This is my last column before the November 7th general election, where all 140 members of the General Assembly are on the ballot across Virginia. In 2019, I used this column to try to help readers imagine how much better Virginia could be if we managed to take control of both the House and Senate with a Democratic Governor already two years into his term.
A year later, I used this column to reflect on how much of what I’d predicted had come to pass.
We’d passed seven common sense gun violence prevention bills, expanded voter access to the polls, instituted meaningful criminal justice reform, repealed the death penalty, expanded anti-discrimination laws, passed the Equal Rights Amendment, and continued the minimum wage increase.
Although we lost our House majority by less than 300 total votes in 2021, with the Democrats holding the State Senate, the GOP failed in their efforts to roll back or repeal most of these laws over the last two years, but not for a lack of trying.
We know what can happen if we have the majority.
In 2023, this column is about what happens if the Virginia GOP takes control of the Senate and the House in addition to the top three state-wide offices.
Let's Travel to the 2024 Session
I can tell you it won’t be pretty. Everything that the Republicans have failed to do legislatively, they will do. There will be nothing to stop them.
The Governor has already said repeatedly that he will “gleefully” sign any abortion restriction bill that reaches his desk. I know Halloween is right around the corner, but don’t be tricked by the Governor’s efforts to mask his true intentions. Given the opportunity, the Virginia GOP would pass legislation banning abortion.
This is in spite of the fact that a recently released poll from Christopher Newport University found that more than 70% of Virginians think our abortion laws should stay the same or become less restrictive than they are now.
Speaking of masquerading as something you aren’t, we’ve watching the Governor funding a PR campaign to encourage Republican voters to set aside their concerns about early voting. At the same time, the Virginia House GOP passed bills that would have all but eliminated early voting, reduced the number of early voting days, banned ballot drop boxes, and require even more aggressive purging of voter rolls. They will certainly never pass a Constitutional Amendment on the Right to Vote and restoration of rights will become even less of a priority.
And all the budget surpluses accumulated under Democratic leadership? Look for sweeping corporate tax cuts. Every economic advantage that the Governor wanted for big corporations in the recent state budget, Republicans will push for at the expense of individual taxpayers.
Criminal justice reform and gun violence prevention programs will take a hard hit. They’ll put a stop to any true reform like earned sentence credits. Getting a concealed carry permit will get even easier as will purchasing any kind of firearm. Plus, you’ll see the end of “gun free” zones as firearms will be permitted anywhere.
While it’s possible they won’t come outright with a banned book list, they will institute tighter control over what our public schools and public libraries have access to, and what our kids can read.
And that’s not the only aspect of our kids’ education that will come under attack. We saw their response to COVID-19 protocols. There is already a teacher shortage and Republicans seeming distrust of teachers will only make this worse.
You should expect to see weakening of protections for the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination at schools or in employment under the guise of so-called “religious freedom” exceptions.
The Governor’s withdrawing from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) will have only been the first step in their plan to reduce environmental protections and to continue to deny the extent or even the existence of climate change.
Public employees will likely lose their right to form unions and collectively bargain for better pay and working conditions.
Frankly, I’d rather not find out if these predictions come true. And I’d rather not be writing a March column that points to all the bad bills the Republicans passed during the 2024 Session that the Governor will gleefully sign into law.
This election is so important, and we owe it to ourselves, to those we love, and to our community to ensure that Virginia remains an inclusive place to live, work, and raise a family.