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steps were taken to end the classroom to prison pipeline, and laws that were unevenly applied to racial minorities were repealed or revised.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.
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!
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
Nearly one month away from the special election for the 86th District seat, the Fairfax County Republican Committee will hold a meeting on Saturday (Jan. 19) to nominate a candidate.
Yesterday (Jan. 14), the committee put a call for a mass meeting to nominate a Republican candidate for the now-State Sen. Jennifer Boysko’s vacated seat, which represents parts of Fairfax County and Loudoun County.
The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Fairfax Christian School at 22870 Pacific Blvd in Dulles with a start time of 9 a.m. Only Republicans in the 86th District can participate in the mass meeting, according to the website.
Candidates have until 9 a.m. on Friday (Jan. 18) to provide a written statement of intent to Committee Chairman Amanda Morris.
The special election is set for Feb. 19.
On Saturday (Jan. 12), Ibraheem Samirah was nominated to represent the Democratic Party.
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