By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
The recent U.S. Congressional elections have caused a shuffling in leadership among Democrats in the Virginia State Senate and House, notably among the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
With former State Senator Donald McEachin’s election to serve in the Fourth Congressional District, State Senator Mamie Locke of Hampton, who has been the chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus for the past five years, was recently elected as the Chair of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
Republicans have a 21-19 majority in the Senate. Locke will be second in Command in the Senate Democratic hierarchy behind current minority leader Dick Saslaw.
State Delegate Roslyn Tyler of Jarrett, who represents the 75th House District, was recently elected the new chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus.
Tyler was first elected in 2006 and her district includes the counties of Brunswick, Dinwiddie and parts of Greensville, Isle of Wight, Lunenburg, Southampton, Surry, and Sussex counties and parts of the cities of Cities of Emporia and Franklin.
There are 17 members of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus; 12 Delegates and five Senators.
Each year the Caucus lends its legislative support to the overall agenda of the Democratic Party and issues a litany of proposals itself.
Senator Locke will be the first African-American woman to rise to second command in the Senate Democratic power structure.
For the first time, Virginia has two African-Americans sitting in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Donald McEachin joins Rep. Bobby Scott of the Third District.
A suit filed by Black Democrats challenged the last redistricting plan conceived by Republicans, which created the districts in accordance to Black Democrats.
The Republicans deliberately created the majority Black Fourth District, by extracting Democratic-leaning voters out of adjacent districts.
Locke replaced the late Henry Maxwell in the Senate in 2004 after she served as Mayor of Hampton, Virginia.
According to Locke, her duties will be developing, supporting and shepherding the Democratic Party’s political guiding through the body.
She will also be involved in devising tactics and strategies to combat what she defines as an increasingly aggressive state Republican operation, emboldened by the election of Donald J. Trump as President.
“What we saw happening in the North Carolina legislature gives us an idea of what we will be facing in Virginia this session,” said Senator Locke. “They are just pushing Donald’s Trump’s agenda with restricting the rights of the minorities, abortions and increasing their power.”
One example of the Virginia GOP’s conservative agenda, according to Locke, came forth recently when Del. David LaRock, a two-term Republican, filed HB1473, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.
It would prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, a cutoff earlier than the “fetal viability” standard. Antiabortion advocates believe a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, and would not excuse mental health or fetal abnormalities, or instances of rape or incest.
But despite the Republican push, Locke said that Democrats have a viable trump card to thwart Republican political aggression during the 2017 Legislative Session.
Democrats are short two seats in the Virginia Senate and 32 seats in the House of Delegates.
But Locke said Democrats in both bodies have the ability to sustain the veto of current Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who is bound to fight back against the GOP’s most unpopular legislative ideas this year.
In the Senate, the Caucus has a new member, Senator Lionell Spruill, who won the seat once held by Kenneth C. Alexander, who was elected mayor of Norfolk last spring.