This response, by Chris Ambrose, to Virginia Speaker of the House of Delegates Todd Gilbert’s bizarre, conspiratorial tweet (about how President Biden supposedly wants to “take away your AC” – FALSE!), had me really shaking my head this morning. As Chris Ambrose tweeted back at Speaker Gilbert, “The question I always have to ask myself when I see ridiculous comments like this from Republicans is do you think your voters are idiots, or are Republican base voters REALLY that stupid?” Good question!
This exchange also got me to thinking about the biggest downgrades in Virginia political history over the past couple decades (I started paying closer attention in the early 2000s), as well as some of the biggest upgrades. So, with that, see below for six of the biggest downgrades in Virginia politics since 2000, as well as ten of the biggest upgrades for the fun of it. I’m going to mostly stick to statewide office, U.S. House of Representatives or other positions with a great deal of power, such as Speaker of the House of Delegates. Feel free to add more suggestions in the comments section! (Also note that the fact that there have been more upgrades than downgrades is a positive sign that Virginia’s been moving in a positive direction…but also that nothing’s etched in stone, and that we have to keep fighting for progress and against reactionary efforts to send us lurching backwards!)
6 BIGGEST DOWNGRADES
- Ralph Northam to Glenn Youngkin as Virginia governor (election in November 2021): It’s hard to argue that Ralph Northam was the most consequential governor in Virginia’s modern history from a progressive and environmental point of view, signing HUNDREDS of important and even transformative, progressive pieces of legislation into law, with his administration working skillfully to help craft and shepherd that legislation through the Virginia General Assembly. As for Glenn Youngkin, he’s a right wingnut who came in with ZERO understanding of/respect for state government and who aimed to roll back all the progress Virginia made in the two years (2020-2021) of the Democratic “trifecta.” Fortunately, so far at least (pending the results of this November’s elections), Youngkin has seen his (mostly VERY bad) initiatives largely blocked by the Senate Democratic “brick wall.” Still, Youngkin’s managed to do a LOT of damage by filling boards and commissions with extremists, corporate cronies, etc.; by pulling Virginia out of ERIC for absolutely no good reason; for trying to pull Virginia out of RGGI, again for absolutely no good reason; for filling his Cabinet with terrible picks; by waging war on public education; by being divisive and exclusionary; by driving away jobs and investment; etc. So yeah, going from Northam to Youngkin was a MASSIVE downgrade, from superb to utterly atrocious.
- Eileen Filler-Corn to Todd Gilbert as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates (election in November 2021): The downgrade here is astounding, from someone who led the passage of HUNDREDS of pieces of progressive, clean energy and environmental legislation, to someone who so far has managed to pass very little, and also is a right winger/reactionary to his core (plus, seems to have no independence from Glenn Youngkin, instead just doing that guy’s bidding).
- Mark Herring to Jason Miyares as Virginia AG (election in November 2021): This office went from one of the best – arguably THE best – Attorneys General in Virginia history, Mark Herring, to someone who’s just horrible at the job – plus a total right wingnut who’s mostly driven by his own political ambitions and apparently has minimal ethical standards – Jason Miyares. What a disaster.
- Tom Perriello to Robert Hurt (election in November 2010) to Tom Garrett to Denver Riggleman to Bob Good in VA05: Sadly, this district’s seen a rapid, disastrous decline over the past decade, from the superb Tom Perriello to the odious, bigoted fascist/insurrectionist in Bob Good (election in November 2020). In other words, VA05’s U.S. House representativion has gone from A+ to F- in just ten years or so.
- Rep. Rick Boucher to Rep. Morgan Griffith in VA09 (election in November 2010): Boucher wasn’t super progressive, but he was an excellent Congressman for his district, represented southwestern Virginia REALLY well, and was a credit to his region and to Virginia. In stark contrast, Griffith is an embarrassment, anti-democracy, anti-environment, anti-science, ineffective, a bad joke, a “spineless jellyfish,” – you name it. A massive, massive downgrade.
- Rep. Elaine Luria to Rep. Jen Kiggans in VA02 (election in November 2022): Luria was a superb Congresswoman, including becoming a national leader in fighting for our democracy, our constitution, the rule of law, Hampton Roads, the military, etc. In stark contrast, Kiggans is pretty much the opposite. Another huge downgrade.
