As Tuesday’s historic election returns will translate into Democratic majorities in the Virginia House of Delegates and the State Senate come January, the City of Falls Church’s annual laundry list of legislative priorities has suddenly taken on a new level of significance.
In past years, the compilation of City priorities for Richmond took the form of a high-minded visionary ideals more than realistic requests, because important issues such as gun control, equality issues and the environment faced impossible odds under Republican leadership in Richmond.
The City, as with local jurisdictions throughout the commonwealth, were stymied from taking meaningful actions to protect and affirm the needs of its constituents by the state’s infamous Dillon Rule, which prohibits any law from being enacted locally that is not explicitly permitted by state law.
With full Democratic control of Richmond for the first time in 26 years, that is all likely to change now, and that may include an effort to do away with the Dillon Rule itself, a remnant of the old centrist Byrd Machine in the state that remains law in only a handful of states in the U.S.
But in addition to new laws on guns, women’s and LGBT rights and climate change, the new makeup of the legislature will give Democrats control of the redistricting process for the redrawing of Congressional and state legislative districts in the state following the 2020 U.S. Census in a way that will avoid the illegal racially-tinged efforts of Republicans that the U.S. courts have had to overturn.
Tuesday’s outcome leaves Democrats with a two-seat majority in the Senate and 10-seat advantage in the House of Delegates, pending the outcome of a couple very close races, after Democrats picked up 15 seats in the House, including some groundbreaking victories for women and minorities.
While some remained concerned about holding onto those gains, they not only did, but added to the gains to flip both houses. They included the re-election of the transgender State Del. Danica Roem in Manassas, who had defeated Bob Marshall, the most arch-conservative member of the House, in 2017 and followed that up with a win by a 57-43 percentage margin Tuesday.
Another indicative case involved the race between incumbent Republican David Yancey and challenger Shelly Simonds in 94th District in Newport News, where the same two ended in a literal dead heat in 2017 and Yancey won by pulling a winning ticket out of a hat.
This Tuesday, the outcome was reversed, and by a landslide. Simonds won the popular vote by 58-40 percent.
In the lone delegate district in Northern Virginia still held by a Republican, the 40th held by Tim Hugo, Democrat Dan Helmer prevailed by a 54-46 margin this time.
In neighboring Fairfax County, all the board of supervisor districts but one went for Democrats, including the victories in districts immediately bounding Falls Church. Incumbent John Foust won re-election in the Dranesville District, Penny Gross in the Mason District and newcomer Dalia Palchik won in the Providence District, replacing retiring Linda Smyth. Other big wins were by Steve Descano as the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Jeff McKay as the County Board chair, replacing the retiring Sharon Bulova, and James Walkinshaw, the former chief aid U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, in the Braddock District.
Other big wins were by Steve Descano as the Commonwealth’s Attorney, Jeff McKay as the County Board chair, replacing the retiring Sharon Bulova, and James Walkinshaw, the former chief aid U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, in the Braddock District.
For School Board, where Republicans focused efforts in the election, the only two Republicans on the board were defeated, and those Democrats elected the first openly-gay candidate for the post, Karl Frisch, who won by a comfortable 62-38 percent margin.
The results Tuesday, one leader quipped at the Fairfax Democrats’ victory party at the Elks Lodge on Route 50, left Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity, who won by a narrow 51-49 percent margin, as “maybe the only Republican elected public official left in this entire region.”
Key victories credited with giving Democrats the margin in the State Senate were achieved by the first Muslim elected to the state legislature, Ghazala Hashmi, in the 10th Senate District outside Richmond, and Del. John Bell, winning the 13th District seat in Loudoun County replacing the retiring conservative Richard Black.
Democrats were also buoyed by the court-mandated redistricting last summer of some congressional districts deemed to be racially gerrymandered by Republicans that, among others, contributed to the victory of Democrat Clinton Jenkins over Del. Chris Jones in Suffolk.
This Saturday, Democrats will select their leaders for the upcoming session, with Saslaw expected to be named Senate Majority Leader and Del. Eileen Filler-Corn vying with Del. Lashrecse Aird for House Speaker. No matter whether Filler-Corn or Aird are elected, it will mark the first time in the 400 year history of the Virginia legislature that a woman will hold that job.
In a TV interview Wednesday, Filler-Corn said that the election results constitute a “mandate” that voters rejected “hatred and divisiveness,” and saw that “Democrats are on the right side of the issues of women’s rights, gun control and LGBT equality, the ERA and raising the minimum wage.”
The “Trump factor” helped to “energize the Democratic base, and Republicans will face ‘a reckoning next year, as “Virginia will go blue again in 2020,” she said.
“We are hopeful that we’ll see some great justice-based legislation pass out of both chambers and be signed into law by the Governor in 2020. We’ve got lots of legislation focused on economic justice, environmental justice, health equity, and making Virginia more welcoming to all, in addition to supporting criminal justice reform and voting rights initiatives,” wrote the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy Wednesday.
Perhaps first on the agenda will be a vote to pass the Equal Rights Amendment at long last, putting it over the top of the two-thirds majority of states needed to enshrine it in the U.S. Constitution.
Credited with a major role in the Democrats’ gains in this election has been former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who eschewed a run for the Democratic nomination for president to campaign tirelessly for Democrats throughout the state in the last six months.
He said that the GOP hurt itself in Virginia by blocking the expansion of Medicaid to 400,000 Virginians for years and by moving to adjourn a special session of the legislature on gun violence last summer in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in less than an hour.
Speaking of Republicans late Tuesday, McAuliffe said, “They’re not only losing Virginia, they’re losing America.” He added, “Trump was humiliated tonight. He wasn’t on the ballot this year, but his policies, his lunacy was on the ballot and it energized Democrats.”
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, at a celebration in Richmond Tuesday night, noted that the new Democratic majority is “younger, more diverse and more liberal” than Democratic majorities in the state in the past, and added, “Now Virginia is officially blue!” to the cheers of the assembled.