It was fun while it lasted – a scant two years – but the Arlington County Board looks likely to no longer be seeing as many kindly, welcoming faces in Richmond for the coming legislative session.
Republicans in 2022 will control all three executive offices and the House of Delegates, while Democrats will have a wafer-thin majority in the state Senate. For Arlington leaders, it will be a near-turnabout from the past two legislative sessions, and may require the county to play defense in an effort to simply protect its political priorities from being undone.
Board members this week were slated to meet with the seven-member county legislative delegation to try and survey the new landscape and determine how to respond.
“We’ll keep most of our priorities, revise a few of them significantly to reflect the new realities, and reframe some of them to increase our chances of success,” County Board Chairman Matt de Ferranti predicted to the Sun Gazette.
And despite the zig-zagging political winds, de Ferranti’s crystal ball suggests the county could actually be able to find success in the 2022 session. And no, he is not smoking some of that newly-decriminalized-by-Democrats marijuana in making that prognostication.
De Ferranti says much of the county’s past legislative priorities were achieved under Democratic rule, and “our remaining priorities now have broader support across the commonwealth – the result of our listening to our legislators and legislators from across Virginia while staying true to Arlington’s ideals, a balance we will continue to seek to strike as we finalize our 2022 priorities.”
That seems to be the prevailing view, too, of a number of senior legislators, including Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington), who said he would advise county leaders to avoid a wholesale rewrite of policy positions, since they “are largely based on community input and good government.”
“However, I would set expectations to what can be accomplished with divided government and a new administration that may have competing priorities,” Hope told the Sun Gazette.
In the upper house, state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington-Fairfax-Loudoun) also urged local officials to make common cause, where possible, with the new reality facing them in Richmond.
The state government “can be a strong partner in helping to fund improved and expanded multi-modal transit; early-childhood educational opportunities, especially for economically at-risk 3- and 4-year-olds; and expansions in Arlington’s affordable-housing stock,” Favola told the Sun Gazette.
In addition, “I believe there is bipartisan support for ensuring the fiscal health of communities across the commonwealth, because the economic growth enabled by sensible policies at the local level contributes significantly to the state’s coffers,” she said.
As for hot-button local issues like zoning? “I expect Republicans and Democrats will have differing views of how business and government should intersect and what direct public benefits can be expected from private investments, but I also believe there is room for negotiation,” said Favola, who before election to the Senate served on the Arlington County Board.
On Oct. 16, the all-Democratic County Board delivered its 2022 legislative-priorities package to the public, with adoption slated for this week. In that one-month period, Democratic fortunes have sunk across the commonwealth, although the party remained impregnable at the local level in the Nov. 2 election.
Democratic control of the 40-member state Senate may provide the backstop to prevent Republicans from repealing much of the legislation passed and signed into law over the past two years. But Republican leaders are sure to be eyeing Democrats in the Senate who might be willing to support portions of the GOP agenda.
Back in the lower House, where Democrats won’t be able to pass anything without GOP support, Hope said he sees areas of common interest emerging.
“I strongly believe we can work together to fund community-based mental health and substance abuse, and make meaningful investments in our behavioral-health workforce,” he said. “I’m committed to working with the new administration and majorities in the House and Senate to continue to build on our progress. I’m hopeful we will find common ground.”
In the years before Democrats won back control of the state Senate in 2017 and the House of Delegates in 2019, downstate legislators – not limited to Republicans – seemed to have an intense, visceral dislike of Arlington and its local leaders, partly due to policy differences but also due to personality conflicts.
Those state legislators seemed to go out of their way to bring Arlington to heel, taking actions to handcuff and emasculate local leaders such as rescinding Arlington’s power to tax hotel stays for tourism-promotion revenue, or trimming transportation funding.
Caught in the middle were members of the all-Democratic Arlington legislative delegation, who often had to run interference for the county government among their Republican colleagues when a County Board member would take a position or make a comment that drew umbrage in Richmond.
Six of the seven incumbent members of the Arlington delegation – Favola and fellow Sens. Janet Howell and Adam Ebbin and Hope and fellow Dels. Rip Sullivan and Alfonso Lopez – will return for the 60-day 2022 session that starts in early January. They will be joined by newly elected 45th District Del. Elizabeth Bennett-Parker, an Alexandria City Council member who in June knocked off Del. Mark Levine in the Democratic primary and on Nov. 2 defeated Republican J.D. Maddox in the general election. The 45th District includes a sliver of South Arlington, although that may be excised from the boundaries in the pending legislative redistricting.