It is very good news that Ralph Northam won the Virginia governor’s race, showing that “Trumpism without Trump” — championing his issues without embracing the man — doesn’t sell. But even more important in the long run is that the Democrats made huge gains in the Virginia House of Delegates, their version of the state legislature.
Unofficial returns showed Democrats unseating at least 11 Republicans and flipping three seats that had been occupied by GOP incumbents who didn’t seek reelection. Four other races were so close that they qualify for a recount, and results will determine control of the chamber. The results marked the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since the Watergate era.
Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since 2000, went into Tuesday holding 66 of 100 seats.
Several winners made history in a year in which a record number of women ran and Democrats fielded the most candidates in recent memory.
One Democrat became Virginia’s first openly transgender person to win elective office, unseating an opponent of LGBT rights. The election signaled a major shift in the gender of a body long dominated by men: Of the 14 seats Democrats flipped, all were held by men and 10 were won by women. And two of those women, both from Prince William County, became the first Latinas elected to the General Assembly.
“This is an unbelievable night,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) in an interview an hour after polls closed. “There were districts we didn’t think we had much of a shot in.”
The final results may not be known for a while since a number of the races are still too close to call and will need recounts, but even if the Republicans hang on, this is a major shift at the state level.
That is where it really matters. State legislatures are where voting district lines are drawn and where gerrymandering takes place, creating GOP strongholds when there are a majority of Democrats in the region. Medicare expansion, school funding, and infrastructure spending is determined by the state, doling out federal dollars as they see fit. Gun laws, restrictions on reproductive rights, and even rules on who can pee in certain places all come out of the state capitol. (It’s especially glorious that the Republican who proposed Virginia’s anti-transgender bathroom bill was defeated by Danica Roem, the state’s — and the nation’s — first openly transgender candidate. Karma, ya done good.)
So while it is important who wins the presidency and who’s running the House and Senate in Washington, it’s at the state and local elections where the real work — and influence — gets done.