10 BIGGEST UPGRADES
- Ken Cuccinelli to Mark Herring as Virginia AG (election in November 2013): Cuccinelli, of course, was (by far?) the worst Attorney General in modern Virginia history, an absolute disgrace on every level – and then he went off to the Trump administration to do even MORE damage, this time to our country as a whole. In stark contrast, Mark Herring was one of the BEST Attorneys Generals in Virginia history – truly impressive, made Virginia a better place, fought back hard against Trump’s assaults on the rule of law/the environment/civil liberties/etc. And remember, Herring only won this race by 165 votes out of 2.2 MILLION cast, exemplifying the importance of every single vote!
- Kirk Cox to Eileen Filler-Corn as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates (election in November 2019): With one exception – Medicaid expansion, which he’d previously fought for years to block – Cox was a reactionary, block-any-and-every-bit-of-proposed-progress Speaker. In stark contrast, Speaker Filler-Corn, in addition to shattering important “glass ceilings” in Virginia by becoming the first woman and first Jewish Speaker, led the passage of HUNDREDS of pieces of progressive and environmental legislation. In short, Cox – again, other than Medicaid expansion, which he was dragged to accept, kicking and screaming – got almost nothing done, while Filler-Corn was a transformative, historic leader. Quite a contrast…and quite an upgrade!
- Stephen Newman to Louise Lucas as President Pro Tempore of the Virginia Senate (election in November 2019): From a right-wingnut and obstacle to progress in Newman to someone (Lucas) who helped lead the way in passing hundreds of pieces of progressive and environmental legislation, while breaking historic barriers by becoming the first African-American and first female President Pro Tempore of the Virginia Senate, this was a massive upgrade in every way!
- Rep. Dave Brat to Rep. Abigail Spanberger in VA07 (election in November 2018): Brat was, on every level, a disgrace – far right, conspiracy nut, climate denier, ineffective, embarrassing, you name it. In stark contrast, Spanberger has been an excellent Congresswoman for her district. Huge upgrade here.
- Rep. Scott Taylor to Rep. Elaine Luria in VA02 (election in November 2018): Taylor was a debacle, while Luria – as mentioned above – was a superb Congresswoman and a national leader in fighting for our democracy, our constitution, the rule of law, Hampton Roads, the military, etc. Huge, huge upgrade from Taylor to Luria.
- Rep. Virgil Goode to Rep. Tom Perriello in VA05 (election in November 2008): Goode was absolutely awful, while Perriello was superb, taking courageous votes for the Affordable Care Act and many other important pieces of legislation while fighting hard for his district. Huge upgrade, unfortunately for just two years.
- Jim Gilmore to Mark Warner as Virginia governor (election in November 2001): As Mark Warner and Tim Kaine liked to say, Gilmore drove Virginia into a fiscal ditch with his “No Car Tax” idiocy and demagoguery, while they pulled Virginia out of the ditch with responsible leadership. By almost any measure, Warner was as highly successful, popular, effective governor, while Gilmore…well, not so much.
- George Allen to Jim Webb as U.S. Senator (election in November 2006): Allen was a right winger and definitely not someone who worked for the good of Virginia. Allen also turned out to be a Confederate sympathizer, a racist, a fossil fuel industry tool, etc. Now, Webb certainly wasn’t perfect, and he only ended up serving one term, but still, he did an excellent job in the U.S. Senate overall, and as an added bonus, helped save America from a likely George Allen for President campaign (and a possible George Allen presidency – shudder!).
- Bob McDonnell to Terry McAuliffe as Virginia governor (election in November 2013): Bob McDonnell’s governorship will mostly be remembered for scandals and right-wing policies, while McAuliffe’s will mostly be remembered for attracting investment to Virginia; for standing as a “brick wall” against anti-LGBTQ, anti-women’s-reproductive-freedom, anti-environment, anti-voting-rights, etc. legislation; and for restoring people’s voting rights. Major upgrade.
- Rep. Barbara Comstock to Rep. Jennifer Wexton in VA10 (election in November 2018): Since leaving Congress, Comstock’s actually done some good work in being “never Trump,” but when she was in Congress…not so much (e.g., she voted with Trump 97.8% of the time!). As for Rep. Wexton, she’s been doing an excellent job, fighting for progress and for the betterment of her district. So…definitely a big upgrade here!