(Updated 9:10 a.m. on 1/26/22) A second candidate for the new, metropolitan House of Delegates District 2 has emerged.
And Adele McClure, 32, says she was in the right place at the right time to even consider running. She was in the middle of moving apartments when the state Supreme Court accepted new district maps after a months-long redistricting process.
“The opportunity literally arose when I found out my old place was no longer in the district and the new place was,” said McClure, who is the Executive Director of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus. “Isn’t that crazy? It felt like everything was aligning.”
If elected — and the election will likely be held in 2023 — McClure says she will increase funding for and expand affordable housing and homeownership opportunities, fully fund public schools, make healthcare more accessible and equitable, champion criminal justice reform and tackle climate change.
She said she will bring professional and personal experience to her role while, as a Black and Asian woman, representing marginalized perspectives in Arlington’s state delegation, which has been historically white. McClure has worked both in the legislative and executive branches of Virginia government and has lived experiences of the same issues she’s tackled professionally.
“I’ve been at the execute and implement stages, creating the legislation, getting it through and jumping it over to execution side to make sure that communities have the resources they need and connecting with folks to make sure the bill gets off the ground,” she said.
McClure says she experienced hunger and periodic homelessness growing up in the Alexandria portion of Fairfax County and attending the public schools there. In high school, she worked three jobs and took care of her niece and nephew while her brother was incarcerated. She was the first in her family to attend college, graduating in 2011 from the Virginia Commonwealth University.
“If you told me, as a little girl, I would be running to represent Arlington County, I would think it was so out of the realm of possibilities,” she said.
Since then, she has spent the last decade building up a resume of service in Arlington and in state politics.
After graduating from VCU, she moved to Arlington, where she lived until she decamped to Richmond to work under Virginia Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax as the policy director. (She resigned after he became the target of sexual assault allegations.)
She also ran the state Department of Housing & Community Development’s first eviction-prevention effort. Three years ago, McClure earned a spot in the law and policy category of the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list and was elected to the Forbes Under 30 Global Board.
In Arlington, McClure has served on the county’s Action Plan for Ending Homelessness, the Board of Directors for the Alliance for Housing Solutions, the Community Services Board and on the CSB’s Substance Use Disorder committee, and the Continuum of Care homelessness outreach program.
She is involved in the Arlington County Democratic Committee, has volunteered during elections as an assistant precinct chief, and worked to establish the Dulles Justice Coalition, which provided interpreters and attorneys to travelers when former President Donald Trump’s travel ban went into effect.
“There are a lot of folks out there who can give a ton of background and lived experience with these policies,” she said. “I’m intentional about reaching out to those who will be closely impacted by the legislation.”
She’ll be going up against Nicole Merlene, a former candidate for State Senate and ARLnow columnist. Merlene has also made expanding affordable housing in her hometown of Arlington a top priority and has an extensive resume of local leadership.
Columbia Pike Optician Robbed — “Security camera video captured the tense moments when a group of thieves robbed an Arlington County store owned by a man known in the community for his charity work… The five suspects take hammers to the cases and fill bags with Cartier, Dior and Gucci frames, about $60,000 of merchandise.” [NBC4]
Mail Delays Frustrate Residents — “Residents across the D.C. region have become increasingly frustrated over delays in mail deliveries, with last week’s snowstorms, a spike in coronavirus cases and long-standing problems with the U.S. Postal Service contributing to a breakdown in services… Arlington resident Diana Wahl said she received no mail between Dec. 27 and Jan. 9. She finally received some mail on Monday and Tuesday, but older mail.” [Washington Post]
Fmr. Local Prosecutor Joins New AG’s Office — “From the job title, it doesn’t look as if [former Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo] Stamos’s primary role is going to be to keep an eye on those prosecutors. But multi-tasking is the way of the world these days, and by picking her, Miyares certainly poked his thumb in the eye of some of the Northern Virginia chief prosecutors.” [Sun Gazette]
