Home 2019 Elections 26 Top Virginia Political Stories of 2019

26 Top Virginia Political Stories of 2019

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The following is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but these are 26 (I know, kind of a random number, but that’s what I came up with, lol) of the top Virginia political stories of 2019 as I see them…in no particular order (other than the top two) – and I’m sure I missed some. In sum, despite 2019 being a horrible year in the country in many ways, it was good politically speaking for Virginia Democrats. Let’s keep that going in 2020 and beyond!

  1. In the Nov. 5 general election, Democrats take back the State Senate and House of Delegates Heading into 2017, with only 34 seats out of 100, it seemed almost unimaginable that Virginia Democrats would take back the House of Delegates for many years to come. But then came Trump, followed by the 2017 “blue wave” election, in which Democrats picked up an incredible 15 seats in the House of Delegates and got to within two seats of taking it back. Then, on November 5, 2019, Democrats finished the job, picking up another six seats, for a 55-45 majority and for Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, Majority Leader Charniele Herring, etc. Amazing. As for the State Senate, Democrats took it back, but just barely, going from 19-21 to 21-19. So that was actually a major underperformance (kind of a pattern over the years with Dick Saslaw, by the way), particularly compared to pre-election expectations that Democrats might get as high as the mid-twenties in the State Senate. Still…it was an historic election, no question about it, and definitely the top Virginia political story of 2019!
  2. On the flip side…no more Speaker Kirk Cox or Majority Leader Tommy Norment: In the end, Kirk Cox’s Speakership didn’t last very long – just two years – as his caucus went from 51 seats to just 45 seats. Also in the House of Delegates, it’s worth noting that one of the most powerful members, Appropriations Committee Chair Chris Jones, lost to Democrat Clint Jenkins; and Caucus Chair Tim Hugo lost to Democrat Dan Helmer; leaving…”Mr. Rogers Meets the Addams Family” in charge of House Republicans. Have fun, guys! LOL Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, a corrupt racist, will go back to being Minority Leader, hopefully for good.
  3. Democrats also make significant gains in local elections in key counties. In Prince William County, Virginia’s second-largest jurisdiction, Democrats took control of the Board of County Supervisors, after many years of being basically powerless, with neo-Confederate Corey Stewart (R) as Chair. Now, it will be Democrat Ann Wheeler as Chair, with Democrats holding a 5-3 majority on the Board. And then there’s Loudoun County, Virginia’s third-largest county and fourth-largest jurisdiction, where Chair Phyllis Randall didn’t just win, she absolutely routed Republican John Whitbeck by a 57%-39% margin. As if that’s not good enough, Democrats resoundingly flipped the County Board majority, from 6-3 Republican to 6-3 Democratic. Good stuff. And in Fairfax, Virginia’s largest jurisdiction by far, Republican elected officials are now practically non-existent, with just one Republican left on the County Board and zero on the School Board. In sum, Virginia suburbia, certainly in Northern Virginia, is turning blue under Trump.
