As Democratic legislators organize in advance of assuming control of the General Assembly, the media spotlight shifts to the maneuvering to fill the senior leadership positions. The elevation of Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax, to Senate Majority Leader is a foregone conclusion. But who will become the next Speaker of the House?
At this point, according to the Virginia Mercury, there are four declared candidates: past House Minority Leader Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax; Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg; Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince Williams, and Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax.
Of these, the most interesting to me is the little-known Aird. First of all, it’s a remarkable sign of the times that a 33-year-old African-American woman and lawmaker with a mere four years of experience could seriously aspire to the most important state legislative position in the state. So, congratulations to Aird on that score. If she wins, I’m sure the first-in-Virginia-history angle will totally dominate the news coverage.
But there’s another aspect to Aird of interest to anyone plumbing Virginia’s deeper power structure: She is employed as chief of staff at Richard Bland College, a two-year college in Prince George County. As Speaker of the House she would be a powerful ally of public higher education in Virginia.
In past years, we have seen how Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, who at one time was the highest-paid adjunct faculty member of the College of William & Mary, spiked several bills that would have held Virginia’s public colleges and universities accountable for the sky-rocketing of attendance. Now a member of the minority party, Norment will no longer wield the power he did as Senate Majority Leader. His departure will be the higher-ed lobby’s loss. But the elevation of Aird to Speaker of the House would more than make up the difference.
As the politicking unfolds, it will be interesting to see which special interests line up behind Aird — and what level of behind-the-scenes clout, if any, the higher-ed lobby is capable of exercising.
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