Some Local Libraries Closed — “Due to Covid-19 related staffing shortages, Cherrydale and Glencarlyn Libraries will be closed Thursday through Sunday, Jan. 13 – 16. All library locations are closed Monday, Jan. 17 for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.” [Arlington Public Library]
Winter Storm PSA from ACPD — From the Arlington County Police Department: “With the risk of another winter storm on the horizon, now is a good time to register for Arlington Alert to receive information on major emergencies, weather, traffic disruptions and transit delays in Arlington County.” [Twitter]
Arlington Loses Delegate on New Maps — “He’s been redistricted out of Arlington, but Del. Rip Sullivan said he will always consider the community a second political home.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Thursday — Today will have increasing clouds, with a high near 46. Sunrise at 7:25 a.m. and sunset at 5:09 p.m. Tomorrow will be mostly sunny, with a high near 44. North wind 8 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 23 mph. [Weather.gov]
Photo courtesy of Jeff Vincent/Flickr
New Restaurant Coming to Arlington Ridge — “Chef Seng Luangrath, the Laotian chef who has been recognized by Michelin and the James Beard Foundation, plans to open a new restaurant at a grocery-anchored retail center in South Arlington. Luangrath, whose restaurants include Thip Khao in Columbia Heights, has signed a lease with Edens for a roughly 3,500-square-foot space at the Arlington Ridge shopping center, according to marketing material and a source familiar with the situation.” [Washington Business Journal]
De Ferranti Looks Back at 2021 — “[Arlington County Board Chair Matt] de Ferranti’s year as chair began in early January 2021, and the surprises started early. ‘I did not expect to need to impose a curfew on my second full day as chair due to the rioting and insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6,’ he noted. But addressing COVID and its myriad implications was the issue that was at the top of the to-do list for much of the year.” [Sun Gazette]
Metro Temporarily Reducing Bus Service — “Metro’s Pandemic Taskforce is taking swift actions to protect the health and safety of its customers and employees against the recent surge in COVID-19 variants. Due to growing absenteeism rates across service areas related to COVID illness and exposures, Metro is reducing service schedules and implementing new workforce actions effective Monday, January 10.” [WMATA, Twitter]
Ebbin, Favola Unscathed from Redistricting — “Forget hand-knitted sweaters, gift cards or stale fruit-based confections: Two state senators whose districts include Arlington may have gotten the best holiday gifts of them all. State Sens. Barbara Favola and Adam Ebbin have emerged from the redistricting sausage-making process with districts that they likely are pleased with.” [Sun Gazette]
ART Bus Changes Today — “On Wednesday, January 5, ART will operate *Severe* service on *Saturday* schedules due to unsafe road conditions. Routes 41, 45, 51, 55, 77, and 87 will operate with detours and possible delays. Route 87 will terminate at Pentagon City Metro, not at Pentagon. All other ART routes, including 42, will not operate. In addition to the ‘Severe’ detour, there will be no 77 service between Walter Reed/Columbia Pike and S. Courthouse/2nd St S due to unsafe road conditions.” [Arlington Transit]
Hope for History Museum Boosters — “The new year will not bring the beginning of the end of renovation of the Arlington Historical Museum. It won’t even bring the end of the beginning. But, Arlington Historical Society leaders fervently hope, 2022 will go down as the beginning of the beginning. Historical Society officials for the past year have been taking a two-pronged approach to renovating and possibly expanding the museum, located in the former Hume School in Arlington Ridge.” [Sun Gazette]
It’s Wednesday — Today there is a chance of rain or freezing rain before 8 a.m., then a chance of rain between 8-11 a.m. Mostly cloudy otherwise, with a high near 44 and a low of 26. South wind 8 to 11 mph, with gusts as high as 25 mph. Sunrise at 7:27 a.m. and sunset at 5 p.m. Tomorrow will be partly sunny, with a high near 41 and a low of 30. Snow developing Thursday night into Friday. [Weather.gov]
Photo courtesy Niranjan Konduri
Arlington officially has a new Virginia House of Delegates district that has local Democrats talking about who will run for the seat. One hat has already been tossed into the ring as of today.
The Supreme Court of Virginia last week unanimously accepted new district maps for Virginia’s House of Delegates, the state Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. For Arlington’s Richmond representation, the maps created an entirely new House District 2 encompassing Arlington’s Metro corridors, and redrew boundaries for the state Senate.
