Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to chat with VA State Senator Jennifer McClellan, who just announced her candidacy for the VA04 special election (note: the Democrats’ “firehouse primary” will be next Tuesday; with the special election being held on 2/21/23). Thanks to Sen. McClellan for her time; see below for a lightly edited transcript of our conversation.
Blue Virginia: For VA04 Democratic voters trying to VERY quickly figure out – maybe in just a few days – who to nominate for this seat, after the sudden and tragic death of their Congressman, Donald McEachin, what would you tell them?
Sen. McClellan: “You know, in Donald McEachin, the 4th district had a social justice champion who was focused on climate action and civil rights and social justice and reproductive health. And I have spent the past 17 years in the General Assembly as a champion on those issues as well, with a very strong focus on government leadership and constituency services, and I will take that record and that commitment and that passion to the district. And you know, while I’m very saddened by the circumstances, I think that I’m the best candidate to carry on and build on that legacy.”
Blue Virginia: So would you plan to follow in Donald McEachin’s footsteps and focus on the same issues – environmental justice, climate action, etc. – or do something different?
Sen. McClellan: “I succeeded Donald in the Senate. When he was in the Senate and I was in the House; when I was in the Senate and he was in Congress, we partnered on all of those issues, and more. And that passion is the same, whether it’s reproductive health, whether it’s voting rights, climate action, education. I have focused on those issues as a state legislator and as a partner with Donald and will continue to do that in Congress.”
Blue Virginia: So ideologically and in terms of policy/issue focus, you would see yourself as pretty similar to Rep. McEachin, any differences or pretty much in sync?
Sen. McClellan: “I think we’re in sync. I think we brought different perspectives to these issues, but I think on a lot of issues, we were aligned. I can’t think of any that we disagreed on, but we may have brought different perspectives to why we supported them or how we championed them. But we were aligned on a lot of issues. When we were in the legislature together, we often worked together on legislation that I carried in the House and he carried in the Senate as chief patrons. And you know the last conversation that we had was on reproductive health, and we were both very focused on climate action issues together. So I think we’re pretty aligned.”
Blue Virginia: So maybe stylistic differences, obviously you’re different people.
Sen. McClellan: “We’re different people.”
Blue Virginia: For voters trying to choose between you and Del. Bagby [note, this was before it was clear whether or not Sen. Joe Morrissey would run], what would you tell them?
Sen. McClellan: “I would say that I ran for office and have spent the past 17 years representing Central Virginia, focusing on making government a force for helping people and servant leadership. And in doing that, I have passed over 350 pieces of legislation, including major legislation on some of the issues that we just talked about – just to name a few, on reproductive health on climate action and on voting rights. I have been focused on constituency services and community outreach in a way that very few other legislators can compare to. And I will bring that same passion, tenacity, skill to Congress. And it’s a district I was born and raised in and have served, and I’m raising my children in, for you know I’ll be 50…So for 50 years in one form or another, I have been committed to serving this community at some level or another and I will bring that to Congress in a way that I think no other candidate will…
Blue Virginia: So you’re saying you don’t really disagree with him on the issues, but you have many years of experience.
Sen. McClellan: “Right. And I bring a different perspective. We’ve never had a Black woman in Congress, that’s a voice that is needed. And I’m a mother, that’s a voice that is needed. And I’m the only candidate in this race that brings both of those perspectives to that race.
Blue Virginia: How worried do you think Democrats should be about the fact that the special election will be held before the end of the 2023 General Assembly session? If you win, we’ll be potentially as low as 20-19, which will mean that there will be almost no margin for error. How much should voters consider this in making their decision?
Sen. McClellan: “I would say, at most, you’re talking four days. And typically in that last week of session, you’re dealing with conference reports. Most of the bills will have already been dealt with. And I am confident Aaron Rouse is going to win, but I don’t think it’s going to matter. And I think given the timing and where we will be in the session, I think that should I win, the seat will be filled well in advance of the veto session, and it will be seamless…”
Blue Virginia: Also, let’s say you do win the election, it’s not certified for a few days, right?
Sen. McClellan: “That’s actually a good point; by the time [the election] is certified, the session will be over. They’ll accept ballots until that Friday, I believe, and it probably won’t be certified until the following week, it may well be that I won’t have to resign until after the session is over…”
Blue Virginia: I’m just trying to think through any shenanigans they might pull.
Sen. McClellan: “I mean, there are plenty of procedural moves that that the Senate would have and I trust Louise Lucas and Dick Saslaw and Mamie Locke to do whatever they need to do to keep the governor or the House Republicans from engaging in shenanigans…We also have Louise Lucas, the chair of the education and health committee, who’s made very clear that nothing’s getting out of that committee….The procedural schedule is usually pretty clear that after a certain date, no legislation can be introduced and the only thing that can be taken up is conference reports…”
Blue Virginia: Is there anything else you think people should be focusing on or you’d like to add for Blue Virginia readers to know?
Sen. McClellan: “Yeah, I think again, we have an opportunity to elect the first African-American woman to Congress from Virginia, a voice that has been missing in that delegation. It is a significant constituency of this Commonwealth. Having another mother, and perspective that that would bring, I think is critically important, and I’m ready to do that.”