National News

Virginia Turns Blue

Virginia Turns Blue

On November 5, 2019, Democrats gained control of both legislatures of the Virginia General Assembly in the most recent election. This is the first time Democrats have had complete control of the state government in 26 years, according to the Washington Post. The General Assembly consists of a bicameral legislature which is made up by the House of Delegates, which has 100 seats, and the State Senate, which has 40 seats. In the most recent election, Democrats flipped two seats in the Senate and five seats in the House of Delegates. Now there are 54 Democrats and 43 Republicans serving in the House of Delegates and 21 Democrats and 19 Republicans part of the State Senate. 

Democratic candidates now have the majority control of the boards of supervisors in Loudoun and Prince William counties. Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, and two state senators, Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, are also part of the Democratic party, which will make it easier for them to redraw congressional districts and promote a more liberal agenda. 

The NY Times suggests that the population growth and increased diversification in suburbs is what may be leading Virginia to lean toward more liberal candidates. The state population has grown 38% since 1990 and is becoming increasingly diverse. According to USA Today, foreign-born residents in Northern Virginia have risen from 177,000 in 1990 to 463,000 in 2010, and according to the NY Times “one in 10 people eligible to vote in the state were born outside the United States, up from one in 28 in 1990.” 

While speaking to the Washington Post, Dan Scandling, chief of staff for former Republican congressman Frank Wolf, explained, “If you didn’t see this coming, you’ve been living under a rock. Virginia has been trending this way for years. Being so close to Washington -- and add in the anti-Trump phenomenon -- it was only a matter of time.” Trump’s approval rating fell to below 30% in Virginia which may have caused more Republicans to vote for a Democratic ticket, according to the Washington Post. 

Another reason Democrats may have been successful, according to USA Today, is due to the “reignited debate around the state’s gun laws.” In May of 2019, there was a shooting in Virginia Beach that left 12 people dead, and Northam called the General Assembly into session in July to “consider a wide range of gun control measures, but Republicans adjourned it, rejecting all the proposals without a vote.”

 Governor Ralph Northam explained to WTOP that “the ground has shifted in Virginia government.” Many Republicans are beginning to worry about their party’s future in Virginia. According to the Washington Post, Daniella Propati, Republican campaign manager, declared, “Republicans -- we’ve been running campaigns in Virginia the same way for 20 years. We need to come together and say, ‘What do we need to do next time?’”

Ruy Teixeira, a demographer at the liberal Center for American Progress, believes “This is the nightmare scenario for a lot of people in the Republican Party. Virginia is an example of a possible future for some state that are now part of the Republican coalition.” The Washington Post, the source of his interview, also goes on to say that Virginia Republicans are fearful that demographic and cultural changes may cause conservative rural areas to lose influence is a progressively urbanizing world. These changes can also be seen in North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia where minorities are increasing in population and white, well-educated voters are tending to lean more liberal than they have historically. 

In Alexandria 30,803 voted, according to the Virginia Department of Elections, and the City of Alexandria voted for three members of the Senate of Virginia including Adam P. Ebbin (Democrat), Richard L. Saslaw (Democrat), and Dutch Hillenburg (Republican). The two Members of the House of Delegates elected were Mark H. Levine (Democrat) and Charniele L. Herring (Democrat), and the Clerk of Court elected was J. Greg Parks.

Ms. Peckman, a history teacher at SSSAS, explains that she thinks voting is important because it “allows us to make changes at every level, so I think a lot of people are aware of how important it is to vote for the president or to vote for your members of Congress, but it’s also so key in local elections and state elections. This is the way we actually get to impact policy. It’s a really exciting right that we have as citizens and I think we also minimize the degree to which it’s a duty we have as citizens to actually be involved.”

Virginia’s November 5 election was state wide, and Ms. Peckham expressed that these more local elections give voters well deserved control over decisions in their own cities like public schools, policy, or who the police chief is. She explains that “in Alexandria, we have lots of issues with flooding, and your vote can really impact those kinds of policies, so I think the more you look into it the more you realize that these elected officials really impact your daily life.”

To register to vote in Virginia, you must be a resident of Virginia, a U.S. citizen, 18 years old, not registered to vote in another state, be mentally competent, and not have been convicted of a felony unless your right to vote has been restored, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. You can register online, at a local voter registration office, at a public library, at Department of Motor Vehicle offices, and more. Ms. Peckam says that “when you apply for a Virginia license, as I’m sure a lot of students know, you are offered the opportunity to register to vote.” So that may be another option for first time voters to easily register. 

She believes that it is especially important for young people to keep up with current events and national and international issues because they will be voting soon. “You can’t wait until your 18, and then the next day decide ‘okay I guess I’ll finally start reading the newspaper.’ It’s a process to learn how these issues, where they come from, what their history is, the complexities of them. As a history teacher, we talk a lot about sources; we talk a lot about research, and those kinds of skills are really important if you’re going to make informed decisions.”

Claire Fergusson, a senior, recently turned 18 and voted for the first time in the November election. She described her experience and reflected, “The election didn’t really matter that much since there was only one person to vote for, but a lot of the people working there started cheering for me when they asked me if it was my first time, and that was really fun.” When asked why to vote in a General Election, she responded with “My mom votes every election, and she said ‘you have to vote, it’s your first time. It’s practice for the presidential election coming up.’”