Last fall, a newly-created bipartisan group, the Virginia Redistricting Commission, began the decennial process of redrawing district maps. When the group couldn’t agree on new maps, the courts appointed two “special masters” to draw the final maps.
The maps take effect in the next general election to be held for each office, says the Virginia Public Access Project, which would be this year for U.S. Congress, 2023 for state Senate and this year or 2023 for the House of Delegates.
The new maps divide Arlington into House Districts 1, 2 and 3, which are mostly contained within county lines, save for part of District 3, which extends into part of the City of Alexandria.
House District 2 includes Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, Crystal City and parts of Pentagon City. Those neighborhoods currently are part of House District 49 (represented by Del. Alfonso Lopez), House District 48 (represented by Del. Rip Sullivan), or House District 47 (represented by Del. Patrick Hope).
Sullivan, a McLean resident, has been redrawn out of Arlington and into the new District 6, which encompasses McLean and Great Falls.
Hope and Lopez also reside outside House District 2, according to a VPAP analysis, and some local Democrats are already thinking about who will represent the district, located within a populous, heavily Democratic part of Arlington.
Already hearing the names of at least half a dozen Dems thinking about running in the new, deep-"blue" HD2 in Arlington https://t.co/6alOwhWI5X pic.twitter.com/sJ5VJmvHFu
— Blue Virginia (@bluevirginia) December 29, 2021
Former State Senate candidate Nicole Merlene officially threw her hat into the ring this morning (Monday).
“After decades of underrepresentation in the Virginia General Assembly, Arlington’s metro corridor now has the opportunity to have a voice,” Merlene, who also previously wrote an ARLnow opinion column, said in her campaign announcement.
If elected, she said she will “help expand middle class housing, require mental health parity in our healthcare system, expand childcare capacity and increase school funding, expand criminal justice reform to eradicate the disproportionate incarceration of Black people, and include environmental sustainability in all legislation.”
A former progressive Democrat candidate for the state house, Matt Rogers, told ARLnow he’s mulling a bid as well.
“Of course I’m considering it,” said Rogers, who was stopped short of running against Hope in last summer’s Democratic primary due to a paperwork snafu.
Chanda Choun, who lost his bid for a seat on the County Board during the June primary to County Board Member Takis Karantonis said he’s not considering this seat right now.
“My current plan is to go on active military duty this spring and deploy to the Middle East for an Army Reserve mission,” he said.
An oft-discussed potential pick for state legislature, County Board Vice-Chair Katie Cristol, was not available to comment. She is poised to become the next County Board Chair during the Board’s first meeting of 2022, rescheduled from today to tomorrow (Tuesday) due to snow.
With redistricting complete, the Arlington County Republican Committee says it intends to put forward qualified House candidates.
“We were delighted to see Republican candidates in each of Arlington’s House of Delegates districts in 2021, and we encourage former candidates and would-be candidates to get involved in their community and consider running for office,” said GOP Communications Director Matthew Hurtt.
Newly proposed redistricting maps would create a new Virginia House district in Arlington while potentially pitting long-time Senate incumbents against each other.
Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia unveiled draft maps for the Virginia House of Delegates, the Virginia Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. The maps were drawn up by one Democrat and one Republican appointed by the court, after a non-partisan committee failed to complete the task earlier in the year.
The maps are based on 2020 census numbers and are not final. As mandated by federal and state law, districts are redrawn every decade based on new census data.
In the proposed maps, both the borders and numbering system of all the Virginia House districts are altered. The Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP) has a tool that allows residents to see which House, Senate or Congressional district they’d be in if these maps were approved.
While the proposed maps have those who follow state politics considering the Commonwealth’s future political alignment, in Arlington the potential redistricting does not alter the Democratic stronghold.
But the draft maps do take into account Arlington’s recent population growth, as 15% more people live in the county now compared to a decade ago.
The maps propose an entirely new House district that essentially encompasses Arlington’s Metro corridors, including Rosslyn, Courthouse, Clarendon, Virginia Square, Ballston, Crystal City and parts of Pentagon City.
Currently, those neighborhoods are either part of House District 49 (represented by Del. Alfonso Lopez), House District 48 (represented by Del. Rip Sullivan), or House District 47 (represented by Del. Patrick Hope).
