up three new congressional seats and holding onto every seat they already occupied.

In Congressional District (CD) 2, Democrat Elaine Luria knocked out Republican incumbent Scott Taylor. In CD07, Democrat Abigail Spanberger defeated incumbent Republican Dave Brat, and in CD10, Democrat Jennifer Wexton beat Republican incumbent Barbara Comstock.

Senator Tim Kaine also wiped the floor with Corey Stewart, the bigoted Republican defender of neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Democrats now control seven out of 11 congressional seats in the Commonwealth of Virginia, have lost only one statewide cycle this century, and now have their sights set squarely on entrenched Republicans in the state legislature.

According to the Washington Post, if these numbers hold in 2019, there will be over 60 House Democrats and 26 Senate Democrats — and that is before the court redraws any district lines.

Democrats won Congressional midterm races by defending the Affordable Care Act and protecting the promise of health insurance for people with preexisting conditions. They ran on economic kitchen-table issues, and of course, by campaigning against the corruption emanating from Washington, D.C. Underpinning all these substantive issues was a simple appeal: let Democrats put a check on Donald Trump.

Suburbanites in western Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William have now voted Democratic in the last two election cycles, and if they come back to vote for Democrats a third time in the 2019 election, historical data suggests they will be Democrats for life.

The progressive energy coming from the suburban awakening should be enough to get Democrats elected in Virginia at rates not seen since before the last political realignment, but what happens after Trump is gone?

Donald Trump is not on the ballot in 2019 and Democrats cannot run against his spector forever. Virginia Democrats must work hard to campaign and win election on policies that help all working-class Virginians, starting with rebuilding the middle class and enacting policies that lift all boats. That means a pro-worker, pro-labor agenda.

State-level elected Democrats should take heed: new suburban progressives are great on social issues, but they generally do not go to work wearing blue jeans and vests, nor do they perform the back-breaking work that not only builds our infrastructure, but also can lead to opioid abuse and addiction issues. The Democratic Party cannot take their continued support or understanding of working-class issues for granted. The Democratic Party is the party of the people, with a legacy of standing up for the outgroups to expand the franchise. Labor, small business, women, minority and LGBT voters are integral parts of the Democratic coalition, but middle-class suburbanites are not an “outgroup.”

Democrats must be aggressive to court working-class voters and learn how to speak to their issues if they hope to retain their urban-suburban coalition after 2020. The working class does not have a single racial or ethnic identity. They are comfortable supporting LGBT rights and are usually supportive of abortion rights, but those policies do not put food on their table or money in their pockets. Their instinct is to oppose most new taxes on their hard-earned money, and many of them considered themselves conservative until recently.

Democrats have an opportunity to enact meaningful legislation to rebuild the middle class, like establishing a prevailing wage on public works projects, which would set a minimum wage for construction projects like the federal Davis-Bacon law. They also have an opportunity to repeal bad, anti-worker laws, like laws prohibiting collective bargaining agreements, laws prohibiting the collection of union dues from union members, and the 2012 anti-worker Comstock Law, which prohibits Project Labor Agreements on state projects.

Project Labor Agreements especially are the gold standard of Democratic governance and were used to build the Hoover Dam, Disney World, Nationals Park, the DC United Stadium, and more recently the first phase of the Silver Line, and the 95 and 395/495 HOT lanes.

Democrats support these policies because they provide good jobs with employer-sponsored health insurance and pension or retirement benefits, contributing directly to the welfare of hard-working Virginians. They would also let union and non-union contractors compete on a level playing-field, helping all workers across Virginia.

Working-class Virginians are counting on the Democratic Party. Some incumbent Democrats we will help stay elected, and others we will help to un-elect. Democratic elected officials in 2019 and 2020 have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebuild Virginia in a new image and to cast off the shameful legacy of Virginia’s anti-worker slave economy, but that only happens by advocating passionately for the working class.

Whatever Virginia Democrats decide to do or not do in their “dry-run” in the 2019 session, working-class Virginians are watching hungrily — and working-class Virginians never forget.


Thomas Bowman works for the Mid-Atlantic Laborers-Employers Cooperation & Education Trust.