3 Things to Watch in VirginiaJan 17, 2024
An Historic Moment
The Virginia General Assembly is the oldest English-speaking legislative body in America. And for the first time in its 405-year history, the Virginia House of Delegates has elected a Black man as Speaker of the House!
Delegate Don Scott, D-Portsmouth was nominated after Democrats won control of the House in November 2023 and he won with a unanimous vote. He was sworn in during the opening of the 2024 session of the Virginia General Assembly at the Capitol in Richmond, VA on Wednesday, January 10. It was satisfying to see EVERYONE in the Capitol stand and applaud. No partisan showoffs grandstanding for attention. His speech was both funny and touching.
His 88-year-old mother, wife, and 15-year-old daughter were in attendance. As he was speaking about his mother, he got a little teary and said, “I know I’m a little soft right now, but I’m tough,” to laughs from the audience. He also paid homage to the people who came before him and those who helped him get to where he is, including the enslaved Virginians who helped build the Capitol.
His story isn’t an easy one and his path to become an elected official isn’t straightforward. He served in the Navy as a surface warfare officer and then entered law school. In 1994, during his third year in law school, he was arrested on drug charges. He was able to complete law school before serving nearly eight years in prison. Upon release he became a case worker for a workforce program. Eventually, he took the bar exam and became a partner in a law firm where he still works today. He was elected to the House of Delegates in 2019 and was elected as House Minority Leader in 2022.
Some of his priorities are protecting abortion rights, gay marriage, raising the minimum wage and restoring voting rights for felons who have fulfilled their penalties
On CBS Mornings, Scott said, “Damaged goods can sometimes turn out to be OK. And we’re a lot more interesting than the people who followed all the rules and did everything perfect.”
Sore Loser Rule
A Virginia General Assembly Senate committee is grappling with how to strengthen the commonwealth’s so-called “sore loser law,” rules that govern candidates who refuse to accept defeat in the primaries. The current law says that if you’ve run in a primary and lost, your name cannot be printed on the general-election ballot.
People who have run in Democratic and Republican primaries have threatened to or actually run write-in campaigns instead of supporting the candidate who won their primary. Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, argues that pursuing a write-in campaign is a way to skirt the law, so he filed a bill that would include write-in campaigns in the sore loser law.
Democrats were wary of this proposal, not wanting to take away voters’ rights to write-in a candidate of their choice. They voted against this bill.
The committee did vote to close a loophole in the current law. Technically, a candidate isn’t considered defeated in the primary if they formally drop out before election day, even if it’s after early voting has begun. This really happened last year. A candidate for the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors ran as a Republican for most of the 45-day early voting window, only to officially withdraw at the last minute and file to run in the general election as an independent.
Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke, said this could leave Virginia open to dirty politics. His bill details that any failed candidate who appears on a primary ballot cannot also appear on the general-election ballot. This measure passed with a vote of 10-4.
These clarifications are necessary because “sore losers” are looking for loopholes and even filing lawsuits to try to keep their campaigns alive.
Youngkin Trying to Give a Tax Break to the Wealthy
During his annual State of the Commonwealth address to the Virginia General Assembly, Governor Youngkin pushed to alter the commonwealth’s tax structure to benefit the rich – cutting income taxes and raising state taxes.
This would hurt lower income folks because everyone who buys in Virginia pays the same sales tax, regardless of income. And lower income residents spend far more of their income on necessities. The savings from any income tax cut would not match what low-income households would spend with the new sales tax on basic needs. However, the savings for the highest earners would be significant.
Youngkin offered other ways to cut taxes in his speech, but the Democratic majority in the House and the Senate were not here for it. Senate Majority Leader Scott Surovell said, “We’re $7 billion behind where we need to be funding K-12 right now. Tax cuts are not going to get us there, we really need to be talking about how to start solving these problems with resources instead of taking resources out of the system for a political stunt.”
Youngkin reminded the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate that he has veto power over progressive bills for stricter gun laws or repealing the anti-union “right to work” law, which nobody has proposed addressing this year.
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