This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
For much of the last two years I have used this column to laud the steps that were being taken in the Virginia General Assembly with the support of then Governor Ralph Northam to bring Virginia into the modern era. Virginia has a rich history, but one that is also shrouded in controversy. There is a tendency on the part of long-time Virginians to want to focus on the earliest history of the Commonwealth in the new nation with an emphasis on the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the Declaration of Independence authored by a Virginian, and the Virginia Declaration of Rights that served as a model for the federal Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, the history that surrounded that era is not so glorious. Forgotten until recent times were the indigenous people who were forced out with the settlement of the colony and new state, the horrors of slavery, a Civil War in which the state was a major battleground, and a white supremacist government until recent years.
The shift in attitudes was not confined to Virginia alone as movements such as Black Lives Matter forced us to examine our history and our actions under the laws as they had been written. The success of Democrats at the polls to control both houses of the General Assembly as well as the governorship and lieutenant governor and attorney general’s offices brought about the amazing changes in the laws of Virginia in 2020 and 2021.
Virginia moved into a leadership role in rewriting its election laws to make them among the most progressive in the nation. Early voting was instituted, absentee voting was permitted without the need for an excuse and voting generally was made more accessible. Laws against all forms of discrimination were passed and hate crime laws were strengthened. Common sense gun control laws were passed including my universal background checks bill. Major steps were taken to end the classroom to prison pipeline, and laws that were unevenly applied to racial minorities were repealed or revised. Symbols that represented the oppressive period of our history were removed. Our educational institutions moved to interpret our history more broadly to be inclusive of all persons who lived in the state.
I was feeling good that democracy was expanded, we were becoming more inclusive, our criminal justice system was being reformed, and our communities were becoming safer. And, then there was the election of 2021. Democrats lost the majority in the House of Delegates, and Republicans swept the statewide elections of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.
In the current session of the General Assembly bills have been introduced to turn back all the progress that had been made over the last two years. The clock is being turned back to the more conservative Virginia that many of us have been struggling to get past for many years. All the bills are passing in the Republican controlled House of Delegates. Fortunately Democrats have a majority in the State Senate that will be able to defeat these Republican measures, and our progressive measures will remain in place. We must be eternally vigilant to ensure that while progress might be impeded it is not lost.
This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.
Many say that I have the best view of the Jefferson-designed State Capitol from the window in my office in the Pocahontas Building where members of the House of Delegates and State Senate have their Richmond offices. It is an awe-inspiring view. This past week workers have been busy dismantling the seating and stand where Governor Youngkin was inaugurated. While the formal structure of the Inaugural has been removed from the outside of the Capitol building, inside the structure of a new government dominated by a new Republican governor and a Republican-majority House of Delegates is quickly taking shape. Campaign rhetoric is being replaced by executive orders and draft legislation. Faces new to Virginia government including the new governor and most of his appointees are moving into their roles in the new administration.
Last week I expressed my concern about Executive Order One and its potential impact on education as it seeks to end “the use of inherently divisive concepts” in schools. My concern has been heightened as the governor has taken a further step in controlling the curriculum of the schools by establishing a “tip line for parents to report to the state any school officials behaving objectionably–including teaching divisive subjects.” On a local radio show the governor said, “We’re asking for folks to send us reports and observations…to help us be aware of their child being denied their rights that parents in Virginia have.” The announcement of the “snitch line” brought a strong reaction from teachers and parents who see this move as adding undue stress to teachers without clear direction.
The Constitution of Virginia puts responsibility for the public school system under the State Board of Education and local school boards. This arrangement has insulated the schools from undue political influence for the most part until the current governor came to realize that running against the schools was attractive to his political base.
Following through on one of his political promises the new governor, acting outside of advice from health experts and demonstrating his willingness to overcome educator objections, lifted the mask mandates that had been put in place as a way to keep the schools open and safe. Most large school divisions ignored his ban on mask mandates, and several districts have asked the courts to decide if the governor has the authority to do what he has done. A decision from the court should be forthcoming in the near future.
In the meantime, on the same radio program the governor justified to the host his ban on local mask mandates by saying that we should “love our neighbor.” I could not agree more with the plea to love our neighbor, but in my mind in a pandemic we should love others as well as ourselves by wearing masks! The governor may have shown his true purpose by expressing to the host that his ban on masks was “moving against the left liberals.” As one who is eternally optimistic, I hope to have a more positive report next week on our getting down to work!
(Updated at 9:05 a.m. on 6/11/21) Yesterday’s Democratic primary for the 86th House District proved to be, by percentage points, one of the closest races in the entire Commonwealth.
When all the votes were tallied, including absentee ballots, challenger Irene Shin had beaten the incumbent Ibraheem Samirah by only 230 votes, or 3.48 percentage points. Shin is now set to face Republican and high school history teacher Julie Perry in November’s general election.
