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Audio: More Theories – a “Coalition of the Unhappy?” – on What Precipitated the Ouster of VA House Dems Leader Eileen Filler-Corn

Also, how much of this situation stemmed from the redistricting mess and multiple incumbents being "paired" or even "tripled up" with other incumbents?

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See below for discussion by Pod Virginia on why VA House Democrats last week removed their leader, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn. I’d say there were a number of reasons, which I’ll discuss, but first, here’s what reporters Jackie DeFusco and Michael Pope, plus former VA Democratic staffer/insider Thomas Bowman, had to say (my comments are in parentheses after each bullet point, in green/bold).

  • Jackie DeFusco basically punted, for whatever reason, commenting, “I don’t know what that inciting event was, but I would hope that it had to be fairly significant, because I don’t think it’s any secret that this was objectively bad optics for the party.” “The Democrats were really hush-hush about their reasoning afterwards…I asked Del. Scott and he said, ‘it’s family business,’ basically, and then walked away…So, more questions than answers for sure.” (I agree that we don’t know exactly what the “inciting event” was, and also that Dems have been “hush-hush” about what happened. However, we do know a fair amount, from comments made privately, off-the-record, etc. See below for more on that.)
  • Michael Pope had more insights, noting correctly that there were “many inciting events that happened over a long period of time, where people were not necessarily happy with Eileen Filler-Corn’s style of leadership; you know, people that maybe saw themselves as not in the ‘in crowd’ or progressive people that wanted to challenge the ‘establishment’…inciting events piling up over a long period of time. And then, of course, there was the election loss. But I think the more immediate inciting event might have been this gas tax proposal, which was kind of convoluted…My sense is that some people in the caucus didn’t particularly like it, but they were presented with it as being like this is our thing, even though some members might not have felt like they were consulted, it hadn’t been workshopped. So the gas tax proposal discussion itself probably would not have been enough to dump the leader, but that was like the straw that broke the camel’s back long-standing resentment…[also] all these kind of factions that are kind of warring with each other.” (I agree with Michael Pope that there were probably “many inciting events that happened over a long period of time,” 100% for sure including what he said about those “not in the ‘in crowd,’ plus of course the election loss. I hadn’t heard previously about the gas tax proposal being a factor, but it’s possible, I suppose. As for the argument that it was partly about “progressive people that wanted to challenge the establishment,” as I argued the other day, the data simply doesn’t support that hypothesis. Also, “progressive” isn’t synonymous with “anti-establishment” by any means; for instance, Delegates Marcus Simon and Alfonso Lopez are both very much “establishment,” but also among the most progressive members of the VA House Dem Caucus, and both supported keeping Eileen Filler-Corn as leader. Also note that numerous more-conservative Dems supported Filler-Corn’s ouster.  So it really doesn’t break down cleanly, at all, along ideological lines – and it almost certainly wasn’t about ideology.)
  • Thomas Bowman said “my understanding is that this was a ‘coalition of the unhappy’. So you have the Sam Rasoul crowd, you have the Michael Bills crowd; together, that makes up the progressive wing. You have some of the newer people who are distracted by the next shiny object or they really don’t understand the gravity of the situation or the significance of that vote.” In the end, “there were enough people that were unhappy with Eileen Filler-Corn to remove her, but there were not enough votes to get Don Scott appointed as the leader. And the reason for that is there are a lot of people waiting in line or who think that they could be the leader themselves…so they’re not going to let somebody elected in 2019 completely leapfrog them.” (I’d say most of Thomas Bowman’s points are spot-on, particularly his “coalition of the unhappy” comment, as well as his “newer people who…really don’t understand the gravity of the situation or the significance of that vote.” And yes, clearly there “were enough people…unhappy with Eileen Filler-Corn to remove her, but…not enough votes to get Don Scott appointed as the leader.” Also, excellent point about the class of 2019, which played a major role in this “coup,” but now will be challenged by more senior members when VA House Dems vote in the next couple months on new leadership. The one disagreement I have with Thomas Bowman’s points is that the “progressive wing” – if there really is such a thing – is definitely not comprised of Sam Rasoul, who in 2021 ranked #47 out of 55 members – towards the bottom in terms of progressive score – and in 2022, ranked #21 out of 48, very close to the middle of the caucus. In fact, the most progressive members of the VA House Dem caucus, according to the VAPLAN scorecard, are Marcus Simon, Cia Price, Candi King, Lamont Bagby, Angelia Williams Graves, Jackie Glass, Patrick Hope, Alfonso Lopez, Elizabeth Bennett Parker…and they voted different ways on whether or not to remove Eileen Filler-Corn as leader.)
  • One point nobody in this panel brought up, but that I’ve definitely heard discussed among insiders, is the redistricting situation…or mess might be a better word for it. It basically goes back to the neither Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw nor then-Speaker Filler-Corn figuring out a way to kill the redistricting amendment, and then actually killing it. Instead, amazingly, it got out of the General Assembly and to the voters, who were almost certain to approve it, since they hate “gerrymandering,” and were told by 1VA2021, etc. that this amendment would ameliorate or cure that problem. So what ended up happening is that the redistricting commission failed to agree on lines, to it was all kicked to “special masters,” with legislators themselves ending up having essentially zero say over the new district lines. That means that “incumbent protection” was not taken into account, leading to a slew of incumbents being paired up or even TRIPLED up with other incumbents in new districts. Which created a huge amount of confusion, chaos, frustration, anger, jockeying, musical chairs, etc. For instance, Del. Kathy Tran was drawn in with…yep, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, and…yep, Tran was a leader in the effort to oust Filler-Corn as leader. And Del. Don Scott himself was paired up with Del. Nadarius Clark. Is it coincidental that these were some of the caucus members who supported ousting Eileen Filler-Corn as leader? That seems…doubtful. Also note that if Democrats could have drawn the new district lines, they would have had much more favorable maps than what the “special masters” came up with, which in turn would have increased Dems’ chances of taking back the House of Delegates majority next year. But that’s not what happened, and the resulting situation almost certainly has increased intra-caucus frustration/anger levels. Bottom line: there clearly were a bunch of factors here – and for more on those, see Chris Ambrose’s thoughts, as well as Del. Ken Plum’s and those of former Chief of Staff to Gov. Tim Kaine, Wayne Turnage – and we’ll presumably find out more as information continues to dribble out over the next few weeks. As for when House Dems might pick their new leadership, that will almost certainly not be until they are all together in Richmond again when they come back to complete the budget, sometime in the next two months. As for who might run, I’ve heard various names, including Don Scott, Charniele Herring, Marcus Simon, Rip Sullivan, Eileen Filler-Corn, and…who knows who else? 

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