None of these incumbents reside in the proposed newly-created House District 2, a VPAP analysis says, meaning there’s an empty seat that could be filled by a political newcomer.
“They redrew maps by shrinking the borders of the current districts,” said David Ramadan, professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a former Virginia House delegate for Loudoun County. “Because [the law] requires them to have a close to equal population. That’s why there’s a new district.”
The population of Arlington’s Metro corridors, purposefully, have grown tremendously in size over the last decade. In fact, a census tract within Ballston now has the highest density of population in the entire D.C. area.
Local officials are already taking notice of this potential new district in Arlington, which would likely add another Democrat to the Virginia House of Delegates.
Looks like Arlington would have an open House of Delegates district with this map—HD 2 including Ballston, Courthouse, Lyon Park, Rosslyn, and Crystal City https://t.co/sUkoK7YZkt
— Barbara Kanninen (@BarbaraKanninen) December 9, 2021
Senate maps, meanwhile, do not propose a new district, but they could pit two long-standing local Democrat incumbents against each other in the next primary election.
Janet Howell, first elected in 1991, currently represents Senate District 32, which covers Dominion Hills, East Falls Church and Westover as well as parts of Fairfax County. The new maps would see those Arlington neighborhoods moved to District 40.
A big chunk of the current Senate District 31, which includes Rosslyn, Ballston, Cherrydale, Columbia Pike, Pentagon City, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge, will also become part of District 40. District 31 has been represented by Barbara Favola for a decade.
Local Dog Adoption Demand is High — “Kim Williams, who volunteers for the Lost Dog and Cat Rescue Foundation of Arlington, Virginia, has tapped into a puppy pipeline of sorts to bring some of Georgia’s homeless pet population to the mid-Atlantic region where they are bombarded by requests for dogs to adopt.” [WMAZ]
American Reducing Service at DCA — “American Airlines is discontinuing service to more than 20 destinations from Reagan National Airport in January, according to new data reported by the Official Airline Guide. Cities and/or airports dropped range from major (New York-JFK; Las Vegas; St. Louis; Minneapolis-St. Paul) to smaller (Jackson, Miss.; Manchester, N.H.; Greensboro, N.C.). Many were served just once or twice per day.” [InsideNova]
Land Transfer May Speed Bridge Project — “Interesting: NPS is ‘supportive’ of conveying four acres of parkland to VA and DC to construct the Long Bridge(s), rather than just permitting. That would likely speed design and construction, and could result in a ped/bike span that doesn’t compromise as much on width and lighting in order to conform to NPS interests.” [@CarFreeHQ2/Twitter]
Local Wildlife Caught on Camera — “Arlington resident Levi Novey and his wife Alicia have captured footage documenting quite an array of critters passing through their yard via a fence that Levi has dubbed a ‘wildlife superhighway…’ So far their fence camera has photographed foxes, raccoons, mice, housecats, chipmunks, and lots of birds and possums.” [WJLA]
Redistricting Commission Applications Open — “Beginning Monday, Virginians will have a month to apply for one of eight public seats on the state’s new redistricting commission, which has begun its work with a panel of retired judges setting out plans for the application process.” [Washington Post]
Stormy Day Today — “Get ready for a wild weather finish to November. A strong storm system develops and moves through… bringing a mix of hazards to our area in a short time frame, capped off by the potential for strong to possibly severe storms Monday afternoon. No specific warnings or advisories have been issued, but expect a good soaking of one to two-plus inches of rain (and some wild temperature swings).” [Capital Weather Gang, Twitter]
DCA Noise Study Launched — “In a partnership that stretches across the Potomac River, Arlington and Montgomery counties have launched a joint study to mitigate aircraft noise from nearby Reagan National Airport. A team of technical experts representing the suburban Virginia and Maryland counties will study flight procedures, consult residents and propose to the Federal Aviation Administration ways to reduce noise pollution.” [WTOP]
Amazon Doubling Down on Offices — Amazon “is expanding its physical offices in six U.S. cities and adding thousands of corporate jobs in those areas, an indication the tech giant is making long-term plans around office work even as other companies embrace lasting remote employment. Amazon is preparing to add 3,500 corporate jobs across hubs in New York, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Detroit and Dallas.” [Wall Street Journal]
