by James A. Bacon
The big shift in power in the General Assembly does more than put Democrats in control of the state legislature. It gives Northern Virginia more power than ever before. Northern Virginians taking senior leadership positions in the General Assembly in January include:
- Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, Senate Majority Leader
- Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax Station, Speaker of the House
- Del. Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria, House Majority Leader
- Del. Richard C. Sullivan, D-Fairfax, Democratic Caucus chairman
Just as significant, roughly half the Democratic Party caucus hails from Northern Virginia. In the Age of Trump, Northern Virginia has become a politically blue monoculture. In many NoVa districts, Republicans didn’t even run candidates.
So, here’s a question: To what degree will Northern Virginians elected officials vote their liberal/progressive philosophical inclinations and to what degree will they vote their geographic interests?
A concrete example sure to come up in the 2020 session: The Board of Education wants $950 million more in state funding for K-12 public schools, with a sweetener for lower-income school districts. The state funding formula is a geographic income-redistribution scheme, transferring resources from affluent Northern Virginia to poor inner cities and rural areas, most of which are downstate. The inner cities are blue, blue, blue in their voting patterns, but rural school districts are red, red, red. Which instinct will prevail among NoVa Democrats?
Higher-ed will pose less of a problem for liberal NoVa politicians. Colleges and universities are a core liberal/progressive constituency, and one would expect a Democratic legislature to treat them well. The State Council for Higher Education in Virginia (SCHEV) wants $212 million more in higher-ed operating funds plus an extra $826 million for capital outlays. Much of this money is designated for Virginia Tech and George Mason University projects in Northern Virginia. In this instance, ideology and material self-interest align. I would expect higher-ed to get much of what it wants.
While Democrats now control the legislature, they are not so dominant that they can run roughshod over Republicans. Virginia isn’t California. If Republicans are shrewd (hahahahaha, that’s a good one!) they will figure out how to convert partisan ideological issues into nonpartisan sectional issues, which might allow them to build coalitions that include downstate Democrats.
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