In Fairfax County, which shares the district with a small portion of Loudoun County, the result was even tighter with Shin winning by fewer than 200 votes and 3.22 percentage points, according to the county office of elections’ unofficial returns.
Samirah’s ascension to the General Assembly in 2019 was part of a blue wave that solidified Virginia’s political transformation from reliably conservative to left-leaning. He conceded the primary via social media at 11:15 p.m. yesterday, saying that it was an honor to represent the 86th District and how proud he was of his campaign.
To the voters: We didn’t get the election result we wanted. I am still immensely proud of the campaign we ran. We stayed positive, highlighted our accomplishments and pushed healthcare as a human right, housing for all, and the need for a healthy democracy.
— Del. Ibraheem Samirah (@IbraheemSamirah) June 9, 2021
Shin declared victory via social media shortly thereafter, stating that “we made history tonight,” while thanking supporters and everyone who had endorsed her campaign.
We made history tonight! I am so grateful to be the Democratic nominee for Virginia’s 86th District. Thank you for everyone who had faith in me and supported me in this campaign.
— irene shin (@ireneshintweets) June 9, 2021
In a letter that also went out to supporters last night, Shin wrote that the victory left her “completely overwhelmed.”
“Entering this race was not an easy decision. I knew that challenging an incumbent in a Delegate race would be difficult,” she wrote. “Together, we knocked over 12,000 doors and made tens of thousands of phone calls. We built a grassroots movement with support from across the district. From Reston to Herndon to Chantilly, we ran the whole district.”
Neither Samirah nor Shin thanked the other candidate.
Samirah was one of five incumbent candidates to lose last night, a record dating back to 2001.
First elected in February 2019, Samirah gained some level of fame later that year for disrupting a Trump speech in Jamestown by yelling, “Mr. President, you can’t send us back, Virginia is our home!”
While he found some support for touting progressive policies, his occasionally confrontational approach ruffled some feathers, and a number of prominent Virginia Democrats supported Shin in this election, including state Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Janet Howell as well as Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem.
“I look forward to working at my dental practice in Reston, spending time with family, and finding ways to unify the progressive movement in Northern Virginia,” Samirah told Reston Now by email.
Next door, in the 36th House District that encompasses Reston, Del. Ken Plum — the incumbent and the longest-serving member of the Virginia House of Delegates — won a decisive victory in the primary over challenger Mary Barthelson with more than 77% of the vote. Read More
The November 5 elections in Virginia produced results of historic proportions. The House of Delegates that has had a Republican majority since 2000 was flipped to a blue Democratic majority of 55 Democrats to 45 Republicans. As recently as the election for 2014-2016, Democrats in the House had dropped to 32 members. The turn-around came decisively in amazing political time; there will be a recount in only one seat the Democrats won. The Senate that had a Republican majority before the election flipped to blue with 21 of the 40 Senate seats now being held by Democrats.
The General Assembly when it convenes in January will have a Democratic majority in both houses. In addition, as a result of elections held in 2017 Democrats occupy all statewide offices of Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. The historic level of Democratic wins is not only about party, it is about representation. There will be more women in the General Assembly than ever before in Virginia’s history. In the House of Delegates there will be 30 women in the 100-member legislative body. In the Senate there will be 11 women in the 40-member body bringing the total number of women to 41 in the General Assembly. While the number is small relative to the proportion of women in the total population, the number of women in the legislature is a huge increase when compared to past years when it could be counted on the fingers of one’s hands. The number of women running this year in both parties was at a historic level of 85.
There were other historic changes in the oldest continuous legislative body in the western world celebrating its 400th anniversary this year. A Muslim woman will join the Senate as the first ever elected to that body. The number of African Americans in the General Assembly will increase to the highest number since Reconstruction. The first ever Indian American man was elected to the House of Delegates.
The new members of the legislature have already indicated their willingness to make history. The Democratic caucus of the House met this past weekend and chose as its Speaker-designee, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, the first woman to ever serve as Speaker of the House of Delegates in the 400 years of its history. She will be elected formally by the entire House when the General Assembly convenes in January. Adding to this historic moment, she will assume the leadership position, considered the most powerful in Virginia government next to the governor, with the least seniority of anyone ever taking the position in the modern day. She will be the first Jewish Speaker serving along with the Senate majority leader who is also Jewish. While I had hoped to become Speaker myself, I fully support Eileen who is amazingly smart and talented and will do everything I can to ensure her success.
The electorate broke through many hurdles in its votes this election year. Some results called historic today will become commonplace in the future as the General Assembly reflects more the demographics of the state as a whole. I have always felt honored to serve, and with the historic results of this election year I feel even more honored. Thank you, voters!
