The recent election in Virginia brought about significant changes in the partisan composition of the House of Delegates. While the election of Dr. Ralph Northam as governor and attorney Justin Fairfax as lieutenant governor along with the re-election of Attorney General Mark Herring kept the executive branch of government in Democratic hands, election results in the 100 House of Delegates districts were dramatically different. Republicans went into the election with a strong advantage controlling 66 of the 100 seats. It appears with some recounts to take place that they will end up with 51 seats or maybe even tied with Democrats at 50 seats each.
No one that I know predicted such a major shift; some refer to the outcome of the election as a political tsunami. It was not simply that Republicans lost 17 seats when the most optimistic prediction was that Democrats would gain maybe 10 or so seats. The majority party went into the election with a 66 to 34 advantage; they ended the election with the possibility of only a one member advantage or depending on the recount of votes a tie with Democrats. Beyond the number of seats lost, the majority party lost their caucus whip, chairs of three major committees and two members of the Appropriations Committee including one of its conferees. Their caucus chairman seemed to have lost until a transposition of numbers was discovered that allowed him to hang on by a thread.
I served during the term beginning in the year 2000 when a power sharing agreement was reached allowing an evenly split body to go forward with its business. I thought the system worked effectively as there was a process for working together. In such an arrangement there can be an emphasis on solving problems rather than simply getting credit.
Most encouraging during this election cycle was the gain in the number of people voting in the election. The experience over many decades was that about 75 percent of voters go to the polls in presidential election years and less than 50 percent in years when the governor is elected. That number increased to about 60 percent this year.Those people who decided to go to the polls made the difference especially in the House of Delegates races.
A further exciting outcome of this election was the dramatic diversification of the membership of the House that had been dominated by white men throughout its history. Most of the losses of incumbents came about by women candidates defeating them. Not only are there more women, there are two Latino and two Asian women, the first transgender woman, and a lesbian. There will be more diversity in the General Assembly than ever before in its history. The Commonwealth will be better for it.
The challenge will be to bring the new members quickly into the process and embrace the strengths that diversity brings. The institution can accommodate the changes that the bloodless revolution of 2017 brought about to the degree that the leadership will permit it.