When I was first elected to the Virginia General Assembly in 2013, I was one of 32 Democrats serving with 68 Republicans. Our small caucus was loud and scrappy, but hardly mighty. We couldn’t even muster the votes to sustain a Governor’s veto.
When I returned from that first session, I was frequently asked how I found my experience as a first-time legislator. I answered this way, “I went down with very low expectations, and they were all met.”
Two terms later, after a wave election that brought us to within a single vote over the majority, I had a much different experience, having the opportunity to actually pass my own meaningful legislation.
For the last two years, since Democrats took the majority with 55 seats, I’ve found myself very much in the thick of the action in Richmond, chairing a committee, several subcommittees and legislative commissions, including the inaugural Virginia Redistricting Commission.
In the wake of this year’s disappointing election results, I will return to Richmond in January having recalibrated my expectations once again. Barring a very unexpected swing in the results of two close races, I am preparing to serve in the minority caucus.
In addition to being a minority in the House of Delegates, for the first time since I joined the General Assembly, Republicans took over the top three statewide offices.
Fortunately, the Virginia State Senate retains a narrow Democratic Majority capable of thwarting most efforts to roll back the significant progress Democrats made during their two years in control of all branches of state government.
History may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. In 2018 and 2019 Republicans held a very narrow majority in both the House and the Senate, but Democrats controlled the state house. Although those two years were mostly quiet, we did have some major initiatives pass during that period, most notably the expansion of Medicaid in the Commonwealth.
So, while I suspect it will be a relatively quiet session or two with neither party in a position to bully through their own agenda, there may be opportunities to make breakthroughs on important issues.
I hope to once again be in the mix as we look for those opportunities.
The House Democratic Caucus met last weekend to elect our leadership team. Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn and Delegate Charniele Herring will be our Democratic Leader and Caucus Chair, respectively. The Caucus also voted in Delegate Betsy Carr as Treasurer, Delegate Jeion Ward as Vice Chair of Operations, Delegate Don Scott as Vice Chair of Outreach, and Delegate Elizabeth Guzman as Sergeant at Arms. I was also re-elected as Secretary.
With a such geographically and racially diverse leadership team, we are underscoring our commitment to our progressive agenda. We will hold Republicans accountable if they try to undermine or undercut the progress we made during the recent regular session and special sessions.
For my part, I will continue to represent my district to the best of my ability, working with my colleagues and leadership to keep Virginia the best place to live, work, start a business, or raise a family. Enhance voter protections, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, implementing tangible campaign finance reform, enacting meaningful gun violence prevention legislation, and addressing the student loan debt crisis will remain a large part of my legislative agenda.
While substantive reforms will be difficult given the make-up of the General Assembly, it will not stop me from preparing for whatever 2022 holds.
There is another cause for optimism. The most recent general fund report shows a 15.6% percent revenue increase and that 531,000 jobs were added to payrolls. In fact, the two previous reports were also revised to show a robust increase in the labor market with a three-month job increase average of 422,000. Unemployment in Virginia fell to 4.6 percent, which is the lowest rate since March 2020. This is great news for the Governor’s proposed budget that will come out later in December.
For those that may be looking for ways to be involved or at least stay in the loop on what’s going on, there are Virginia-based organizations that organize around issues and specific legislation. Equality Virginia, New Virginia Majority, and Progress Virginia are great options for those wishing to volunteer or simply get session policy updates on specific issues. The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) provides helpful economic-based reports and analyses.
Of course, if you’d like to stay in the know on what I’m working on, you can sign up for my e-newsletter (www.MarcusSimon.com) or follow me on social media.
Delegate Simon represents the 53rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates. He may be emailed at [email protected]