NoVa Rules Now

This electoral map published by the Virginian-Pilot is a bit dated, but it shows the dominance of Northern Virginia in House of Delegates districts that elected Democrats last week.

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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15 responses to “NoVa Rules Now”

  1. Lawrence Hincker Avatar
    Lawrence Hincker


    Maybe we need an electoral college for Virginia where some county votes count more than others. ….just like some state votes count more than others in the federal presidential election. ๐Ÿ™‚

    After all, one might say it’s grossly unfair that such a small geographic slice of the state controls its government and electoral process.

  2. Steve Haner Avatar
    Steve Haner

    Look at the 75th in Southside, shown on that early map as undecided, but won (barely) by longtime incumbent Roz Tyler. She won by about 500 votes, in a race that got little attention and less money, by far, than many others. The district was a key part of the court challenge to the 2011 plan that alleged Republicans had “packed” her district with too many black voters, diluting the black vote in surrounding districts.

    For 40 years the Republicans have enjoyed the side benefit of a Voting Rights Act interpretation that safe African-American majority districts were required by the law, when political professionals fully understood that the percentage didn’t need to be high to produce a Democratic winner (although sometime to produce an African-American winner). HD 63 (Aird) next to Tyler had been 60 percent black, and is now 47 percent (per VPAP.) Tyler’s shrank from 56 percent to 53, and HD 76 which just ousted Delegate Chris Jones went from 26 to 45 percent black.

    The 2021 redistricting and subsequent litigation all across the United States will be about African-American “influence” districts, not majority districts, and that will tell the tale more than anything. The GOP has spent 40 years NOT working with any success to win more votes from that demographic. Better late than never? Or shall we rally at the statue again? (Fools.)

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    I don’t think the Dems will hurt RoVa at all because Dems essentially believe that health care and education ought to be priorities for everyone.

    They’re gonna support mass transit, living wage, affordable housing and I think they have a chance to start winning over rural votes… if they focus on health care and education for RoVa.

    And the GOP will, per usual, oppose such initiatives because they cost too much…big govt … and the culture war stuff and for rural counties with current GOP representation – they’ll have to decide if they are going to support Dems proposals that would benefit rural counties. You can bet the Dems will point it out when they don’t. How many GOP in rural counties can continue to oppose Medicaid and Obamacare?

    1. Jane Twitmyer Avatar
      Jane Twitmyer

      AND if rural VA votes for their own interests .. then maybe VA will move into the 21st century, understanding there are some things that we just have to do as a community even if they cost money ..,. stuff like health care and education for all, and heading off the worst of climate change!

    2. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      They will be under tremendous pressure to tweak the funding formulas in favor of their regions, Larry.

    3. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      NoVA legislators should tackle amending the LCI to make it more fair. The formula does not reasonably reflect the higher costs associated with educating low-income students and non-English speakers, as well as the much higher cost of living (i.e., housing) in NoVA. Democrats have been saying they’d tackle this if they ever regained control of the GA. Time for action.

      They should also grandfather existing buildings in areas subject to flooding and higher sea levels. Prohibit all new construction and total reconstruction. Impose a higher tax on all properties in these areas to pay for flood control measures. Prove your serious about climate change by stopping building in places that are going to flood.

      They should resist any effort to increase funding for any program that sends more money to RoVA.

      They should amend the statute that prohibits publishing how much transportation-related taxes are generated in each locality and publish a comparison of what’s spent in the same area. Given the fact projects tend to be bunched, a 5-year rolling average of spending could be published.

      Address this. Shift lots of dollars from our 4-year colleges to post-HS vocational and technical education. Freeze all college administrative salaries for five years.

      Hands off my health insurance. I reimburse my wife for 1/2 of the cost of her federal employee (retiree) health insurance.

      Adopt a red light rule that allows a party to provide evidence of a person’s mental or emotional instability that allows a judge to remove the impaired person’s firearms pending a hearing. But if the judge does not make the removal final (pending reevaluation of the person’s condition later), the parties that made the claim should be required to pay the affected individual’s attorney fees. This balance should protect everyone’s rights.

