People For the American Way

The Blue Wave and a Day Full of Firsts at the Virginia Capitol

State and Local Update
The Blue Wave and a Day Full of Firsts at the Virginia Capitol

It was a day full of firsts at the Virginia Capitol on January 8, 2020 as 23 newly elected members of the General Assembly were sworn in as legislators and the year’s first session convened. People For the American Way’s Political Director Lizet Ocampo traveled to Richmond to witness the swearing in of Democratic legislators whom PFAW or our Next Up Victory Fund endorsed as candidates in 2019—and whom you helped elect—and to witness history in the making.

In addition to flipping Virginia blue, leadership positions in the General Assembly went to women for the first time in the history of the legislative body’s existence. Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) became the first woman and the first Jewish person to ever serve as Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, which has been in place for 400 years. Delegate Charniele Herring (D-46) became the first woman and the first African American to serve as House Majority Leader.

Delegate Charniele Herring, first female and first African American House Majority Leader, poses with PFAW political director Lizet Ocampo.
Delegate Charniele Herring, first female and first African American House Majority Leader, poses with PFAW political director Lizet Ocampo.

Democrats are now in control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate for the first time in 25 years, and with a Democratic governor, the time to write and pass legislation covering a variety of progressive priorities is now.

Topping the legislative to-do list is ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia is one of only 13 states that have yet to ratify the amendment, which guarantees equal rights and freedom from discrimination to all Americans, regardless of sex. Should passage occur, Virginia may be the last state needed before the amendment can go to Congress, and, hopefully, become a part of the Constitution. As a Constitutional Amendment, the ERA would affect everything from fair wages to the handling of sex-based discrimination cases.

Activists rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment on January 8, 2020.
Activists rally in support of the Equal Rights Amendment on January 8, 2020.

Other top priorities for Virginia legislators include tightening gun control laws, providing tuition-free community college to students planning to enter select high-demand fields, raising the state’s minimum wage, decriminalizing marijuana, and ending driver’s license suspensions for individuals with unpaid court fees.

Virginians stand to benefit from this administration in other ways, too. Lawmakers have floated ideas about expanding access to early childhood education; designating Election Day as a state holiday in order to increase access to the polls and increase an individual’s chances of voting; and making the switch to green energy sources to not only create jobs, but also to combat climate change.

The blue wave that enables this progressive agenda would not have been possible without the help and support of PFAW members in Virginia and around the country. Your support made it possible for our Latinos Vote! program to place radio ads and rapid response digital ads for competitive seats in key districts. Victories in key elections that resulted in the swearing in of Joshua Cole and Dan Helmer, and the continued service of Danica Roem, Kelly Fowler, and Lee Carter, among others, were crucial to turning Virginia blue. We look forward to celebrating more legislative victories throughout 2020.