  4.  Trifecta of scandals in February 2019: One of the craziest months in Virginia history – Gov. Ralph Northam’s “blackface” scandal; Attorney General Mark Herring’s own “blackface” scandal; sexual assault allegations against Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax…as Michael Tomasky of Newsweek wrote at the time, “The Commonwealth is giving us a lesson in just how batshit politics and politicians can be.” In response, almost every Democratic elected official in Virginia called on Northam and Fairfax to resign…but neither did. So who knows what this coming February will bring, but it can’t possibly be as crazy as last February – can it? LOL
  5. 10 months after the February 2019 scandals:  Today, not only are Northam, Fairfax and Herring all still there, but Fairfax just said he’s running for governor in 2021, Northam’s approval rating has bounced back (to 52%-36% in the latest poll), Bob Lewis’ new article discusses how Northam turned a “PR mega disaster” into potentially becoming the “most consequential governor” in many years; and Democrats did very well overall on November 5th (see above). Still, those scandals do appear to be having a continuing impact, and have scrambled calculations for 2021 (e.g., will Mark Herring actually run for governor, after announcing in December 2018? will Justin Fairfax be a strong candidate?). We’ll see…
  6. The “Kathy Tran bill”: In late January, controversy broke out over Del. Kathy Tran’s HB2491, a bill that “eliminates the requirement that two other physicians certify that a third trimester abortion is necessary to prevent the woman’s death or impairment of her mental or physical health.” Note that similar bills had been introduced in previous sessions, but clearly House Republicans sensed a potent political issue here, with House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert et al. teeing it up (including made-for-virality video) for maximum impact on social media. In the end, the controversy doesn’t appear to have hurt Democrats politically this past November, and presumably a similar bill will be introduced – and passed this time? –  in the 2020 General Assembly session…
  7. Gov. Northam’s “the infant would be kept comfortable” comments on WTOP’s “Ask the Governor”: On WTOP’s“Ask the Governor” last January 30, the subject of Del. Tran’s third-trimester abortion bill was raised, with Gov. Northam responding as a doctor, about what happens to a “non-viable” fetus. According to Northam, “The infant would be delivered, the infant would be kept comfortable, the infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.” As Snopes writes, “Northam’s remarks prompted an immediate backlash, with some right-leaning and pro-life observers claiming that he had expressed support for infanticide (i.e., the intentional killing of a child),” with President Trump falsely claiming, “He [Northam] stated he would execute a baby after birth.” In fact, per Snopes, “Northam did not ‘state he would execute a baby after birth,’ as Trump claimed he did,” but “his remarks did lack precision and clarity of meaning to the extent that they raised reasonable questions about what exactly he was proposing or advocating.” Still, that started a Republican talking point which continues to this day and appears likely to continue indefinitely.
  8. Del. Nick Freitas (R-HD30) screws up his paperwork, fails to get on the ballot, runs as a write-in candidate, wins anyway.  For more on this story, see here and here. Also note that, in typical Trump Republican style, Freitas blamed everyone but himself for the screwups…
  9. Speaking of Freitas, he’s now running for Congress in VA-07. This time around, Freitas is likely to get the Republican nomination and, presumably, get on the ballot against Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA07) for next November’s election. According to Virginia political analyst Chaz Nuttycombe, if Freitas does get the GOP nomination, VA07 “would be a Lean to Likely D race.” Stay tuned…
  10. Former Rep. Scott “Petitiongate” Taylor (R-VA02) changes his mind, decides to run for his old seat instead of losing badly to Sen. Mark Warner (D) in 2020. It’s hard to decide who’s worse, Freitas or Taylor, but hopefully Freitas will lose to Rep. Spanberger and Taylor will lose – IF he gets the GOP nomination – to Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA02) next November. For more on this story, see here and here. Let’s just make sure we do everything we can to reelect Rep. Luria, who’s doing a superb job, by the way…
  11. Virginia Democratic women do great yet again. Democratic women have, in many ways, been the leaders of the anti-Trump resistance, starting with the “Women’s March” of January 21, 2017, and continuing with the rise of female-led grassroots groups (e.g., Liberal Women of Chesterfield County) and numerous female House of Delegates candidates – many of whom won in 2017. In 2019, the trend continued, with Loudoun County and Prince William County (see above) now headed by women – Phyllis Randall and Ann Wheeler – and with a ton of female candidates, including Senator-elect Ghazala Hashmi, Delegate-elect Sally Hudson, Delegate-elect Nancy Guy, Delegate-elect Shelly Simonds, and Delegate-elect Martha Mugler. Really, we should have seen even *more* Democratic women win in 2019, but unfortunately, several good ones – Amy Laufer, Cheryl Turpin, Debra Rodman – all narrowly lost. Still…a very good year overall, thanks in large part to Virginia Democratic women. (note: also worth pointing out is that the Democratic Party of Virginia is headed by a woman, Susan Swecker)
  12. The year of the Commonwealth’s Attorney: Previously, almost nobody had paid attention to these important-and-powerful-but-little-known positions, but that changed in a big way in 2019, with two hotly contested Democratic primaries – incumbent Theo Stamos vs. progressive challenger Parisa Tafti in Arlington and Falls Church; incumbent Ray Morrogh vs. progressive Steve Descano in Fairfax – getting a lot of the media’s attention. In the end, backed by hundreds of thousands of dollars from George Soros, both Tafti and Descano won their primaries. And in the general election, a bunch of new Commonwealth’s Attorneys won – Tafti, Descano, plus Buta Biberaj in Loudoun County, Amy Ashworth in Prince William County, Jim Hingeley in Albemarle County – while Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor was reelected. So, yeah…from almost zero attention to Commonwealth’s Attorneys up until now, to massive attention, and progressive wins, in 2019. What a difference an election makes!
