By James Newton
I. First, setting the scene.
As you may have already read on DK and elsewhere (see list of articles below) Virginia has three special elections coming up January 10th as a result of vacancies created by the results of November 8th, a day that will live, at a minimum, in ignominy. These races have garnered national attention as Democrats are looking to stop licking wounds and instead start showing that there is yet still some life left in them.
Cheryl Turpin is a Democrat running for the VA House of Delegates for the 85th District, in the Virginia Beach area. It is traditionally a Republican district, owing to a strong military presence from the nearby Naval base. But she has a real chance to win as she is a longtime resident with strong connections to the community and the party. In a state that is as guilty of gerrymandering as any other, if not more so, such a win is important.
Former Fluvanna County Sheriff Ryant Washington is running for Senate, in the 22nd District, which for the last 25 years has been a Republican-held seat in central Virginia. With an independent running in the special election, as well, however, which to some degree will split the conservative vote, there is reason for optimism.
Jennifer McClellan is also a Democrat, currently representing the VA-71st District in the House of Delegates, a seat to which she was elected in 2004. She is running to fill the vacated 9th Senatorial district seat, which encompasses parts of Richmond and suburban and rural areas to the northwest, including Charles City county and parts of Henrico and Hanover counties. Thankfully, she has a pretty strong chance of winning.
That said, in a special election, and in all three cases, it’s not as much about history as much as it is about who shows up. Voter turnout is typically even lower than it is for off-year local-only elections, meaning less than 5% voter turn-out, making all such races toss-ups.
II. Next, a confession
After November 8th, 2016, like so many others, I was done. Relevant to the political world, I can’t deny that the vituperative nature of the never-ending campaign had taken its toll. I was exhausted. I made promises that I haven’t kept, plans that I cancelled, and I became a regular at my doctor’s office for a myriad of ailments (but hey, at least almost all of them were real. I mean, that’s something, right?). There was the rest of life out there as well, of course, but politics? Fuck that. All that hard work, and for what? A bunch of morons elected, with Obi-wan’s eternally-prescient question, “Who’s the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?” ringing even more loudly in my brain.
So I just couldn’t do it. Until today, that is, when a headline tipped me over the edge, reminding me that it’s all still very real, and much work remains to be done, lest we fall further toward the abyss.
III. All politics is local, but particularly redistricting
While there are many reasons for the results of our most recent national and local elections, one that has been under-explored, to my reading at least, is the effect of Republicans making slow but significant gains in state legislatures over the last 20+ years. This has allowed them to shape both state and congressional districts, not only in those 42 states where redistricting (a.k.a. “gerrymandering” when the motivations for the shape of districts are political and not based on census results) for Congress is controlled by the state legislature, but also in the 37 where the legislature controls state legislative districts as well. In a way, it’s becoming Karl Rove’s permanent Republican majority in ways he never fully envisioned.
And it’s time Democrats got wise to this fact and did more about it, and it starts on January 10th in Virginia. Simply put, if both McClellan and Washington win, the Democrats will have control of the Senate, which is of incredible importance given the recent behavior of Republicans at all elected levels in the Commonwealth.
IV. WHAT. THE HELL. IS WRONG WITH REPUBLICANS IN VIRGINIA?????
Virginia is one of the strangest states in terms of politics — which makes it a lot of fun. The proud Old Dominion on the one hand, and, on the other hand, one that elected the first African-American governor in U.S. history and that has been on the forefront of civil rights issues throughout our nation’s history. A crossroads between north and south, rural and urban, one could argue that its internal struggles have been a microcosm of the nation’s struggles as a whole.
In the past, I have been inspired by both parties in Virginia. Governor Linwood Holton (R) was and remains an influence on me. Recently, as I’ve learned more about him, Dr. Fergie Reid’s story and ongoing legacy has served as an impetus to become more involved.
But no longer. As throughout much of the country, Virginia’s Republicans have gone ‘round the bend. The tide must be turned, and the first salvo in that effort can be landed in three days in the three aforementioned special elections.
What have the Republicans in Virginia done? Well, first, the state re-elected Steve Bannon’s buddy, Rep. Dave Brat, who is best known for winning a primary two years ago, and that’s it. Next, Rep. Bob Goodlatte tried to pull a fast one and gut ethical oversight of Congress, a move so egregious that even the Twitterer-elect of the United States told him to stuff it.
Then, Rep. H. Morgan Griffith revived a 19th-century rule that allows Congress to slash the salaries of individual federal employees to $1 (yes, that’s “one dollar”) and to cut budgets of any individual federal program to zero. Nada. Zip. Zilch. That one snuck through. Somewhere, Steve Bannon is smiling.
But anyway, the straw that broke my back, at least, was this:
Virginia lawmaker proposes North Carolina-style bill to restrict transgender bathroom access, called the “Physical Privacy Act”
Apparently Del. Robert G. Marshall of Prince William County thinks that there will be an epidemic of men entering women’s bathrooms, now that someone has explained to him what a transgender person is, that is. Thankfully, the bill won’t pass, if for no other reason than Gov. McAuliffe has made it clear he would veto anything in that vein, as he hopes to attract the businesses that are fleeing North Carolina because of that state’s dalliances into exactly such legislation.
That the Virginia legislature is even considering such things means that it is time to get up off the mat and start fixing this mess before it gets any worse. And it starts at the local level with Ms. Turpin, Mr. Washington, and Ms. McClellan.
Even though the election is three days away, it’s nowhere near too late to do what you can to help them — contribute, volunteer whether you are near or far — and the information to do so is below. Victories here would send a message, a message that desperately needs to be sent, for the good of Virginia, for Democrats, and for the republic.
You can find out about special elections and all kinds of candidates running in 2017 in all states at 90for90.
State Senate District 22