A new statewide progressive advocacy group for climate change is set to launch at Great Falls Library on Saturday (August 17).
The group, Earth Rise Indivisible, seeks to seeks to mobilize the public to address what it calls a “climate crisis.”
“The science on the climate crisis is precise; climate change is happening, and can likely be attributed to human activities. We are impacting every facet of life on our planet destructively. However, we can take action to save our big blue marble. Immediate action can stop or reduce potential adverse outcomes,” according to a press release issued by the organization today (Thursday).
The event runs from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and features a vegetarian bag lunch, a celebratory happy hour at Old Brogue (760 Walker Road), skill-building workshops, yoga breaks and presentations by Climate Reality and Green New Deal VA.
Registration is open online.
Photo via Fairfax County Government
He joins Del. Sam Rasoul as the second Muslim — they are both Democrats — in Virginia’s General Assembly, according to a press release from his campaign.
Samirah, who is the son of Palestinian refugees, was separated from his father in middle school when his father was barred from re-entering the U.S.
The special election yesterday (Feb. 19) to fill now-State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s former seat was the first time Virginia voters took to the polls after a series of scandals erupted in the state, starting with unearthed racist photos on Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook.
The scandals continued with sexual assault allegations against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and with Attorney General Mark Herring’s admission that he wore blackface. News reports revealed that Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City County) was a top editor of a yearbook that included photos of people in blackface and racial slurs.
Before the special election, Samirah faced attacks after a conservative website published two of his social media posts from five years ago, including one where he said sending money to Israel was worse than sending it to the Ku Klux Klan, according to news reports.
Samirah apologized for the posts, which he said were used in “a slander campaign questioning my views on Israel and my Jewish friends,” in a two-page statement posted on Facebook.
“I am so sorry that my ill-chosen words added to the pain of the Jewish community and I seek your understanding and compassion as I prove to you our common humanity,” the statement said.
Samirah was just shy of receiving 60 percent of the votes, according to unofficial results from Virginia’s Department of Elections.
Republican Gregg Nelson, a U.S. Air Force veteran, received 34 percent of the votes and Connie Haines Hutchinson, a former vice mayor of the Herndon Town Council who ran as an Independent, received almost 6 percent of the votes.
In total, 6,283 people voted in the special election.
Boysko took to Twitter to congratulate Samirah on his win.
— Jennifer Boysko (@JenniferBoysko) February 20, 2019
Samirah ran a campaign focused on healthcare, transportation and education.
Now in office, Samirah is planning “to build on the 2018 Virginia Medicaid expansion and bringing healthcare costs down across the state by ensuring that the healthcare marketplace is competitive and accessible to all,” according to the press release.
Photos from the Virginia House Democrats on Twitter show Samirah being sworn in today.
— VA House Democrats (@VAHouseDems) February 20, 2019
Photo via Samirah for Delegate/Facebook
The Fairfax County Republican Committee nominated Gregg Nelson for the now-State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s vacated seat, which represents Herndon and parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
“For too long, the rights and interests of ordinary citizens have been ignored. I’m running to give the hardworking men and women of our district a voice in Richmond,” Nelson said.
Nelson lives in Fox Mill with his wife.
“He’s exactly the right man for the job,” Tim Hannigan, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement. “He’s a small business owner and a real-world problem-solver. If voters want someone who’s ready and willing to get things done, Gregg Nelson is their candidate.”
Nelson will face Democrat Ibraheem Samirah in the special election set for Feb. 19.
Images via Fairfax County Republican Committee
Hauth, a United States Air Force veteran and community advocate, announced her candidacy last night (Jan. 9) at the Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee meeting.
Hauth is focused on construction practices, budgets, security and education systems, according to her website. She wants to tackle transportation issues and affordable housing with SMART housing solutions.
“Our local government is where the rubber meets the road,” Hauth said in the press release. “This is where we make change that affects each of us on a daily basis. I want Fairfax County, and specifically the Hunter Mill District, to be the leading edge of a progressive vision of community.”
Other major issues she wants to address include:
- public education
- environmental issues
- securing funding for social services
- developing public-private partnerships that help businesses
- keeping a low unemployment rate
She lives in Reston with her husband, who is also an Air Force veteran. Two of their four children attended Fairfax County public schools, according to her bio.
She has worked with Rescue Reston to preserve the Reston National Golf Course from development. She founded her own group called Hear Our Voice-Reston (HOV-R) where she led 70 people who worked to elect progressive candidates in Virginia in 2017. The group then joined up with Herndon Reston Indivisible, her bio says.
She also works with the Human Rights Campaign and Equality Virginia as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. The Hunter Mill District Democratic Committee awarded her the Ed Herlihy Activist Award for 2018.
