by Leslie Byrne, Former Congresswoman (D-VA11)
When I first ran for Congress in 1992, I was shocked to learn that it had taken Virginia, the birthplace of American democracy, almost four centuries to send its first woman to Washington. Today, almost 30 years after my election, our Commonwealth still has the worst record in the country for electing women to statewide office. And America has yet to have a single Black woman serve as governor.
Virginia made history with my election 29 years ago. This year, it’s time for Virginia Democrats to make history again by nominating the most experienced, most qualified candidate for governor with the perspective and experience to move Virginia forward. That’s why I’m proud to endorse Senator Jennifer McClellan to become our next governor.
After everything that has happened throughout the pandemic with women – especially women of color – still bearing the brunt of the economic crisis and the country’s reckoning with racial injustice from Charlottesville to George Floyd, Virginia can’t afford to go retreat into the past. We need a governor who ushers in a new, fresh perspective to guide our post-COVID recovery.
As the first woman elected to Congress from Virginia, I cannot wait to see Jenn become the first woman elected governor of Virginia. Jenn isn’t just the best woman for the job – she’s the most experienced candidate of the entire field. She has spent 15 years in the legislature bringing progress to what had been the old boys club — by passing laws like the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, and the Equal Rights Amendment.
I’ve known Jenn for years and have seen her be a beacon of public service and progressive values. While I was in the Virginia Senate, I introduced the resolution to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment every session though it never made it out of committee, and Jenn continued that fight, introducing the bill for seven years, even throughout the era of Republican leadership. Her leadership sponsoring the final version that made Virginia the 38th state to ratify the ERA makes me proud of the legacy she carries on.
From passing the biggest clean energy bill in Virginia history with the Virginia Clean Economy Act to expanding voting rights through the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, it’s clear that Jenn’s work on the big issues driving Virginia forward are second to none in this race. She has also been a proactive advocate for expanding access to reproductive health care, passing the Reproductive Health Protection Act. As governor, Jenn will build on her years of work proactively protecting the right to choose and enshrine it in the Constitution.
We need Jenn because she knows, as the first pregnant delegate in Virginia history, what it’s like to be a working mom. She’s the only candidate from Richmond, but she already has big support in NoVa because of her drive to bring Virginia Forward. As governor, she’ll fully fund our schools’ needs, invest in our education workforce, and make Virginia the #1 state for workers and business. Over the past year, she’s fought to stabilize the child care industry, expand a paid sick and family leave program, and strengthen collective bargaining rights. And as governor, she’ll make the largest investment in education in Virginia history, pass Universal Child Care so parents can get back to work and kids can have a strong start, and ensure that the economy is rebuilt equitably by centering workers’ rights and uplifting small, women, and minority-owned businesses.
I’ve seen what it takes to lead Virginia Democrats and win against the Republican machine since I first beat an incumbent Republican in 1985. That’s why I know Jenn McClellan is the candidate with the right vision and experience to lead Virginia forward in every community of the Commonwealth on day one, and I’m excited to support the candidacy of a fellow glass ceiling-breaker every step of the way.