The most significant statewide result of the 2019 elections was not the governor’s race in Kentucky. While the Democrats have declared a razor-thin victory, the race is still being contested. Republicans did very well in the down-ballot races. However, the Democrats did manage to flip both houses of the Virginia legislature to their control, despite scandals that had rocked the top three Democratic officeholders. NPR noted last spring, “Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring admitted to wearing blackface decades ago. Justin Fairfax, the lieutenant governor, was accused of sexual assault by two women.”
Before the 2019 election, Republicans held razor thing majorities in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates. After the election, the Democrats controlled 21 of the 40 seats in the state Senate and at least 53 of the 100 seats in the House of Delegates with two more races undecided. The results of the election have profound implications for politics in Virginia going forward, according to the National Review.
Ironically, Gov Northam managed to avoid forced resignation when the revelation occurred that he wore blackface in one yearbook photo and a KKK robe in another. He weathered another scandal when his support for abortion up to the point of delivery and even, as some suggested, afterward became public knowledge. Instead of being forced out of office, the voters of Virginia have rewarded him with a state legislature that, by all accounts, is prepared to do his bidding.
Northam’s legislative agenda includes a loosening of abortion restrictions, though perhaps not as extensive as he once seemed to favor. At the same time, Northam favors more restrictions on gun ownership, though at the time of this writing how far “common-sense gun safety laws” will go in Virginia is unclear.
Other items on the agenda of the new Democratic agenda include expanding Medicaid and increasing the state minimum wage. The previous Republican majority in the Virginia state legislature had managed to block these measures. Now, according to most pundits, the floodgates are open.
Former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe expressed the triumphant mood of Democrats best. “The era of Republican obstruction in the Commonwealth of Virginia is now over. While tonight we celebrate the history we have made, tomorrow we must begin rewarding voters with action.”
Understandably, Virginia Republicans were a bit gloomier about what is about to befall Virginia. More than one GOP politician expressed the fear that the state would become a high tax, severe regulation basket cases such as California or New York.
One of the oldies but goodies that Virginia will attempt to revive may be the Equal Rights Amendment, according to The Week. When the ERA was first proposed in 1972, a deadline of seven years was imposed for Congress to pass it and three-fourths of the states to ratify it. That deadline had passed with just 37 or the 38 states having ratified. If Virginia ratifies the ERA, it would be, in theory, the 38th and final state needed to make men and women equal in the eyes of the law according to the United States Constitution.
Two problems exist that may derail this move.
First, Congress would have to vote to extend the deadline for ratification for a Virginia vote to have any meaning. The Democratic House, according to the analysis in The Week, would likely vote for such an extension. The Republican Senate is not likely to.
Second, as the ERA webpage votes, five states voted to rescind their ratification of the ERA. The legality of such an action is questionable and would, no doubt, be litigated in the courts with the outcome uncertain.
Finally, as CNN notes, the Democrats will control the process of redistricting in 2020 once the census is concluded. Such power is likely to make Virginia more of a blue state that it has already become, removing it from battleground states in presidential elections, at least in theory.
Why did Virginia flip from a swing state to a Democratic one? CNN noted that most analysts believe that the issues were guns and the ire many in the suburbs feel toward President Trump. Virginia Republicans have vowed not to go down without a fight. But, as the outgoing House majority leader Todd Gilbert suggested, they have their work cut out for them.