Va.’s shift may spread to NC
So far this year, Democratic lawmakers in Virginia’s House of Delegates have used their new majority to pass seven pieces of gun safety legislation. They did it in one day. Coming up next on Virginia’s legislative agenda: expand voting rights, ease abortion restrictions, raise the minimum wage, protect LGBTQ rights and increase funding for taxes to promote mass transit.
The dynamics driving Virginia’s leftward swing are similar to what’s happening in North Carolina: A long stretch with Democrats out of power as a state turns increasingly blue builds pressure for a surge of liberal legislation if Democrats return to power.
Virginia Democrats won full control of the legislature last November for the first time in more than 20 years. With the added advantage of a Democratic governor, Democratic lawmakers came into Richmond with a pent-up agenda and a sense of urgency. The morning after the election, Ibraheem S. Samirah, a Democratic member of the House of Delegates, tweeted: “What we’re not going to do is spend two years slow-walking this new majority into the next election season. We need to act boldly on the promises we made to make Virginia affordable, inclusive, & just.”
In North Carolina, Democrats have been in the legislative minority since 2011 when Republican lawmakers took control of both chambers for the first time in more than a century. The Republicans had a long-denied agenda and they carried it out aggressively. Taxes were cut, school choice was expanded, public schools went wanting, environmental protection regulations were reduced and access to voting was limited.
Democratic lawmakers objected in passionate speeches, more than a thousand Moral Monday protesters were arrested and teachers twice marched on the General Assembly for more school funding, all to no effect. But that frustration could trigger a Virginia-like rush of liberal reforms if Democrats win back the state House and Senate this November or in 2022.
State Rep. Deb Butler, a Wilmington Democrat and House whip, said the Democrats’ to-do list would start with Medicaid expansion and big raises for teachers. There would also be a bond issue for school buildings and a restoration of funding cuts to the Department of Environmental Quality. She said Democrats would also tighten restrictions on guns, make it easier to vote and raise the state’s minimum wage, which remains tied to the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.
“We need to start taking strides forward,” she said.
State Sen. Dan Blue, a Wake County Democrat and Senate minority leader, said a new Democratic majority would also reverse many Republican-backed laws. “There are a lot of things we have to undo that they have done,” he said.
Growth in Northern Virginia, which accounted for nearly two-thirds of the state’s population growth since 2010, has created a larger base of suburban Democrats and independents. President Trump’s denigration of public servants and his coarse language generally have strengthened Democratic support in the region.
Bob Holsworth, a former political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and a longtime observer of Virginia politics, said Trump came to office pledging to “drain the swamp” of the bureaucrats, lobbyists and federal contractors who represent much of northern Virginia’s economy. “Instead,” Holsworth said, “he drained it of Republicans.”
North Carolina went for Trump in 2016, but the home counties of most of its larger cities — Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Fayetteville, Winston-Salem and Asheville — went for Hillary Clinton. Those blue urban counties — supported by universities, banking and high-tech companies — are growing as the Republicans’ rural base is eroding. The shift that tipped Virginia to the left is now rumbling under North Carolina.