  13. After a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Gov. Northam calls a special session on gun violence…which Republicans short-circuit in a few hours. In the aftermath of the Virginia Beach mass shooting on May 31, Gov. Northam called a special session for July 9 to address gun violence. The result was no action, with Republicans bolting out the door, adjourning until after the November elections. Speaking of which, gun violence prevention was a major topic of conversation – and money (from “Everytown,” “Moms Demand Action” and other groups), which clearly helped Democrats win on November 5th. Now, it’s highly likely that Democrats will pass universal background checks, “red-flag” laws, etc. in the 2020 General Assembly session – which is exactly what Republicans were trying to prevent from happening. So much for that strategy.
  14. “Second Amendment Sanctuaries”: In the aftermath of Democrats’ big wins on 11/5, “More than 100 counties, cities and towns in Virginia have declared themselves ‘Second Amendment Sanctuaries'” (or “Constitutional Counties”). On 12/20, AG Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion, “concluding that the resolutions passed by localities across Virginia declaring themselves exempt from new gun safety laws that the General Assembly may enact have ‘no legal effect’.” But no doubt, the opposition to new gun laws is going to continue into 2020…
  15. Dominion Energy faces a serious challenge: The theoretically state-“regulated” monopoly utility has, in fact, long ruled the political roost here in Virginia, “capturing” state regulators and attempting to buy influence in the legislature. Now, opposition to Dominion Energy has ramped up on a number of fronts. For instance, on September 18, the Democratic Party of Virginia announced here on Blue Virginia that it would no longer take money from Dominion. In contrast, top donors to Democrats in 2019 included the anti-Dominion group “Clean Virginia” (and its founder Michael Bills), plus environmental groups. Also, Dominion experienced continued setbacks on its massive fracked-gas pipeline project, and now faces challenges – including a proposed “Virginia Clean Economy Act” and also a “Green New Deal Virginia” – to move more rapidly to clean energy. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Dominion responds to these pressures going forward…
  16. Terry McAuliffe flirts with a presidential run, but ultimately decides not to do so. Instead, it’s likely that McAuliffe will either head into a Democratic administration – if Democrats take back the White House next year – or run for governor in 2021 (in a Democratic primary against possibly Justin Fairfax, Jennifer Carroll Foy, Jennifer McClellan, Mark Herring…).
  17. Virginia House Democrats elect their leadership team, including historic firsts: On November 9, following a triumphant election night on November 5, Virginia House Democrats elected Eileen Filler-Corn Speaker-designee, Charniele Herring Majority Leader, and Rip Sullivan Caucus Chair. And on December 2, Virginia House Democrats announced key caucus positions, including “Co-Whips” Alfonso Lopez and Mike Mullin; Policy Chair Vivian Watts; Campaign Chair Chris Hurst; etc. Finally, here’s the list of new House committee chairs and vice chairs.
