A link here to my column in The Washington Post, the day after Democrats captured both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly for the first time since 1992. And the text for those who don’t pony up for a subscription:
The Confederacy in Virginia is dead. And Donald Trump presided.
Repulsed by the president, a new base of the Democratic Party rose up three years ago. It organized after the Women’s March in the blue suburbs of Washington and elsewhere, got behind a wealth of candidates new to campaigning, and flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates. Last year it flipped the congressional delegation from 7-4 Republican to 7-4 Democratic. And yesterday it added at least five more House seats and flipped at least two in the Senate, giving Democrats a unified majority of the political branches in the state, which already has a Democratic governor.
Emblematic of the shift was the victory of Shelly Simonds: In 2017, she lost a Virginia Beach seat in the House when the winner of a tie was drawn from a bowl; in 2019, she won with 58 percent and virtually the same number of votes, while the incumbent who defeated her two years ago received 3,500 fewer votes.
Democrats have a very different party from the one that last controlled both the legislature and governor’s office, before 1993. The old coalition of small farmers, blacks and city dwellers is gone. Instead the Democrats are educated, racially and ethnically diverse and women-dominated. They want gun control and better transit, health care and schools – and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Republicans, by contrast, have a shrinking base. Their margins in the suburbs have vanished. Their voters are whiter, less educated, and rural. They have stuck to the same issues – anti-tax, anti-abortion, pro-gun – that are untenable for a majority party in a state that has embraced the Capital Beltway’s high-tech, value-added economy.
Just ask Danica Roem. In 2017 she proudly acknowledged that she was trans and beat Bob Marshall and his homophobic campaign by running on better roads for fast-growing Prince William County. Roem cruised to reelection.
But the emotional backdrop of the last two years in the seat of the Confederacy is statues. In August 2017, white supremacists converged on Charlottesville to defend a 1924 statue of Robert E. Lee on horseback. Donald Trump defended the protestors – producing the low point of his popularity. Four month later, the House’s GOP bottled up bills that would have allowed localities to remove statues. It blocked Arlington from renaming Jefferson Davis Highway (Democratic Attorney General Mark Herring’s advisory opinion last spring circumvented the General Assembly).
Republicans in their 2018 Senate primary voted for a candidate who linked defenses of Trump and the statues as key planks in his unsuccessful campaign, continuing a string of statewide GOP losses dating to 2009. And in January, Senate Republicans still stopped to honor Lee – leading Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax to sit down.
Conventional wisdom is that Virginia’s Democrats go to sleep in the third year following a presidential election, when all 40 Senate seats are at the top of the ballot. But the new party ranks are the “pussy hats” of Jan. 21, 2017, who didn’t go home after the largest protest in Washington in memory. They organized, ran for office, knocked on doors, posted signs, wrote checks. They held meetings, publicized issues, built networks of committed volunteers who turned from electioneering to lobbying the legislature back to electioneering. In January they’ll go back to Richmond to ensure that their issues are addressed. And after that, they’ll work for Trump’s defeat.
In the process, the Indivisibles and We of Action and Network NOVA and Moms Demand Action and scores of other spontaneously formed and rigorously maintained grassroots groups have accelerated the death of the Confederacy in the same state house that governed the Lost Cause. The outgoing GOP legislature was the remaining bulwark defending its symbols, like the statues of Davis and Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
Expect that one of the first bills Gov. Ralph Northam (himself the subject of a “blackface” scandal 10 months ago) signs next winter will authorize localities to remove those statues. That page of our history is about to turn.