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Progressive Voice: The Consequences of Elections

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Larry Roberts

Democratic sweeps in Arlington are not a given, but often occur. In some instances, Arlington is in tune with the rest of the Commonwealth, though usually a much deeper shade of blue. In other years. Arlington is out of step with electoral results in the Commonwealth as a whole.

This year, the County’s voters were largely in step with voters in the Commonwealth as a whole – particularly urban and suburban areas – in an extraordinary night for Democratic candidates.

Governor-Elect Ralph Northam’s nine point victory exceeded most expectations. He received over 300,000 more votes than Gov. Terry McAuliffe in 2013. Lt. Governor-Elect Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring also achieved victory margins exceeding most expectations.

The tectonic shift in the Commonwealth was in House of Delegates elections. Going into the election, House Republicans held a 66-34 edge over House Democrats. Most observers expected that the Democrats would pick up five to eight seats. No one imagined Democrats picking 15 seats, with two more still in play. It is now conceivable, though unlikely, that Democrats will gain control of the House of Delegates or a 50-50 tie leading to a power sharing arrangement.

Assuming the House ends up at 51-49 for the Republicans and the Senate — not up for election in 2017 and has a 21-19 Republican advantage, what will this mean for Arlington? What does the Democratic statewide office sweep – giving Democrats 10 straight statewide victories — mean?

We can expect the policies of the Northam Administration will track closely the McAuliffe Administration across the broad spectrum of issues – including economic development, education, transportation, Constitutional rights, and promoting equality and inclusion as core values. Governor-Elect Northam has announced that native Alexandrian Clark Mercer will serve as his Chief of Staff, which will assure that Northern Virginia, and its inner suburbs, will have a seat at the governing table.

We can expect that Justin Fairfax and Mark Herring will also provide continuity in the Lt. Governor’s and Attorney General’s offices.

Personalities and priorities do differ, however. Governor-Elect Northam has largely aligned himself with issue positions supported by most Arlington voters. At the same time, he grew up on the Eastern Shore and has lived most of his life in Hampton Roads with its own unique issues and challenges that sometimes, but not always, track those of Northern Virginia.

There will be early signs of whether Governor Northam’s Administration will reflect the multiculturalism that is the reality of Northern Virginia and place as great an emphasis on transportation – particularly multimodal transportation -more important to Northern Virginia and Arlington than any other part of the Commonwealth.

Others will be changes Governor Northam makes to the budget introduced by Governor McAuliffe, any adjustments to the state education funding formula and levels, and signals Governor Northam sends about tax reform – which affects each region and even locality differently.

The biggest changes will likely occur in the General Assembly. On a procedural level, Democrats will gain seats on House Committees. On a policy level, Governor Northam will likely have less need to use his veto pen than Governor McAuliffe. And House Republicans will have difficult calculations on whether to make adjustments to their legislative agenda.

That will in large measure depend on whether they believe their slim majority is more likely to remain in place in 2019 through moderation and bipartisanship or, alternatively, by introducing and voting on legislation by party line votes because they believe they can regain seats in 2019 by hewing to a conservative line.

Arlington legislators, and Northern Virginia legislators in general, will certainly have substantially more say in activities in House Committees and on the House floor.

There is some hope that the House and Senate will reflect on the changing demographics and population shifts in Virginia and feel a need to keep their majorities by reconsidering the importance of such issues as Medicaid expansion, transit funding including support for Metro, and how inclusion and equality contribute to the health of Virginia’s economy. Such a shift would bring the Commonwealth more in line with the issue positions of most Arlington voters.

Finally, we now know that Republicans will not have sole control of the redistricting process in Virginia in 2021. This gives hope for nonpartisan redistricting reform efforts. In any event, redistricting will have to be bipartisan. That is likely to result in districts that will lead to Congressional and General Assembly membership more philosophically aligned with Arlington.

Lawrence Roberts recently served as Campaign Chair of the Justin Fairfax for Lt. Governor campaign. In the past, he has served as Counselor to the Governor in Richmond and Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. He has been active in civic organizations in Arlington, Northern Virginia, and statewide. He is an attorney in private practice.

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