2019 Portends Huge Opportunities for Democratic Gains in Virginia

STATE DELEGATES Jennifer Boysko (left) and Karrie Delaney held a town hall forum on the upcoming Virginia legislative session in Chantilly last week. (Photo: News-Press)

Coming into the New Year of 2019, the push by Democrats to officially turn Virginia “blue,” to follow on the momentum of recent state and federal elections to achieve majorities in the House and Senate of the state legislature, does not appear to be waning.

There’s no waiting around for the action to begin, as a special election will be held in the state’s 33rd Senate District (Herndon, Centerville and environs) for energetic incumbent State Del. Jennifer Boysko to take on former GOP lawmaker Joe May in a Jan. 8 special election. It will be to fill the seat vacated by now-U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s recent election to unseat Rep. Barbara Comstock to represent the 10th District in the U.S. Congress.

Should Boysko win, then there will be a special election to fill her seat in the House of Delegates, where the Democrats pulled within one seat of controlling the House by picking up 15 seats in November 2017. They’ve been buoyed by the pickup of four seats — all by women — in this November’s U.S. Congressional races, led by Wexton, to take control of seven of the state’s 11 Congressional seats. That was part of the party’s pickup of 40 House seats overall to win a majority for the upcoming U.S. Congress that convenes right after the new year.

The Virginia state legislature also convenes early next month (Jan. 9) in Richmond for a 46-day session where six major issues will be engaged, most of which will dominate through 2019, and for which the near parity between the two parties has created a new atmosphere in Richmond for the prospect of a modicum of bipartisanship.

They are these:

1. The resolution of the proposed budget offered by Gov. Ralph Northam earlier this month, including a resolution of the distribution of a $1.2 billion surplus over two years due to federal tax law changes,

2. The status of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which could be written into the U.S. Constitution if it is ratified by Virginia and with the Democratic momentum signalling a “handwriting on the wall,” could spur enough GOP support this year for its passage, at long last,

3. A “red flag” gun control law introduced by Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Arlington) that would permit certain restrictions on gun sales based on reports of potentially dangerous buyers, along with universal background checks and restrictions on sales to younger children,

4. The redistricting of 11 of the state’s legislative districts in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas as mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, making them fairer for Democrats,

5. The push for the formation of a non-partisan redistricting body which will be important for the period following the next U.S. Census in 2020, and,

6. The November elections themselves, in which all state delegate and half of state senate districts will be on the ballot.

On the budget, which is expected to dominate the legislative session, the clash will pit Republicans wanting to rebate the revenue windfall back to taxpayers indiscriminately in a way that will redouble its benefits to corporations and the rich, against Democrats who will want to target the benefit for lower income Virginians in the form of an earned income tax credit refund for those earning less than $58,000 per year. That issue is not expected to come to a resolution until April.

On the ERA ratification, legislators like Boysko and Karrie Delaney, who held a joint town hall in Chantilly last week, are optimistic that the political trend lines will compel enough Republicans to ascent to supporting it, with a lot of public pressure.

But others, like Del. Marcus Simon, are not so optimistic, concerned about the GOP leadership decision to place the matter before the Privileges and Elections Committee of the House of Delegates which could spell its demise at the committee level. Anti-ERA Republican Mark Cole chairs that committee.

“It may have to wait for a clear Democratic majority to pass,” Simon told the News-Press, although a high profile attending the issue, as happened last year with major demonstrations of support in Richmond, will apply some special pressure this year, as well.

The proposed amendment, which is a very simple statement affirming gender equality, has been a bone of contention from the day women won the right to vote in 1920, and especially since Congress passed it, subject to ratification by two-thirds of the states, in 1972. Since the 1970s, the measure has languished one state short of its final ratification, and now may be the time for Virginia to put it over the top.

Proud of the achievement after years of GOP delays of providing Medicaid relief to 182,000 Virginians this fall and things like an increase in recess time for children in schools, Democrats in Richmond are looking for a lot of progress in less controversial matters this session, too.

Relief on the tolling “gouging” of commuters on I-66 will be sought by Boysko and Delaney, along with new mechanisms to promote affordable housing and to help spin-off and start-up companies that are expected to arise with the decision of Amazon to locate half of its HQ2 campus in this region.

The decision will bring Virginia Tech to make a major commitment to the region and “will give our students more access,” Boysko said, and with it also will come more resources for affordable housing, transportation, infrastructure and job creation improvements. “It will offset the region’s being too beholden to the federal government for jobs,” she added.

She and her Democratic colleagues also want “no excuse early absentee voting,” tax relief for deep southwest Virginia, an expansion of broadband throughout the state, a “Sister Counties” initiative to link wealthier with poorer counties in the state, and the decriminalization of marijuana retroactively applied to all being held in state prisons on that charge, and more.

State House and Senate elections in 2019, in addition to the special elections like the Boysko-May one on Jan. 8, there will be primaries in some cases, including for powerful Democratic leader Dick Saslaw, who represents the 35th District that includes Falls Church, who has been promised a challenger for a June primary.

Saslaw, with the support of all leading Democrats in the state, issued a statement in the wake of Gov. Northam’s proposed budget last week hailing its “mix of forward-thinking investments in Virginia’s teachers and children, in continuing to build a skilled workforce, in the Commonwealth’s water quality and in putting Virginia on a sound financial footing for years to come.”