Del. Ken Plum: What Now?

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

What happens if a dog that chases vehicles catches one? What happens if a political party that struggles for nearly a decade to regain the majority in a political body realizes its goal? The question is not theoretical. Democrats in the House of Delegates have been working at a 34 to 66 seat disadvantage for the last several years.

In an election that produced results seemingly impossible, before recounts Democrats are down by one vote from being tied for control of the House. An even 50-50 or a one vote advantage are possible as soon as the official vote tallies in three elections are determined.

Regardless of the final number, the House of Delegates will have to operate more on consensus than on an absolute dominance of one party over the other. That is a good thing. Rather than either party having to play defense all the time, both parties will be responsible for the ultimate outcome of a legislative session. The new shift in the balance of power should be good for the Commonwealth.

There should be less bottling up tough bills in a committee or subcommittee without a hearing or vote. Legislators will be put on the spot to cast tough votes, but that is the way the legislative process should work. Some issues that have been side-stepped in recent years should reach the floor for a public vote.

For years members of the majority party of the House of Delegates have refused to allow a vote on health insurance for 400,000 of our most vulnerable citizens leaving more than 10 billion federal dollars on the table. I think the vote in the recent election reflected in part a disgust on the part of citizens for the legislators who refused to deal with a real public health issue. An early vote on agreeing to Medicaid expansion would send a signal to voters that their message has been received. 

Election results also demonstrated the impact of gerry-rigging election district lines that has been going on for many years. Establishing a non-partisan redistricting commission as I have advocated for many years and as proposed by the OneVirginia2021 organization will reduce the politics in the redistricting process that will come again after the 2020 federal census. Voters will choose their representatives rather than having legislators choose their voters.

I believe that a newly constituted House of Delegates made up of members elected by the highest level of voter participation in decades will also be less prone to involve themselves in the personal lives and social issues of the times. Too much time has been expended in the recent past debating who someone should be able to love or marry or who should make health decisions for women.

Some incumbents may find difficulty adjusting to a wonderfully more diverse House membership or feel uncomfortable in a new power-sharing agreement with another party, but the outcome should be good for Virginia. What now? Great opportunities for moving Virginia forward!

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