By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
When the next Virginia General Assembly is sworn in next month, members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC), all of whom are Democrats, are positioned to secure some very powerful leadership positions in the State Senate and House of Delegates.
For the first time in history, the Senate’s President Pro Tempore-designee is an African-American, Senator L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, who tied with Delegate Janet Howell for the second-longest time in Senate. They were elected in the same year.
Ascension to a powerful leadership position is based on seniority related to the number of years in office.
Lucas is the most senior VLBC member in the Virginia Senate, having been sworn in January 1992. Second in seniority is Senator Mamie Locke. The third is Senator Lionell Spruill and fourth is Senator Jennifer McClellan.
In her new role, Lucas will take over the floor of the Senate if the Lt. Governor leaves the chamber, among other administrative duties.
Lucas also will serve as the chair of the pivotal Education and Health Committee
The November 2019 legislative elections allowed Virginia Democrats to wrest control of both houses of the General Assembly from the GOP for the first time in over two decades.
In the Senate, the Democrats now have a 21-19 majority, including Lt. Governor Justin Fairfax, who can break ties.
In the House, the Democrats with a 55-45 seat majority named Eileen Filler-Corn as the first female and Jewish as its Speaker.
Black Caucus member Delegate Charneille Herring is the first female and African-American Majority Leader of the House.
The VLBC will have 23 members in the next legislative session – four in the Senate and 19 in the House of Delegates, to include four new House members.
Three of those four seats came from the Hampton Roads region, as Clinton Jenkins won the House seat in the 76th District; Alex Askew won the 85th House seat in Virginia Beach; Don Scott won the 80th House seat in Portsmouth; and Josh Cole secured the 28th House seat in Northern Virginia.
The VLBC lost one member in the Senate, reducing Black Senate members to four when Rosalyn Dance lost her seat to Joe Morrisey in the 16th Senate District in Petersburg.
Democrats re-elected Sen. Mamie Locke of Hampton as the Democratic Caucus chair.
Senator Locke was also elected Chair of the powerful Rules Committee and chair of the state’s Virginia Housing Commission.
The Rules Committee approves “Resolutions” calling for studies of various issues “involving money.” A good example is a study used to determine that the state would earn some $262 million in tax revenue from casinos if lawmakers sanctioned a law allowing them to operate.
Locke said her job as Democratic Party Caucus Chair is akin to “herding cats,” to sustain party unity on its agenda, handing out assignments and resolving internal disputes in a body where the interest and temperament of each member varies.
The Democratic Caucus Secretary is Senator Jennifer McClellan and Senate Democratic Co-whip is Senator Lionell Spruill, who represents parts of Chesapeake and Norfolk.
Delegate Luke Torian of the 52nd District in Prince William County was named the chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, replacing longtime Republican leader Chris Jones of Suffolk, who lost his reelection bid.
Del. Joe Lindsey of the 90th District in Norfolk was appointed the chair of the Privileges and Elections.
The committee will have an influential hand in the upcoming redistricting process and laws related to voting.
Delegate Jeion Ward of the 92nd District in Hampton is the Chair of the House Labor Committee and Delegate Roslyn Tyler of the 7th District was named the chair of the Education Committee.
Delegate Delores McQuinn of the 70th District is now Chair of the House Transportation Committee and House Democratic Caucus Sergeant-at-Arms.
“These historic appointments are pivotal in representing the diverse needs of the Commonwealth,” Black Caucus chairman Del. Lamont Bagby of the 74th House District. “Diversity within leadership will only further strengthen Virginia and better lead to representing the interests of all its people. So we are proud to support our members in these key roles as we head into the 2020 session.”
With the Democrats in key positions of control on the House and Senate Floor and increased numbers and chairmanships on committees, the party’s legislative agenda will move forward.
Bagby said many of the funding and policy bills related to “fair” educational funding, equality, judicial reform, healthcare, civil rights, and voting rights may be approved during the upcoming General Assembly session.
Democrats say they are poised to allow Virginia to be 38th state required to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) which was first introduced in the 1970s.
Bagby said the new leadership on the education and money committees will bode well for the state’s two publicly supported HBCUs.
Also, non-HBCU schools will be encouraged to diversify their faculty staff and student enrollment.
Bagby said that the voters will see more support for physical and mental health care in Virginia.
Also criminal justice reforms including reducing the number of poor and minority children entering the juvenile justice system. Decriminalization of Marijuana may be considered.
Sen. Dick Saslaw of Fairfax County is the next Senate Majority Leader, due to having the longest tenure in office among fellow Democrats.