  4. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Come on, guys, admit it. Jeff Bezos bought, whether he likes it or not, the Virginia Commonwealth along with his HQ site. He’ll next buy the Washington Redskins to go along with his Washington Post, and hopefully then he will buy UVA. Jeff’s management genius will bring great benefit to all these failing institutions that today are flushing everyone’s future down the toilet.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      I wrote a long time ago, and I wrote it here first, that the folks excited about bringing Amazon to VA should be ready for the political impact. Not even seeing it yet, really. I was amazed at the Left Coast thinking I ran into with Northrop Grumman when I joined that outfit in 2006, and Amazon is way further out on that scale. Bezos and Bills – whose call does the Governor answer first? ๐Ÿ™‚

    2. Hey, Reed, Jeff Bezos had quite a comeuppance in Seattle where he tried to nudge a hyper-progressive City Council back to moderation with buckets of dollars spent on local races. Maybe his magic only works in areas that are not progressive enough.

      TMT, I like your list. Only, when it comes to who should pay attorney’s fees, why limit “loser pays” to red flag situations?

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        As we know, the general rule is each party pays his own attorney fees in the United States, But there are exceptions, including cases where someone can use the legal process to cause significant harm to another. There are clear due process issues when one party can get ex parte relief against another. Yet that is necessary sometimes. Usually, ex parte relief is short in duration and is quickly followed by a hearing where Party 2 can make her arguments.

        Where there is evidence a person with firearms has mental or emotional problems such that she should not have access to those firearms, there may be reason for a judge to take temporary action and remove the firearms pending a full hearing. People close to the person with firearms are in the best position to go to court and seek relief. But they are also in the best position to cause the invasion of the gunowner’s home and remove her personal property. It’s a situation ripe for abuse. Vengeance. Cruelty. If those who would seek temporary firearm removal had to pay attorney fees if the judge didn’t make the temporary order final, accuser would think carefully before they filed. It would help minimize the number of bad faith claims, while preserving the ability to seek relief in appropriate situations.

  5. djrippert Avatar

    Virginia has never been about Republicans vs Democrats. It’s always been about rural / small town vs urban / suburban. If NoVa isn’t running the state by now it certainly will be running the state after the 2020 census. Meanwhile, Henrico County looks politically (and from a land use perspective) a whole lot more like Fairfax County than some conservative rural burg.

    The first thing the new NoVa ruling class ought to do is straighten out the state’s books and publish the results. How much money is taken by state and local authorities per region and how much is spent by state and local authorities per region. You hear it up here all the time … “only 25 cents of every dollar taken from NoVa residents gets spent in NoVa”. Or … “the Richmond area has been taking far more of its fair share of transportation funding for the last half century or more”. Is that right? I don’t know. But we should know. Time for some clarity. Time for some transparency.

    1. I hope the transparency you have in mind includes as to political donations and the enforcement of existing (let alone tightened) restrictions on lobbying.

    2. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      You know, DJ? I hope you get that. But you aren’t going to accept all of it. I looked hard at it a long time ago, and concluded it was largely fair, when you considered the money that went to things like supermax prisons (not in NoVA), the premier state universities (GMU was far smaller at that time, and despite the complaints a heavy cohort of Northern Virginians were showing up at UVA, Tech and W&M), and transportation – at that time the mixing bowl was sucking it all in, the vast majority of the construction dollars. The big sucking sound you hear is the composite index with its “ability to pay/local contribution” and there you must understand what that could do to those blue areas NOT in Northern Virginia.

  6. vaconsumeradvocate Avatar

    Let NOVA figure out where to put its portion of the prisons, landfills, energy generation, coal ash, creation and assembly of items we use… And compensate rural people for giving up security due to existing prisons, clean air and water for existing landfills and energy generation and… Stop telling rural people that our air and water are so clean that we can “afford” the pollution sent to us.

    I’m not surprised that you concluded that things are largely fair, Steve. They certainly are not as imbalanced as too many believe.

  7. I would say NoVA dems are not too concerned with protecting NoVA. For example, they threw us to the wolves last year when the state decided to increase state taxes mostly on (NoVA) itemizers. Tim Hugo worked to help us and he is no longer with us (politically).

    NoVA dems will likely be more location-neutral, but the rest of the state will perceive that as less favortism for RoVa.

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