By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
On June 11th, Hampton Roads will hold a Primary to determine the Democratic and Republican candidates who will compete for the Virginia General Assembly on General Election Day November 5. All of the 100 House and 40 Senate seats will be voted on in November.
The 2019 General Election is a high stakes contest for Democrats who are hoping to reclaim control of the State House and Senate.
At this point, state Republicans have a 51-49 seat majority in the House and a 21-19 majority in the Senate.
Democrats hope to continue the gains made in the 2017 legislative elections, where the party erased a 32-seat Republican advantage in the House and got close in the Senate.
Democrats may have been given a little help from the federal courts.
A federal judge declared that 12 minority-majority districts, drawn in 2010 redistricting by a Republican majority in the legislature, were an example of racial gerrymandering.
The federal courts hired a third party to redraw the boundaries of those 12 districts and 13 others, including a number of Republican ones.
The process reduced, to varying degrees, the number of Black voters in Democratic-leaning districts.
Although they lost Black voters and gained some Republicans, many of those districts which were redrawn by the suit, will be more competitive or favor Democrats.
For instance, Delegate Cliff Hayes’ District 77 had a 24-30 percent increase in Republican voters.
However, his district remains majority Black and Democrat.
This has forced a number of Republicans to retire, creating a path for more Democratic-leaning seats in those once GOP districts.
But Republicans believe they will have few political moves, thanks to their rivals, including the state’s top three leaders.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has been under fire after disclosure of a racist picture on his personal medical college yearbook page; Attorney General Mark R. Herring confessed to wearing blackface in college; and Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax has two women accusing him of sexual misconduct before he was married.
Demands for all three to resign have been ignored by them, fearing their exodus would allow Republicans to regain control of the state executive branch.
Nevertheless, the scandals have weakened their political standing, fundraising power and ability to campaign at venues with Democrats seeking office in the House and Senate.
Races To Watch In Hampton Roads
So far all of the members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus in Hampton Roads will not be facing a primary challenger.
Del. Matthew James was the incumbent in the House District 80 until he resigned May 20 to take a job with the Governor’s Office
Portsmouth Attorney Don Scott is the default candidate since an all-Democratic party caucus for June 1 was canceled.
This is Scott’s first political venture into politics.
He is a native of Jasper, Texas, where a Black man,
James Byrd was dragged death, and he lived in Houston.
He is a Texas A&M undergraduate, served as an officer in the U.S. Navy and later received his law degree from LSU.
Scott is transparent about the legal troubles he encountered during his third year of law school and how he worked to overcome it.
He and his family landed in Hampton Roads in 2005 and he opened his law practice in 2015.
He is married and the couple has one child.
The 80th District covers parts of Chesapeake, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Suffolk and is one of the districts impacted by the federal gerrymandering suit.
Scott describes the district as racially and economically diverse.
It has a mixture of middle income and affluent areas such as Cavalier Manor, Crystal Lakes, and areas he said are struggling.
He said he would like to see reforms to increase minority participation in the local and state procurement systems. But he said that must be done with policy changes at the state level.
Continued reforms of the criminal justice system and more resources for education are top priorities for him, as well.
“We all need a voice,” said Scott, “regardless of our race and incomes. We all need to be valued. I’m ready to serve the City of Portsmouth and the Commonwealth of Virginia. My story is one of resilience, and I believe the City of Portsmouth is resilient as well.”
Democratic Senator Lynwood Lewis, who represents the District 7th District, is one of few local State Senators facing a challenger, this time in the form of Willie C. Randall.
Randall, who is Black, ran as the Democratic nominee in the 100th District three times and lost.
Republican State Senator Frank Wagner is retiring from the Senate in the 7th District where three Democrats are in the primary race: Susan Bates Hippen, (who is African American) Kim Howard, and 85th House
District Delegate Cheryl Turpin.
Two Republicans, Jennifer Kiggans and Carolyn Weems are seeking the seat.