State Senators Support Redistricting Amendment — “The Arlington County Democratic Committee may have come out against the state constitutional amendment on redistricting that will be on Virginia’s Nov. 3 ballot. But the three members of Arlington’s state Senate delegation say they support it nonetheless. The amendment to create a redistricting commission represents ‘a big step forward,’ said Sen. Adam Ebbin. [InsideNova]
WWII Marker Replaced by Gun Violence Garden — “In 1952, a marker was unveiled in Arlington by the Gold Star Mothers of America… In June, a handsome new garden was dedicated in that space. It was created by the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia to honor Moms Demand Action, an organization dedicated to addressing gun violence.” [Washington Post]
Local BLM Protest Organizers Profiled — “In late May, as outrage over George Floyd’s killing in police custody roiled the nation, Anika and Yolande Kwinana decided they had to do something. Anika, 49, a program manager in the Kennedy Center’s education division, and Yolande, 28, a business development associate for Salesforce… decided to organize a smaller demonstration themselves, in Arlington.” [Arlington Magazine]
Local Beer Store Pivots to Delivery — “Les Shaver tells the story of The Brew Shop, a specialty wine and beer store in Arlington, Va., that has been exceptionally resilient despite the impact of Covid-19. In the article, How One Small Beer Shop Tapped Into Online Sales in Response to COVID-19, Shaver recounts how owners Julie Drews and Beth Helle have been able to stay ahead of the curve by quickly shifting their brick and mortar format to online and delivery services.” [Craft Brewing Business]
Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman
Prosecutor Files Petition Against Judges — “A northern Virginia prosecutor who says her county’s judges are infringing on her discretion to dismiss charges and enter plea bargains is asking the state Supreme Court to intervene on her behalf. Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti filed a petition Friday asking the court for a relief from a policy imposed by the county’s four Circuit Court judges.” [Associated Press]
New BBQ Pop-Up Coming to Pentagon City — “In their spare time [chefs Kevin Tien and Scott Chung] dreamed up Wild Tiger BBQ, which launches Thursday, August 20 next to Bun’d Up at Pentagon Row in Arlington. The pop-up will run Thursday through Saturday for the first few weeks.” [Washingtonian]
‘Bumper Crop of Mosquitos’ — “With the floods of summer come the pests of summer — bloodsucking mosquitoes. It takes several days to a couple of weeks for mosquitoes to hatch, molt and fly out of floodwater, but the swarms eventually arrive, in greater numbers than before the flood. After the recent flooding from thunderstorms and Tropical Storm Isaias in the Washington region, a bumper crop of mosquitoes has emerged.” [Washington Post]
Retired Colonel Helps With COVID Response — “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early March, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel David Ashley quickly found his planned spring and summer mountain climbing trips canceled. He spent about a week doing projects around his Arlington home, but after 27 years in the military, he realized he need something else, something with more purpose.” [Arlington County]
Cab Exec’s Offensive Post Makes Headlines — “An elected town council member in Strasburg, Va., who also is chairman of the 6th Congressional District’s Republican Committee admitted this week that he posted, then removed, a sexually offensive meme targeted at Sen. Kamala D. Harris… [John] Massoud, who is vice president of Arlington’s Blue Top taxi service and was an unsuccessful candidate against ex-Del. Bob Brink for a House of Delegates seat from Arlington in 1997 and 1999, moved to the Shenandoah Valley about 10 years ago.” [Washington Post]
Analysis of Rents Near Metro Stations — “The most expensive rents ($2,200 and up) are found in areas of Arlington and Washington, DC. Rent near the Ballston-MU station is in the mid-range among DC Metro stops. But while the median price increased near Court House, it decreased near Ballston-MU, according to the analysis. The median rent for a one-bedroom unit near Ballston-MU is $1,975, a 1.3 percent decrease from 2019.” [Patch]
Clement Rips Dems for Redistricting Stance — “An independent candidate for Arlington County Board has criticized the Arlington County Democratic Committee for its opposition to a nonpartisan-redistricting constitutional amendment on the state ballot in November. Audrey Clement, who is challenging incumbent Democrat Libby Garvey for County Board, said the Democrats’ vote seems disingenuous for a party that claims to be about good government.” [InsideNova]
Arlington Makes Top Travel Destination List — “For all the talk of a move to small, less densely populated destinations, Hotwire also ranked much bigger cities. Its ‘midsize must see’ picks were St. Louis; Tampa, Florida; Atlanta; Arlington, Virginia; Tucson, Arizona; Tulsa, Oklahoma; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Pittsburgh; Miami; and Cincinnati.” [CNBC]
