This January, Virginia’s congressional delegation will look different: Four of its 11 members will be women, up from one now. And seven will be Democrats, versus four today.
Along with last year’s Democratic landslide in Virginia’s state elections, these results provide part of the answer I wanted to see after 2016’s meltdown: Virginia voters aren’t buying the sales pitch of a Republican Party decomposing into a Trump personality cult.
But it’s also worth remembering what politics in my adopted state looked like only eight years ago. The GOP had swept races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general and maintained majorities in the House of Delegates and the Senate.
Gov. Bob McDonnell showed a fondness for gifts from donors and floated laughably bad ideas about transportation funding before accepting a deal to raise the gas tax. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was exponentially worse, wasting taxpayer dollars on doomed, grandstanding lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act and climate-change research at the University of Virginia.
And even well into Northern Virginia, the ignorant, corrupt, homophobic Eugene Delgaudio kept winning elections to the Loudoun County Board.
Since the entire state had voted in 2006 for a cruel amendment to the state constitution banning even “approximate” legal status for same-sex marriages, this balance of political power looked like something we’d see for a long time.
Now McDonnell, Cuccinelli, Marshall and Delgaudio and others like them are gone from elected politics. Last year’s rout led by Gov. Ralph Northam convinced the Virginia GOP to end its massive resistance against expanding Medicaid–a position that had set it against even hospital and business lobbies. Campaigning on keeping Confederate memorials up will not get you elected, as last year’s failed gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie and this year’s even-more-failed senate candidate Corey Stewart found. And campaigning against the NRA and its gun worship no longer sets you back here, as incoming representatives Elaine Luria, Abigail Spanberger, and Jennifer Wexton can attest.
There’s still work to do. GOP gerrymandering remains an issue–and the fix can’t involve lurching to the other extreme like Maryland Democrats. The state senate’s Republican delegation still includes Loudoun’s Dick Black, who literally pals around with serial-killing Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. Too many things in the Commonwealth are still named after Confederate leaders who deserve no such honor. And while 2006’s hate amendment has been ruled unconstitutional, it continues to stain the constitution.
But that’s what the 2019 state elections can help fix. Unless voters here go back to sleep the way they did after 2008.