By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The state primary races to determine the Democratic and Republican candidates for the November General Election will be held on June 20. The winners of their respective House or Senate District Primaries on that day will face a candidate from the opposing party come November 8’s General Election. All of the lawmakers will be running in newly drawn House and Senate districts.
Once the primary dust settles, expect, notably in Norfolk, a historic first. All of the House and Senate seats for the Democratic party representing Norfolk will be held by women. There is one new Senate seat, District 21. The other seats to be decided are in the House.
In District 21, either House Delegate Angelia Williams Graves of Norfolk, an African-American, or Councilperson Andria McClellan, who is white, will represent the Democratic party in the General Election. There is the new 93rd District. Jackie Glass, who currently represents the outgoing 90th District and is African-American, is expected to retain the seat for Democrats. And then there is the new 92nd District where two political newcomers, Bonita Anthony and Kim Sudderth, who are both Black women, are vying for that seat.
But 40 years – two generations ago, Dr. Yvonne Miller made the historic political mark for Black women. In 1983, she was the first African-American woman to be elected to the State House of Delegates from Norfolk and the region. Four years later she was the first African-American woman to be elected to the State Senate. Miller paved the way for the Black women Senators and State Delegates who are currently in these two bodies.
Virginia State Senator and Senate Chair Mamie Locke migrated to Virginia as an educator and landed on the Hampton City Council. She was elected mayor and then in 2004 was elected to the Senate. She joined Senators Miller and L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, who is currently President pro tempore of the Virginia Senate.
In 2021 former House Delegate Winsome Sears was elected the state’s first African-American woman Lt. Governor. Sears, a Republican, was a member of the House of Delegates for one term after beating veteran Democratic legislator Billy Robinson.
“She (Senator Miller) was a formidable force to be reckoned with,” said Locke. “She gave me a word of advice that we were elected to represent the interests of the people who sent us here. That has been the words and the Mission that have stuck with me ever since.”
All of the 140 seats in the Virginia Legislature will be on the upcoming primary ballot on June 20 and the General Election on November 7. At stake is control of the State House and Senate. Both parties are seeking to increase or retain their respective advantages. Right now, the Republicans have a 52-48 seat majority in the Virginia House of Delegates. Senate Democrats have a 22-17 majority.
With Republican Glenn Youngkin, sitting in the Governor’s mansion, if the Republicans claim control of both of the legislative bodies, his party would be positioned to push through a conservative legislative agenda. For the past two legislative sessions, Democrats erected a firewall in the Senate to halt right-wing money and policy bills passed by the GOP-leaning House.
Due to the 2021 redistricting based on the 2020 census, all of the state House and Senate voting districts have been redrawn. Before the 2021 redistricting the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC) had 22 members – 17 House and 5 Senate members. At one point after the new redistricting lines were revealed, VLBC leaders feared the number of caucus members would be halved in the House and Senate.
Their fears were realized as many incumbent majority Democrats and Black Districts saw their districts redrawn. Many long-time incumbents were drawn into districts with party allies. But it is possible the Black Caucus may be able to stay close to their pre-redistricting numbers. In fact, instead of five Black senators, Democrats may elect six Black senators.
Four of those majority Black Senate districts may sit in Hampton Roads for the first time in history. Also, for the first time, Norfolk’s House and Senate representatives are projected to be mostly female and African-American, another first. But before the November General Election, both parties must undergo the rigors of the June 20, 2023, Primary Election for the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates.
The deadline for candidates to file for the June 20 primary is April 6 at 5 p.m.
After the primary, according to various political analyses of the new districts, Democrats have a stronger chance to hold the Senate and must depend on a heavy turnout and good candidates to reclaim the House. Some of the incumbents who saw their old districts drawn out of existence have launched bids for new districts where they reside or nearby.
Others have retired. But none of the African-American incumbents in the House or Senate have announced plans to retire. Those with challengers are busy raising money for the June 20 primary to win their party’s nomination.
Next Week: Races To Watch Under Redistricting