Monday, November 11, 2019

Virginia's Blue Wave

The Blue Wave. A Blue Tsunami. These are the metaphors we’ve heard bandied about to describe the remarkable transformation of Virginia’s electoral landscape since 2017. If we are going to stick with water analogies, perhaps it’s more apt to describe what’s happened in the Commonwealth as political sea change.

Waves, even Tsunamis, are sudden, singular events that crash and transform the landscape, but then quickly recede. Climate change, actual or political, is more incremental and more permanent - occasionally reaching certain tipping points where changes become more sudden and undeniable.

It’s tempting to look back only as far as the surprise election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 as the beginning of this change, but the truth is, it started long before that.

I was first elected to the General Assembly in 2013, sharing a ballot with Terry McAuliffe, Ralph Northam, and Mark Herring. Coming one year after Tim Kaine’s 2012 election to the U.S. Senate, the 2013 election marked the first time in decades that Democrats held all 5 statewide elected offices. This was despite the glitch-plagued rollout of the website.

In 2015, an off-off year election, in spite of very low turnout (only 29% of registered voters), the Virginia House of Delegates picked up a seat in a cycle where we’d become accustomed to losing ground to the GOP. In 2016, Hillary Clinton easily won Virginia’s 13 electoral votes.

So, in 2017, when even the most optimistic of us thought we might pick up 7 or 8 seats and we picked up 15, it certainly did look like a wave. Or even a tsunami, triggered by the earthquake that was Donald Trump’s election.

Virginia has been getting bluer and bluer, though. We’ve known since the 2008 Presidential election that there are enough Democratic voters across the Commonwealth to give us control of the General Assembly. As the state has grown, it has grown more diverse, and become less rural, with its growth mostly in suburban communities.

The election of Donald Trump, in spite of his losing Virginia, was the event that grabbed the attention of those voters that weren’t attuned to politics except for once every four years. It showed them that there really is a difference between the two political parties, and how much their participation in the process matters.

In 2017, we had nearly 48% turnout for a Governor’s race with 100 House of Delegates races on the ballot at the same time. Had this been a wave, that crashed and receded, we might have contented ourselves with near parity in the General Assembly that enabled us to expand health care to nearly 400,000 Virginians.

But that was just the beginning. Voters are now awakened to what they can accomplish when they vote. And the fact that control of the House was decided by a random drawing of a name from a bowl just drove home the point that every vote counts.

Last night we saw the blue tide continue to rise, reaching a new tipping point. Democrats took a 2-seat majority in the State Senate, and a healthy 10-seat advantage in the House of Delegates (55-45 pending the outcome of two very close races). With Democrats now in control of both houses of the legislature and the Governor’s mansion, Virginia will finally have state government policies that reflect the new reality of who we are as a Commonwealth.

Gun Violence prevention legislation will be enacted into law, rather than being dismissed after 90 minutes of political theater.

Virginia will continue to be the best state in which to do business, but without being the worst place to be a worker, as we work to provide everyone with a living wage and affordable healthcare, and to remove impediments to workers’ ability to organize their workplaces where and when they so choose.

Women won’t be subject to medically-unnecessary medical procedures and have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to access healthcare services, asserting their right to control their own bodies without government interference.

Virginia will contribute to slowing (non-political) climate change, by moving swiftly towards becoming carbon-free and transitioning to clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar, creating new job opportunities in these innovative industries.

Bottom line - we finally have an opportunity to enact substantive, progressive policies, because Virginians yesterday voted in a legislature that finally looks like and shares the values of the Commonwealth it represents.

It won’t all happen overnight, but yesterday’s election results are both the start and the continuation of something very big, very impactful, and in the case of this particular political climate change, something very good for all Virginians.