By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter Emeritus
New Journal and Guide
When the Republicans won the 2021 legislative election, led by political novice Glenn Youngkin, the Republicans won the Governor’s mansion and the House, and the Democrats’ Blue wave ended.
Ralph Northam was Governor and, with the Democrats, controlled the state House and Senate during that period, when monumental progressive policy reforms were signed into law.
Healthcare expansion for people with low incomes, decriminalization of Marijuana, voting rights, and protecting women’s right to abortion were at the top of the list.
In early November 2023, the Democrats reclaimed the House and Senate with thin majorities.
If the Democrats can work with the Governor, they may revive that reformist Blue wave.
Also, they could invoke legislative provisions in laws that could ensure their work is not reversed should Republicans return to power in future elections.
State Delegate Don Scott, the current Minority Leader from Portsmouth, will be the new and first African-American House Speaker. During a recent interview with the GUIDE, he said he is preparing to lead his party toward another progressive and reformist era.
Scott ascended to the House, one of the most powerful positions in Virginia Government, quickly after entering the body.
Scott, an attorney, said that he thrives on people underestimating him personally and as a political broker which energized his ambitions.
Scott won the race for the 80th House district in the 2019 Virginia House of Delegates election after the resignation of Matthew James.
During the campaign, a local reporter found out the Houston, Texas native, after leaving the Navy, had a tour in prison for non-sales related drug trafficking issues.
In the general election, he won with 66.01 percent of the vote.
Scott learned the ropes quickly in Richmond.
Two years after he entered the House, after the 2021 election, he led the Democratic caucus’ move to oust the last Democratic Speaker, Eileen Filer Corn.
The caucus believed she failed to help Democrats fend off the 2021 GOP victories.
Scott was elected House Minority leader and was, with Democrats controlling the Senate, one of the leadership bricks in the party’s wall holding back the agenda of Governor Youngkin and his allies in the GOP-led House.
One strike against Scott, according to party insiders, was his inability to raise the money needed to support the district or a statewide campaign to take back the House.
Scott proved them wrong. He said he managed to secure the trust of old-line party leaders and moderate and liberal wings of the party.
Scott helped devise a winning message, raised money, and coordinated House and Senate campaigns, and Democrats won on November 7.
“My car is relatively new, but from August of 2022 to November of 2023, I put 61,000 miles on it,” said Scott. “A lot of unsung heroes pushed me. I give all of the credit to God.”
When the House of Delegates convenes in January, Scott will lead a slim 51-49 majority.
In the Senate, the Democrats will have a 21-19 lead.
Both majorities cannot override a Governor’s veto or amend to his favor passed by a Democratic-led Legislature.
Scott said he is open to working with Governor Youngkin and his allies in the House and the Senate “to get things done for the people of Virginia.”
Scott and the Democrats won by branding the GOP as the party that would roll back abortion rights.
After the High Court struck down federal protections for the procedure last year, Republican-leaning states passed more restrictive abortion laws.
Virginia is the only state in the South to not do so.
Scott said that while many “pro-life” advocates are willing to restrict access to abortion, they are not addressing the high rate of mortality and complications facing childbearing women, especially African-Americans,” or their maternal health care needs,” in general.
Without infringing on the Constitutional rights of Virginians to carry guns legally, Scott said the Legislature will work to restrict access to high-powered automatic weapons like the AR-15 used in many mass shootings across the nation.
He said his party is specifically worried that “Virginia children are not safe from gun violence when they attend school.” He said his party would seek to pass common sense gun laws that will not infringe on private gun ownership.
Scott and his five siblings were raised by a single mother in urban Houston. So, he is acutely aware of supporting a living wage for Virginia workers and proposes imposing a minimum wage of eventually $15.00, a measure Republicans have long opposed.
The Democrats will also seek to raise the state teacher pay to at least $57,000, the national average.
When Democrats controlled the Governor’s mansion and Legislature, they legalized personal possession of weed for medical use.
Lawmakers also passed laws barring police from stopping motorists if they get a whiff of the drug from their cars.
This was aimed at reducing the disproportionate number of arrests and convictions of poor African-Americans.
The GOP’s taking control of the House of Delegates in 2021 halted the next step: setting up a system to sell Marijuana.
It will take at least two consecutive sessions of the Legislature to make that reality.
“Marijuana sales is an $8 Billion industry in Virginia alone,” said Scott. “Imagine the tax revenue to repair many of the state’s dilapidated public schools.”
The reform minded Speaker-elect said he “stands on the shoulders of Black leaders and heroes from the past.”
His role model for political leadership is Virginia’s and the nation’s first elected Black Governor, L. Douglas Wilder.
He said Wilder could work both sides of the legislative aisle to secure legislative victories because “not all Democratic ideas are great and not all Republican ideas are bad.”
Scott, 58, said he has driven through his old neighborhood back in Houston and noted his travels and the challenges he overcame as he ascended professionally. He is now Speaker of the House of the old Confederacy.
“I am a servant first,” he said. “And I am humble. I would like to see all of our children have the same opportunities. I have always been underestimated. I thrive on that. That is why they must have good people in their ears. You must always do the work to be good at the job.”