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Progress, Not Perfection: Democratic Legislature Is Getting the People’s Business Done


by A Siegel

Human beings sometimes have a hard time celebrating progress. Somewhat as an analogy to loss aversion, what didn’t occur that we wanted or expected can have far greater prominence to us than the partial desires which were met.  And, we (often unconsciously) can move the goal posts such that progress have led popping champagne bottles just a short time ago leaves us underwhelmed and dissatisfied.

We see this at play with the current legislative session in Richmond where Democratic lawmakers are working on (and passing) record-setting numbers of progressive bills.

The Democratic legislators are working on and passing measures that cover almost all arenas of legitimate government engagement. And, writ large, things are moving in a better direction.  For any involved with or watching Virginia politics for more than few years, the extent and rapidity of progress being seen right now might best have been described as pipe-dream fantasies just a few years ago. That’s something that’s often forgotten (or not known in the first place), but is an important point to keep in mind.

Even so, understandably, many of us are frustrated to not see happening what we think is required, what we hoped to see. Focusing on the “missing” can lead us to ignore the “progress,” while instead bemoaning the fact that we haven’t achieved the “perfect” (or, at least, much better). In turn, this can lead us to disappointment and disillusionment – even anger – with the relatively limited progress, obviously falling short of “perfection.”  To be clear, it is a hard balance to celebrate “progress” while maintaining the battle to achieve what we know and feel needs to be done. Thus, while overselling/over-celebrating “progress” can be damaging, so too can failing to acknowledge and celebrate what progress is being made.

Consider that the legislative session seems possible – although certainly not guaranteed, given the likelihood of tough negotiations between the more progressive House of Delegates and the more conservative State Senate – to end this session with in two weeks with:

  •  Marijuana decriminalization.
    • Just a few years ago, decriminalization would have been seen as a tremendous win, yet the goal posts were moved to full legalization, with developments around the nation and the Democrats winning the trifecta of the Governor’s Office and majorities in the House and Senate.
  • At least five gun control measures
    • Good news, but…disappointment in that significant restrictions on (let alone an outright ban on) assault weapons are unlikely to pass.
  • Mandates for a clean energy transition (including solar, wind, energy efficiency, use of a social cost of carbon (SCC) for future energy infrastructure decisions)
    • Even as Dominion Energy will still be able to extract excess profits and the targeted time frame for the clean energy transition is slower than the economics warrant and the climate crisis requires.
  • And so on and so on and …

Let’s be clear that the Virginia legislature packs a lot of work into a very short time.  Between now and March 7th, the end of the session, a lot will happen and some of the progress could be wiped away. Writ large, the Democratic Senate caucus is older and more conservative than the House, and the Senate Democratic majority (21-19) is much smaller than the House Democratic majority (55-45). Thus, while the House passed all eight of the Governor’s gun control package, the Senate only passed five.  And on the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the House version is stronger than the Senate version. In general, House measures – not surprisingly, given that body’s makeup – represent more progress than Senate measures.  The question is, how do negotiations between the House and Senate play out over the final two weeks, and what are the results of this potentially ugly “sausage making?”

Still, even with all this, I’d argue that our underpaid (come on, Delegates are paid $17,640 per year and Senators a whopping $18k) legislators are — imperfectly, haltingly in some cases — getting plenty of good stuff done, including much that we have been advocating for and dreaming for many years.  Even as we yearn for, advocate for, and fight for much better, it is worth pausing for a moment to recognize and appreciate better.

As Lowell put it earlier today,

When Democrats are in charge, we actually make progress (albeit imperfect). When Republicans are in charge…we don’t make progress.

Virginia elected Democrats.

And, Democrats are getting things done.

We are making progress together.

Let’s not forget that.


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