Arlington Dems Reject Bipartisan Redistricting — “Despite criticism from within the party that the move would be seen as blatantly partisan as well as bad policy, the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s membership on Aug. 6 voted to oppose the state constitutional amendment that, if enacted, would set up an independent redistricting commission.” [InsideNova]
Marymount Announces Reorganization — “In its latest strategic initiative, Transform MU, Marymount University is restructuring its existing academic programs into three highly focused Colleges, each combining disciplines to create broader educational and research opportunities.” [Press Release]
Diocese Announces New Virtual School — “The Catholic Diocese of Arlington announced it will offer a fully virtual school for grades K-8 in the 2020-2021 academic year, which begins in early September. The school, St. Isidore of Seville Catholic Virtual School, provides a new option to parents interested in enrolling their children in local Catholic schools. All 41 brick-and-mortar Catholic schools in the Diocese, which serve 17,000 students, have announced they will reopen in the fall for either safe-distance full-time in-person instruction or a combination of in-person instruction and e-Learning. St. Isidore offers families an option for full-time virtual learning.” [Catholic Diocese of Arlington]
Local Teen Raises Money for Yemen — “Since July 1, an Arlington teenager has raised $300 for Saba Relief. The organization helps people affected by the crisis in Yemen. Emily Tesone started hand sewing plushies for her friends when the pandemic began. Her hobby grew more meaningful after she learned about what was happening in Yemen.” [WDVM]
Flickr pool photo by Eric
Dorsey: Safety Over Late Night Hours — “Metro Boardmember and Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey… says Metro’s first responsibility is not to run as much service as possible, but to keep the service that is being run as safe as possible. He supports more maintenance.” Meanwhile, Metro is considering a plan to subsidize late night Uber and Lyft service. [Twitter, Washington Post]
Arlington Redistricting on Kojo Show — The always-controversial redrawing of school boundaries in Arlington was the topic of a recent discussion on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, featuring APS Superintendent Patrick Murphy and community leaders. [Kojo Nnamdi Show, Twitter]
Zoning, Permitting Offices Closing Tomorrow — “Arlington’s planning and DES permitting offices are running away for a long romantic Valentine’s weekend. When they return [on Tuesday], they will live as one exclusively on the tenth floor of 2100 Clarendon Blvd.” [Arlington County, Twitter]
Snow Threats Coming This Weekend, Next Week — “In the past day, computer models have begun advertising the potential for a snow event on Saturday. And it may mark the start of a series of winter storms that streak across the Washington region.” [Washington Post]
Check Out ARLnow’s Instagram — ARLnow’s Insta currently features photography from around our fair county. Coming soon: more photos, plus contests and other exclusives. [Instagram]
After years facing powerful Republican majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly, Arlington lawmakers are accustomed to harboring only modest ambitions for each legislative session.
But as legislators return to Richmond today (Wednesday), members of the county’s all-Democratic delegation say they’re ready to flex their muscles a bit over the new, 45-day session.
With all 140 lawmakers on the ballot this fall and Democrats just one seat away from seizing power in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, Arlington legislators sense an opening. Republicans have taken a beating in all manner of elections across the state over the last two years, and Democrats expect that will inform how GOP leaders manage their slim majorities in this session.
Arlington lawmakers hope that will result in some of the party’s more moderate members finally embracing their efforts around everything from redistricting reform to gun violence prevention, in a bid to appear more attractive to swing voters. What it all comes down to for state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th District) is a simple motto for his colleagues across the aisle: “lead, follow or get out of the way.”
“They can can decide to lead on some of the most important issues facing Virginia, which they have failed to do, they can choose to follow Democrats, or they can have voters get them out of the way,” Ebbin told ARLnow. “If they come to the table on a variety of issues, I think their chances are enhanced… But will [House Speaker Kirk Cox] want to allow bills to come to the floor so that a handful of members who want to appear to be moderates vote for them, or even sponsor them? Time will tell.”
