Metro Weekly

Democrats could take control of Virginia House of Delegates

Power sharing or Democratic control of the House augurs well for fate of pro-LGBTQ bills next session

Virginia State House – Photo: Farragutful, via Wikimedia.

Democrats swept to larger-than-expected victories in Virginia, winning all three statewide offices on the ballot and picking up at least 14 seats in the House of Delegates. 

For LGBTQ voters in the commonwealth, those wins could prove quite beneficial. Ralph Northam, a longtime ally of the community, won the governor’s race over Ed Gillespie, who has consistently opposed LGBTQ rights. In the attorney general’s race, Mark Herring won re-election over John Adams, who based much of his campaign around Herring’s refusal to defend Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage and other decisions that he claimed were “politicized” in order to push a “liberal agenda.”

Voters also elected Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor over Republican Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Upperville). Both candidates have generally been supportive of LGBTQ issues, though Vogel has never endorsed marriage equality during her time in office.

In the House of Delegates, Democrats swept nearly all the races in Northern Virginia, and appeared to be on course to win 15 of 17 districts where Hillary Clinton had defeated Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election, and even picking up a Virginia Beach district that Trump won narrowly.

Chief among those Democratic wins was Danica Roem, who became the first transgender lawmaker elected to office in Virginia and will become the nation’s first transgender person to serve in a state legislature when she takes the oath of office in January.

Roem defeated 13-term Republican incumbent Bob Marshall, a co-author of Virginia’s now defunct constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and the sponsor of bills to ban LGBTQ people from serving in the national guard, and prohibit transgender people from using public restrooms that match their gender identity.

In another race in the Richmond area, nurse practitioner Dawn Marie Adams was leading Republican incumbent Manoli Loupassi by more than 300 votes, with provisional ballots still to be counted. That race may go to an automatic recount, due to the margin of victory, but Loupassi has already conceded, making Adams, presumptively, the first out lesbian elected to the General Assembly.

At least four other House races may also head to recounts. If Adams and Donte Tanner, who appears to have unseated Republican Caucus Chairman Tim Hugo of Centreville, remain on top, Democrats and Republicans will each hold 50 seats, forcing both caucuses to negotiate a power-sharing agreement similar to the one that existed in the House of Delegates from 1999 to 2001. If Democrats pick up one additional seat in the remaining recounts, they would win outright control of the lower chamber.

Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring said that shared control — or even in a Republican-controlled but closely divided chamber — Democrats would have more seats on committees or subcommittees, which will allow them to have a “true debate” about Democratic priorities, such as expanding Medicaid, paid family and medical leave, and raising the minimum wage. In the past, bills dealing with such issues have often been killed in secret, unrecorded votes in subcommittees.

“A lot of the members of our caucus have complained about that,” Herring said of those subcommittee votes. “We want more light on our government, because people have a right to know how their representatives are voting.”

For LGBTQ residents, greater transparency means a brighter spotlight on anti-equality legislators who may attempt to table bills in subcommittee, and on-the-record votes that place lawmakers under a microscope, particularly on LGBTQ issues. In past sessions, bills to prohibit discrimination in employment and housing, and bills to amend the Code of Virginia to remove discriminatory language have overwhelmingly passed the Virginia Senate, only to be killed in subcommittee.

If a pro-LGBTQ rights bill were to pass the House and Senate, Northam would likely sign it into law — achieving a feat that LGBTQ Virginians have been lobbying in favor of for the past few decades.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com