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Democratic Gains in Va. House Give Arlington Officials Hope

Heartened by Democratic gains in the Virginia House of Delegates in last night’s election, local Democrats are hopeful for progress in Richmond on issues important to Arlington County.

Democrats had picked up 14 seats in the House on Tuesday, with the remaining four seats subject to re-counts and late results.

By early Wednesday, control was tied 50-50 after Democrats picked up another two seats overnight, a big change from the 66-34 advantage Republicans had enjoyed.

And with the Arlington County Board set to finalize its legislative agenda for the 2018 Virginia General Assembly session, which convenes in January, several elected officials said local issues can make some headway in Richmond.

One particularly important issue is Metro, which local leaders say needs a dedicated funding source to help ease its budget worries. Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said he will propose a dedicated funding source in what would be a symbolic move at the end of his term.

But with Governor-Elect Ralph Northam (D) to be joined by fellow Democrats Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring as lieutenant governor and attorney general, respectively, County Board member Christian Dorsey said that combined with more Democrats in the House could mean more advocates for Metro.

“It’s a game-changer for Arlington, because one of the things on our agenda that we’re trying to figure out, a dedicated funding source for Metro, we didn’t even feel we could bring it forward this year,” Dorsey, who represents Arlington on Metro’s Board of Directors, said. “Now we can, and now we will. It can be a potential game-changer for Arlington and the region.”

“It helps us in Arlington,” said Erik Gutshall, who won Tuesday’s election to the County Board to replace retiring chair Jay Fisette. “The biggest thing that was on my mind that helps me rest a little easier is Metro. I think that was not talked about much, but was hanging in the balance. The way it could have gone differently, it would have been crucial.”

And beyond Metro funding, County Board vice chair Katie Cristol said more Democrats in the House could mean greater investment and advocacy for other transit in Virginia, including the Virginia Railway Express.

Cristol said the election of Danica Roem in the 13th District could be a big help, as she has emphasized solving transportation issues in Prince William County and Manassas Park City.

“One of the things everybody is talking about, even nationally, is Danica Roem being a groundbreaker in terms of transgender equality,” Cristol said, referring to Roem’s election as the first openly transgender state lawmaker. “But I’ve been cheering for her because she’s such a champion for VRE. I think we’re excited about the opportunity to have partners in things we care about like transport funding.”

Beyond those region-specific issues, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D) said in a victory speech that House Democrats can start to look ahead and try and pass issues important to progressives. For Arlington, Dorsey pointed to the long-debated Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, as well as looking to the future of the environment.

“Medicaid expansion would be great to provide a bulwark for what’s going on with the federal government trying to destabilize the health insurance market places. That would be a great thing for Virginians,” he said. “We’ve been trying to do some things on the energy and environmental sustainability side with solar power. These don’t necessarily become real this year, but we can now see a path forward to work toward over the next couple of years.”

Dorsey added that with the new Democrats in the House means that Arlington can be less defensive in its legislative package, and start to advocate more vigorously for issues that matter to its elected officials and residents.

(Among the “wish list” items that were a long shot under GOP control but which may find traction: renaming Jefferson Davis Highway.)

“Our legislative agenda has always been, ‘How can we prevent them from doing the most harm to us, and then how can we build the groundwork to maybe move incrementally forward,'” Dorsey said. “Now we have a chance to say, ‘Hey, we can get some wins.’ So it’s terrific.”

The Arlington County Democratic Committee, meanwhile, attributed the record voter turnout in Arlington to grassroots organizing and opposition to President Donald Trump.

“The thousands of volunteer hours Arlington County Democratic Committee, the Virginia Democratic Party, and Arlington’s progressive grassroots organizations spent registering voters, knocking on doors, and making calls sends a strong message endorsing Democratic leadership,” ACDC said in a statement Tuesday night. “Arlingtonians voted in record numbers in person and via absentee voting, demonstrating that they have a clear idea of where Virginia should go – and it’s not the way of Donald Trump and current national policies.”

“Tonight is a tremendous victory for Arlington and Virginia,” said ACDC Chair Kip Malinosky. “However, as President Obama once said ‘This victory is not the change we seek, but the chance to make that change.’ We must now work to expand Medicaid, work for women’s reproductive health, invest in better schools, and train the workforce of the future – because yes, we still can.”

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