On the eve of special elections that delivered Democrats two early victories in what will be a remarkably busy year in Virginia politics, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee (FCDC) held its Road to Richmond Legislative Brunch, an event held annually on the eve of the legislative session in Richmond.
Democrat Holly Seibold won her special election Tuesday night, defeating Republican Monique Baroudi with over 67 percent of the vote, and will replace Democrat Mark Keam as Virginia’s Delegate for House District 35, which spans from Fair Oaks Mall to Tysons Corner Center. In the Norfolk-Virginia Beach area, Democrat Aaron Rouse narrowly edged out Republican Kevin Adams in a race to replace the state Senate seat vacated by Jen Kiggins (R-VA) after her election to the U.S. House of Representatives, in a surprise pick-up for Democrats.
“It’s great to be back in the same room for this event after three years,” welcomed FCDC Chair Bryan Graham, who recognized the entirely Democratic delegation being sent to Richmond from the region, including an impressive number in attendance. Graham also noted that 2023 promises to be an eventful year in local politics, with fifty races in Fairfax County alone. “2023 is the year.” said Graham, “We have a lot to do,” noting that after the event many in attendance planned to immediately go out to knock on doors for Seibold.
Common througout the program’s speaker remarks were stark contrasts between Democrats and their Republican colleagues on a broad range of subjects including gun safety, voting rights, abortion, public education, the January 6th, 2022 terrorist attacks, and the recent Speaker standoff within the House GOP Caucus. “We just witnessed chaos in Congress” noted Graham, “from the party that continues to show it does not know how, nor does it have any real desire, to govern.”
The event comes after two years of hard-fought elections has resulted in narrow losses of the Democratic majorities in both the Virginia House of Delegates and the United States House of Representatives, a political shift that most feared would be much worse for the Democrats, but instead left them with tenuous corresponding majorities in both the Virginia and United States Senate chambers.
“Virginia in 2023 is a bellweather for 2024.” cautioned U.S. Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), noting that many will be watching the results of the elections in the Commonwealth this fall and warning not to lose focus, “We need you.”
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-VA) drew focus to the recent shooting in Newport News, in which a 6-year old child deliberately shot his teacher, accusing Republicans of focusing on how to punish the child instead of increasing school funding, and noted the Youngkin administration “regularly denigrates public education.”
Virginia House Democratic Minority Leader Don Scott provided a scathing rebuke of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin (R-VA), accusing his administration of engaging in pandering to culture war narratives on the national stage. “The Governor is going out to campaign for extremists and racists,” Scott said, “then coming back to Virginia and claims to be a moderate.”
Scott recalled a recent conversation with his teenage daughter in which she responded to news of the school shooting. “She said, ‘Daddy, if this happens at my school, I’m gonna fight, not hide.’” Noting that he represents a district adjacent to the shooting in Newport News, Scott claimed Virginia Republicans of are “hell-beng on turning us into Texas,” noting that Lieutenant Governor Winsome Sears (R-VA) posed with assault rifles for campaign posters.
“They’re counting on good people doing nothing…” continued Scott, claiming that the ‘Parents Matter’ refrain often heard by conservatives is code “that ‘you don’t.’” He accusing the Youngkin administration of victim-blaming. “They’re bullies.”
FCDC volunteers presented U.S. Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) with a variety of “back to Richmond” gifts, including a Constitution for Dummies book, jokingly destined for Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a key player in the recent House Speaker drama. “That would require reading,” Connolly laughed. Connolly, who is in his fourth term representing Virginia’s 10th District, warned that the recent activity on the house floor was just the beginning.
“It’s gonna be a rough ride,” Connolly said, saying gridlock in the U.S. Congress was unlikely to allow much progress in the upcoming session, “please do better in Richmond.”
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay started his remarks by crediting the return to an in-person event “with the empathy, belief in science, and infrastructure” in place throughout the local community and government to “get through Covid”
McKay, who is finishing his first term as Chairman and fourth as Franconia District Supervisor, provided some basic guiding principles for economic success.
“First, invest in people,” McKay began, highlighting public education and empathy in particular, “second, be wildly inclusive, proudly international, and welcome all without exception.” McKay mentioned being proud of Fairfax County’s youth , recalling their recent walk-out in support of trans classmates, but also expressed worry for how Republican rhetoric regarding diverse populations may affect them. He claimed a different approach from Fairfax County — “don’t badmouth any group, because we want the diversity.” he continued, ending be echoing the end to a now-famous political ad for Hillary Clinton’s failed Presidential campaign: “our kids are listening.”
Rachna Sizemore Heizer, Fairfax County Public School Board Chair, concluded the program with a call for funding from the state to address staffing needs of public school districts. “This is a crisis,” Heizer proclaimed, adding that many teachers are leaving the field permanently, and that any plan to address this would need to include increased teacher pay, increased teacher respect, and a pipeline of new talent entering the education field. “60 percent of future jobs do not exist today,” highlighting the need for the profession to be desirable for those in emerging fields. Heizer concluded by asking lawmakers to fight against harmful narratives in an effort to make schools “safe from guns and bullying.”
Overall, Democratic lawmakers expressed cautious optimism that, despite gridlock, they were entering a new legislative session with discipline and unity that would set them apart from their Republican colleagues. “Our task is large — almost daunting — but we are the Fairfax Democrats,” concluded Graham, “…we are up to the task.”