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th District) says he’s “hopeful” that Republicans will pursue such a strategy over the next weeks — not only does he see it as wise political strategy, he jokes that “with my last name, I don’t have a choice” but to be optimistic.
But Del. Mark Levine (D-45th District) takes a gloomier view of the GOP, arguing that Richmond Republicans have done nothing but “march in lockstep” with their leadership for years, and could soon face an electoral price for doing so.
“If moderate Republicans continue to fall in line and do what’s against their constituents’ wishes, we will absolutely run against them for it and they will lose in November,” Levine said. “I see it as a win-win: either we get the policies we want, with majority support, or we get these people out.”
Should Republicans choose to sign onto some Democratic priorities, Arlington legislators see two key areas for agreement: a constitutional amendment establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines, and the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
In both cases, the Democrats expect they’ll have enough votes to pass the bills on the floor — Republicans have either introduced or co-sponsored bills on both subjects — the question is whether the legislation will make it out of committee, where a handful of lawmakers have the power to quickly kill the bills.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th District), a key backer of redistricting reforms, sees a real “sense of urgency” to the aforementioned issue this year, simply due to timing. Democrats hope to pass a constitutional amendment before the next round of redistricting in 2021, and that requires a complex process.
Lawmakers need to pass the amendment twice: once before a legislative election, and once afterward. Then, the matter will head to a statewide ballot referendum, which Sullivan is hoping to line up with the 2020 elections. Should it pass all those hurdles, stripping power from lawmakers to draw their own districts, the new commission would be in place by the time the Census mandates a change in boundary lines.
Considering that Democrats may well take control of the General Assembly this fall, Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th District) expects it would be in the best interest of Republicans to agree on a nonpartisan process now while they still can. Levine notes that it doesn’t help the GOP’s chances either that federal courts have ordered a redrawing of some House district lines over claims they were racially gerrymandered, a process that will likely weaken Republican chances in several important seats.
“Not passing something will essentially hand the reins of gerrymandering back to Democrats, and I don’t think that’s what they want,” Lopez said.
Even with this newfound pressure, however, Sullivan says it’s “not clear to me that leadership will even allow a vote” on redistricting or the ERA ratification, which could revive the long-dormant effort to mandate equal rights for women in the U.S. Constitution.
“There’s a lot of momentum behind the ERA, so it will be interesting to see if Republicans, in an election year, will let it come forward for a vote,” Hope said. “And I’m absolutely convinced it will pass if gets to the floor.”
Instead, it seems clear to lawmakers that a debate over tax revenues will prove to be the dominant issue of this legislative session.
The Republican tax reform bill shepherded through Congress in 2017 will result in an extra $1.2 billion in state revenues, and battles lines are already being drawn about how to spend that money. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam is proposing a mix of tax relief for low- and middle-income families and new investments in everything from education to broadband access; Republicans would rather see all of the money invested in tax breaks for slightly wealthier earners.
“If you think we argue or fight when times are tight, wait until you see the kind of arguing we can do when there’s extra money,” Sullivan said.
Cox and his fellow Republicans claim that Northam’s proposal amounts to a “middle-class tax hike” because it doesn’t send all of the savings generated by the federal tax cut back to middle-income families. But Democrats charge that the GOP’s plan, which centers on households making between $125,000 and $150,000 a year, targets only richer families and leaves the poor behind.
“We really need to encourage those folks working hard in the toughest economic circumstances to make it easier for them to have childcare, to have healthcare,” Ebbin said. “For people working hard, we should help them get ahead. That’s what this country is about.”
Democrats point out that Northam’s proposed investments, which could raise teacher pay across the state and expand select healthcare programs, would provide their own benefits for Virginians across the income spectrum. But Lopez also concedes that the most likely scenario is that the two sides strike a a compromise with “a little bit of both” tax relief and new spending.
With all this uncertainty, however, one thing is for sure — the short session will move awful quickly, especially with elections on the horizon.
“It’s going to go fast, and it’s going to be furious,” Lopez said. “And there are a lot of issues affecting Arlington families that we’re going to try to keep folks updated on.”