Northern Virginia’s Democratic legislators next year aim to keep Republicans from rolling back victories they achieved in 2020 and 2021, when their party controlled both the General Assembly and statewide offices.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-McLean) outlined the Democrats’ strategy during a Nov. 29 virtual town-hall meeting.
“Defense, defense and defense,” he said of his top three priorities. “The governor wants to unwind some things we did a couple of years ago, particularly in the energy space.”
Republicans likely will chip away at some recent environmental legislation, including Clean Vehicles Virginia, Clean Economy Act and Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), Sullivan said.
The GOP probably also will take aim at “red-flag” gun laws that allow authorities temporarily to remove firearms from people deemed to pose risks to themselves or others, he added.
While such repeals likely will succeed in the Republican-majority House of Delegates, Sullivan said he promptly will visit his colleagues in the Democratic-controlled state Senate to “stiffen their backbones” and stop the GOP’s efforts there.
Sullivan praised Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s interest in affordable-housing and mental-health issues. The governor also has expressed interest in using part of Virginia’s reserve funds for tax cuts, but some area lawmakers urged restraint on that front.
“A tax cut is an attractive option, but we also have to be responsible for needs of commonwealth,” said Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston), adding that a recession may be looming.
Local lawmakers vowed to resist efforts by Youngkin (R) to adjust educational content for the state’s public schools. The governor’s first executive order, signed Jan. 15 right after he was inaugurated, seeks to end promotion of “inherently divisive concepts,” such as Critical Race Theory and its progeny, in Virginia’s schools.
The executive order urges teaching students how to think, not what to think, and equipping teachers to teach them “the entirety of our history – both good and bad,” including slavery, segregation, poor treatment of Native Americans, the World War II fight against the Nazis, the civil-rights movement and Cold War against communism.
But Democratic legislators opposed the governor’s recent efforts to change Virginia’s curricula.
“It’s not in anyone’s best interest to miss part of history, but also it leaves out a lot of the critical thinking and problem solving,” said state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Herndon).
Writing educational standards is the Virginia Board of Education’s job, not the General Assembly’s, and recent attempts to rewrite the state’s history and social-studies curricula are an “insult to the people of Virginia,” Plum said. “They’ll make Virginia the laughingstock of the nation.”
“There’s an effort to right-wing whitewash the curriculum in Virginia,” Plum continued. “The state Board of Education is on its third effort to try to turn back Virginia’s progress. We need to make a loud voice to the state Board of Education and say no, no to these new standards.”
Boysko was unhappy with efforts to revoke in-state college tuition for undocumented Virginians, saying the government instead should be improving people’s access to higher education. The issue also is economic, as many people are leaving the workforce and jobs are going unfilled, she said.
Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-McLean-Great Falls) in the next session will focus on women’s rights, schools, health care, voting rights and two issues of personal importance: combating diseases (a daughter of hers recently died of cancer) and firearm safety (her brother was murdered with a gun).
“It’s too easy to buy a gun, even when you’re underage,” she said.
Murphy was displeased with some Republicans’ stances on gender and reproductive issues, calling them “inhumane and insulting.”
“I really don’t like what is happening when they’re talking about the LGBT community,” she said. “It’s like they’re encouraging attacks . . . I think we’ve got enough real problems in this community, in this commonwealth, to deal with. We don’t need to be inventing problems.”
Speaking of hot-button issues, abortion likely will continue to remain legal in Virginia, predicted Del. Irene Shin (D-Herndon), who served as the forum’s moderator.
Sullivan, who first was elected in a 2014 special election to succeed Del. Robert Brink (D), said the public likely would be amazed to learn how briskly legislators must work during their upcoming 45-day session.
“The velocity is really unbelievable,” he said. “It’s like jumping on a rocket. It’s an enormously compressed and frankly stressful period of time.”
Despite irreconcilable differences on some issues, legislators from both parties each year manage to pass hundreds of nuts-and-bolts bills either unanimously or with minor opposition, Sullivan said.
“We get along a lot better than people think we do,” Boysko said of legislators, but added, “It’s a very difficult time to be in public service right now.”