  18. Virginia State Senate Democrats stick with their leadership after a somewhat disappointing election night. After picking up (just) two seats, and a narrow, 21-19 majority, Virginia Senate Democrats announced their leadership and committee chairs, including Dick Saslaw – who barely survived a primary against Yasmine Taeb in June (a significant story in its own right, come to think of it) – as Majority Leader, Mamie Locke as Caucus Chair, Louise Lucas as President Pro Tempore, and Scott Surovell as Caucus Vice Chair. Saslaw’s biggest problems going forward: a) a very slim majority; b) a potential wild card in Joe Morrissey, who defeated Sen. Rosalyn Dance in a Democratic primary this past June, and who is often unpredictable…
  19. In Prince William County, the GOP lurch far-right, with Republican Supervisor Martin Nohe losing to unelectable extremist John Gray. For more on this story, see the Blue Virginia story from May 4 – BREAKING: Huge Upset – and Huge Debacle – as Prince William County Republicans Do Their Best to Commit Political Suicide. Which is pretty much exactly what happened. Brilliant, eh? Oh, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a trove of Gray’s bigoted, crazy, offensive social media ravings were made public, putting the nail in the coffin of his already godawful candidacy, and probably helping drag down other Prince William County Republican candidates as well.
  20. Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova retires; Democratic primary to succeed her: In December 2018, long-time Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova announced her retirement, leading to a multi-candidate Democratic primary to succeed her. In the end, the primary was won by County Board member Bulova’s pick, Jeff McKay, who defeated Alicia Plerhoples, Ryan McElveen and Tim Chapman. We’ll see how much continuity – and how much change – there is on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors going forward. Also joining the Fairfax County Board will be long-time Gerry Connolly Chief of Staff James Walkinshaw (Braddock District); Rodney Lusk (Lee District); Dalia Palchik (Providence District); Walter Alcorn (Hunter Mill District)…
  21. Major changes on the Fairfax County School Board: With the defeat of the School Board’s two remaining Republicans, including far-right Elizabeth Schultz, the Board will now be 9-0 Democratic going forward. Among the firsts on this board: the youngest-ever and first Muslim woman to win a seat on the Board (Abrar Omeish); and the first openly gay member of the Board (Karl Frisch). Good luck to all the new members – also Ricardy Anderson, Laura Jane Cohen, Elaine Tholen, Melanie Meren, Stella Pekarsky, and Rachna Sizemore Heizer.
  22. Having served for over a decade, Fairfax County Board Chair Sharon Bulova (D) announces that she will retire after her current term ends next year. Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay (D) announced he is running for that job, as does Tim Chapman (D). At least two candidates so far (Larysa Kautz and Rodney Lusk) have announced for McKay’s seat.
  23. General Assembly Republicans (mostly men) yet again kill ERA ratification: It was stupid on the merits and also stupid politically, as Republicans handed Democrats a potent political issue. And now, with Democratic majorities in both the House of Delegates and State Senate, ratification is now a lock. Thanks, Republicans! LOL
  24. Virginia Republican incumbents defeated by right wingnuts  – plus one who survived – in primaries: State Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-SD24) easily defeated a Republican primary from his far right by Tina Freitas, but a couple other Republican incumbents – Delegate Bob Thomas and Chris Peace – weren’t so fortunate, both losing in primaries to far-right candidates, Paul Milde and Scott Wyatt, respectively.
  25. Record amounts of money are spent on Virginia off/odd-year elections: See Virginia 2019 Elections Smashed Spending Records, Saw Record-Low Numbers of Uncontested Seats– “2019 set an all-time record for spending in Virginia House of Delegates elections – $66.4 million spent this time, around $20 million more than the previous high of $46.9 million in 2017, and $27 million higher than the second-highest total, $39.4 million in 2009.”
  26. 2020 Democratic presidential candidates come to Virginia, make the primary ballot: A slew of Democratic candidates came to Virginia in 2019 to help campaign for House of Delegates, State Senate, and local candidates. Also, fourteen 2020 Democratic presidential candidates made the primary ballot. There are now just over two months until “Super Tuesday” – including Virginia’s primary – on March 3.