Currently, she chairs the Fairfax County Democratic Committee’s Veterans and Military Families Committee, according to her LinkedIn profile. She is also an independent business owner of Mahari Yoga, a veteran-owned business that offers yoga therapy in Northern Virginia, and self-employed as a Celtic harp instructor, professional speaker, according to LinkedIn.
She studied psychology and management at Saint Leo University in Florida. After receiving her Masters of Science in human resource management from Troy State University in Alabama, she joined the Air Force.
Hauth plans to host a listening session for Reston residents next Thursday (Jan. 17) night.
Another Democrat, Parker Messick, announced his campaign for the seat in December. Messick is running on a platform to “stop big development.”
Hudgins, who is nearing the end of her fifth term, was first elected to the board in 1999. The election for the county’s Board of Supervisors will take place on Nov. 5.
Democrat Ralph Northam clenched victory over Republican Ed Gillespie in the competitive race to become Virginia’s 73rd governor Tuesday — statewide results that echoed locally in a bellwether race watched around the nation as judgment on President Donald Trump.
Democrats swept statewide offices, including the lieutenant governor and attorney general. In the Hunter Mill District, Northam won in every precinct with 61 percent of all votes – slightly below the countywide average of 67 percent and above the statewide return of 54 percent. Northam took 30,201 of the 49,788 ballots cast while Gillespie grasped 45 percent of the vote. The tightest race was in the Colvin Precinct where Northam won by a 59 percent to 40 percent margin over Gillespie, who took 54 percent of the total vote statewide.
Democrat Justin Fairfax won over Republican state Sen. Jill Vogel in the race for lieutenant governor while Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring was reelected over Republican John Adams.
Overall, voters took to the polls in greater numbers this year. Turnout in the Hunter Mill District was just under 50 percent, roughly six percentage points below the statewide voter turnout of 56 percent.
The Flint Hill precinct reported the highest turnout at nearly 66 percent. The lowest turnout was reported at the McNair precinct where turnout rested at a mum 45 percent compared to the district-wide average of 60 percent.
Voters also passed a measure that would approve the sale of $315 million in bonds to fund school improvement projects throughout the county. The measure passed with 73 percent of the total vote. Locally, the funds would allow the county to move forward on renovations to one modular buildings; additions to three county high schools; renovations to 10 elementary schools, three middle schools, two high schools; and the construction of two new elementary schools.
Democrat Ken Plum, Reston’s current delegate, will also continue serving as the local delegate for the 36th district. Plum, who worked for roughly 20 years as a public school teacher an administrator prior to his role in politics, ran in an uncontested race.
Photo by Fatimah Waseem.
Despite the downpour of rain on Tuesday, a steady stream of voters cast their votes at Armstrong Elementary School in Reston. As of 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 209,223 residents of Fairfax County voted in Virginia’s election.
The state is only of of two in the United States with statewide elections this year. Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam are vying for governor in what is expected to be a narrow contest, according to The New York Times. Libertarian Cliff Hyra is also running.
In the last election in 2013, turnout rested at 46.8 percent. With a little more than four hours before polls close, turnout this year sits at 30.6 percent, according to the county.
A record number of absentee ballots were cast this year, according to Fairfax County officials. More than 41,000 Virginians participated in early voting, up by roughly 61 percent from voting in 2013. Absentee voting was up in every jurisdictions in Virginia, except three, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, a non-profit organization that provides information about local politics.
There are more than 684,041 active registered voters in Fairfax County. Throughout the day, voters trickled in at various polling sites throughout Reston and Fairfax County. By 10 a.m., nearly 16 percent or roughly 109,000 of registered voters already casted their ballot.
All 100 seats in the Virginia House of Delegates are up for election. Fifty-five of those seats are contested.
Reston’s current Delegate, Democrat Ken Plum, is running without opposition in this election. Plum is currently serving his 36th year as the local Delegate for the 36th District, which includes Reston. Prior to his political appointment, he served for roughly 20 years as a public school teacher and administrator. Plum recently commented on his unopposed race for re-election in his weekly commentary.
Two candidates, Republican Jill Vogel and Justin Fairfax are running to replace Ralph Northam as Virginia’s lieutenant governor, a role which often presides over the State Senate, and has the power to break tie votes. The race for attorney general is between the current attorney general, Democrat Mark Herring, and his opponent, Republican John Adams.
The Board of Supervisors has asked residents to approve the sale of $315 million in bonds. If approved, the county has published a list of school improvement projects they would use the money to pay for.
The American Civil Liberties Union received multiple reports from Virginia voters who said that they received calls falsely saying their polling place had changed. The civil liberties organization advised voters to confirm polling locations at elections.virginia.gov and report any issues by calling the organization at 804-644-8080.
Photo by Fatimah Waseem