With the 2022 Virginia General Assembly session mostly (with the major exception of the budget) out of the way, I thought it would be interesting to look back as legislatures since 2010 (I could go back further, but I didn’t follow the legislatures nearly as closely in the 2000s as I have since then, so I’ll just leave those years for now, other than noting that under Gov. Tim Kaine, Virginia was hit by the “Great Recession” – meaning a lot of painful spending cuts – and had a heavily Republican House of Delegates, so it was VERY difficult to pass progressive legislation). With that, the following grades for Virginia General Assemblies since 2010 are based on two major factors: 1) how much progressive and environmental/clean energy legislation they passed (or failed to pass); 2) how much right-wing/anti-progressive/anti-environmental legislation they passed. Also taken somewhat into account is how much of the good legislation actually became law (or, to look at the flip side, how much of the BAD legislation never became law, because it was vetoed). But mostly it’s #1 and #2. Enjoy the trip down memory lane…
2020 and 2021: With a 55-45 Democratic majority in the House of Delegates, a 21-19 Democratic majority in the State Senate., and a Democrat (Ralph Northam) in the governor’s mansion – the famous “Democratic trifecta” – both 2020 and 2021 get “A” grades for passing literally HUNDREDS of pieces of progressive and pro-environmental/pro-clean-energy legislation, plus of course dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of the George Floyd murder and movement for racial justice. The only reason these legislatures don’t get “A+” grades is that they didn’t really tackle a few items (e.g., campaign finance and ethics reform, tax reform). But given the massive amount that DID get done – truly transforming Virginia for the better in a wide variety of areas (voting rights, reproductive rights, gun violence prevention, LGBTQ protections, minimum wage, marijuana decriminalization, civil rights, criminal justice, etc.) – they’re both super-strong “A” legislatures for sure (great work by the Democratic leadership team in both the House of Delegates and State Senate, and of course for the “blue” voters and activists who helped put them there, for making this happen)!
2022: This one is still incomplete, since we don’t have a budget yet. So far, however, it appears that the VA Senate Democratic “brick wall” has succeeded in blocking the vast majority of bad Republican bills – and there were a lot!!! – while mostly maintaining the progress Democrats achieved during the “trifecta” years of 2020-2021. On the other hand, House Republicans killed most any legislation remotely progressive, pro-environment, etc. So…if the budget comes out ok, we’ll give this legislature a “C” grade – mostly a stalemate. And if the budget does NOT come out ok, then we’ll give it a “D” grade. Stay tuned…
2018: This one gets a “C-/D+” grade simply because the legislature, which was now much “bluer” thanks to Democrats nearly taking back the House of Delegates (Democrats got to 49 seats…so close to a majority, but not quite!) in the November 2017 “blue wave”/anti-Trump election, passed Medicaid expansion, which was a hugely important thing. That alone pulls the 2018 legislature’s grade up from what would have been a “D” or “F” to semi-respectable territory. Other than that, it wasn’t a pretty picture, with Republicans killing most every other piece of progressive or pro-environment legislation. Because that’s what Republicans do, apparently. The question is, why would anyone ever vote for them?!?
2010-2013: All of these legislatures in the Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) administration featured big Republican majorities in the House of Delegates, two years (2010 and 2011) of a Democratic-controlled State Senate, and an effective Republican majority in the State Senate for 2012 and 2013, with LG Bill Bolling (R) breaking ties in the 20-20 chamber. So, needless to say, almost nothing good was going to get out of the legislature in 2010 and 2011, with the main question being how much BAD legislation made it to “Taliban Bob”‘s desk for his signature, particularly in 2012 and 2013. And man, was there a ton of bad legislation! That included the infamous “transvaginal ultrasound” bill (2012), a bill shrinking the types of IDs considered acceptable to be able to vote (2013), the absurd “Virginia Healthcare Freedom Act” (2010), a bill repealing the “one-handgun-a-month” law that had been in place for two decades (2012), a bill putting in place a tax credit for “private school choice” (2012), and many more. All in all, the 2010 and 2011 legislatures get “C-” grades, the 2012 legislature gets a “D-” grade, and the 2013 legislature gets a “C-” grade (it would have been lower, but was boosted by passage of a major transportation/tax package touted as “eventually rais[ing] at least $880 million a year, mostly from new taxes and fees — will pay for road building and maintenance projects that are vital to Virginia’s economy and quality of life”).
2019: This legislature gets a “D-” grade, with my analysis at the time asking, “So how did we do this session in terms of progressive, pro-environment and/or pro-clean-energy legislation?” and answering, “In short, horribly, thanks mostly to House Republicans killing just about everything good in subcommittee or committee” (including the Equal Rights Amendment, gun violence prevention legislation, voting rights legislation, LGBTQ equality legislation, minimum wage increase legislation, criminal justice reform legislation, women’s reproductive freedom legislation, clean energy/environmental protection legislation, etc.). The only saving grace of this godawful legislature was that Gov. Northam vetoed a lot of the bad stuff. Still…yuck.
2014-2017: All of these legislatures featured huge (roughly 2:1) Republican majorities in the House of Delegates (under right-wing Speaker Bill “ALEC” Howell), VA House Dem Leader David Toscano playing defense, and slim Republican majorities in the State Senate (after Democrat Phil “Benedict” Puckett resigned on June 8, 2014), so obviously no significant progressive or pro-environment/pro-clean-energy legislation was going to pass. The main question was, how much BAD legislation was going to pass.
Sadly, there was a LOT of bad legislation passed in these legislatures, with Gov. Terry McAuliffe breaking the record for vetoes (note: in 2017 alone, he vetoed 40 bills, in addition to his 32 vetoes in 2016, his 26 vetoes in 2015 and his 10 vetoes in 2014). Among the many right-wing pieces of legislation vetoed by McAuliffe were: one that “would impose an unnecessary and divisive requirement upon localities regarding the enforcement of federal immigration laws”; five “pieces of legislation that would have further weakened the Commonwealth’s gun safety laws and put Virginians at risk”; a bill that would have “reinstate[d] the coal employment and production incentive tax credit and extend the allowance of the coalfield employment enhancement tax credit without meaningful reform”; a bill that would have “prohibit[ed] the Virginia Department of Health from entering into contracts or providing funds to any entity that performs or maintains/operates a facility performing non-federally qualified abortions”; a bill that “would have gutted state funding for Virginia’s Planned Parenthood health centers”; a bill that would have “shield[ed] from civil liability those who actively discriminate against same-sex couples”; etc.
Bottom line for the 2014-2017 legislatures: All of them were really bad, to varying degrees, and certainly deserve “F” grades, with the only saving grace being that Gov. McAuliffe acted as a “brick wall” to the Republicans’ torrent of godawful bills…by vetoing them. Unfortunately for McAuliffe, of course, these godawful legislatures gave him VERY little to run on (other than his own moves via executive action to bring in business to Virginia, to help grow the economy, to restore voting rights to ex-felons, etc.) when he tried to recapture the governor’s mansion in 2021…