Virginia’s election last November, just two months ago, was the first in the nation since the current administration took over in Washington.
Here in Virginia there was some anxiety and uncertainty rolling into Election Day. First, at least one race will not be decided until later this week. Second, the Democrats swept the statewide races, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Attorney General.
Democrats hoped to make gains in the House of Delegates. It’s fair to say no one anticipated the Democrats taking the House. After all, Republicans held held a 66-34 majority, a nearly insurmountable advantage.
Democrats gained at least 15 seats in a turnabout that could leave the House split 50-50.
New members include the first transgender woman to serve in the Virginia General Assembly, the first lesbian delegate, the first Asian-American woman delegate and the first two Latina delegates.
Virginia’s success has generated buzz about pursuing sweeping change in other state legislatures around the country.
Del. Marcus Simon said it well recently (on Facebook): “If someone had told me on Jan. 1, 2017 that one year later Democrats would have picked up no fewer than 15 and probably as many as 17 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates I would have said, ‘Love your optimism, but don’t get carried away.’
“My advice to anyone running for office or thinking about running for office, or working for people running for office in 2018: Get carried away.”
The new look and balance in the General Assembly could provide progress on some long stalled issues. (More Democrats in office do not equate to progress in all of these areas, it’s important to note.)
Expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act to cover hundreds of thousands of poor people without coverage
Nonpartisan redistricting and use of national best practices when it comes to drawing political district boundaries after the next census.
Progress in transparency, and making public information public. This includes lawmakers killing most proposed legislation with unrecorded voice votes in subcommittee, with no accountability or record of how members voted. It should also include rolling back some of the many exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act passed by the General Assembly.
Ethics reform, campaign finance reform.
Making it easier, not harder, to vote.
More control over utility rates and pollution.
Criminal justice reform, including raising the threshold for a felony from $200 to $500.
A “wish list” could go on at some length.
The 2018 session of the Virginia General Assembly begins Jan. 10.
— Mary Kimm