The two-year period before the arrival of Gov. Glenn Youngkin was the first time in decades that Democrats controlled both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly. Come January, they’ll be back in charge.
That sets up a policymaking dynamic that hasn’t been seen in Virginia since the 1990s: A Republican governor working with a fully Democratic legislature.
Because Youngkin will still be able to veto anything the slim Democratic majorities send to his desk, it won’t be anything like the burst of legislative breakthroughs on big topics that Democrats pushed through in 2020 and 2021. With a 21-19 majority in the state Senate and a 51-49 majority in the House of Delegates, Democrats lack the supermajorities needed to override vetoes and enact new laws over Youngkin’s opposition.
After a redistricting-fueled retirement boom earlier this year, more than a third of the candidates elected to General Assembly seats last week will be new to the body, adding a new element of unpredictability to how votes might shake out.
It’s unclear what might top the state’s legislative agenda once the new legislature is seated, but here’s a look at what last Tuesday’s results could mean for a few big policy issues.
A new push for abortion rights
It wasn’t a sure bet Republicans would have had the votes to pass Youngkin’s 15-week abortion ban even if they won majorities. But new limits on abortion are now a nonstarter after Democrats won on promises to stop them.
Winning both chambers gives Democrats the chance to play offense on abortion rights, and they don’t need the governor to do it.
At a post-election news conference last week, abortion rights advocates said they want the new Democratic majorities to begin the multi-year process of amending Virginia’s constitution to protect abortion access.
“Our victory on Tuesday allows us to work with these majorities to advance a constitutional amendment that will be on Virginia’s ballot in 2026 when we keep an abortion-rights majority in 2025,” said Jamie Lockhart, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.
Under Virginia’s system, constitutional amendments have to pass the General Assembly two years in a row, with an election in between. That means the General Assembly would have to pass an abortion rights amendment in the 2025 and 2026 sessions, with voters having the final say in the fall of 2026.
Though the Democratic-controlled Senate already passed an abortion rights amendment earlier this year that failed in the Republican-led House of Delegates, Lockhart indicated the amendment’s specifics could change now that Democrats have the ability to give it initial passage.
A similar abortion rights constitutional amendment that passed in Ohio this week included clear language allowing abortion limits past the point of fetal viability, usually around 24 weeks. The initial amendment proposed in Virginia didn’t mention fetal viability as a valid reason to restrict abortion access, leading critics to argue it could override Virginia’s existing law banning abortion in the third trimester. During the campaign season, many Democratic candidates said they wanted to keep Virginia’s abortion laws unchanged. Read More
Virginia’s so-called “sore loser” law is supposed to ensure that when a candidate is defeated in a Republican or Democratic primary, they can’t drop their party affiliation and appear on the general election ballot next to the person who beat them.
As the state’s closely watched election season, which will determine control of all 140 seats in the General Assembly, ramps up, both the letter and spirit of that law are being tested. A handful of unsuccessful primary candidates have tried to keep their campaigns alive after defeat while attacking their own parties for allegedly corrupting the process.
Makya Little, a Northern Virginia House of Delegates candidate who narrowly lost a Democratic primary in June (editor’s note: Link added by FFXnow), went as far as filing a lawsuit that seeks to have her primary loss overturned. The suit, which has not yet been resolved in Richmond City Circuit Court, also seeks to have Little’s name appear on ballots as an independent candidate, despite the fact that she, like all primary candidates, signed a form acknowledging her name couldn’t be on the ballot if she lost her primary.
In occasionally blunt language, attorneys representing state election officials argued Little’s case should be thrown out because she and her supporters are “trying to convert their disappointment into a lawsuit.”
“This case is about an attempt by a defeated politician to overturn the results of an election,” wrote the state’s attorneys.
The state is also seeking to add Rozia Henson — the Democrat who defeated Little in the primary by just 49 votes — as a party to the lawsuit, saying the case has ramifications for him as the primary winner. Henson is the only candidate on the ballot in the heavily Democratic 19th House District, made up of parts of Fairfax and Prince William counties.
In an interview, Little acknowledged her attempts to appear on the ballot failed, since the ballots were printed weeks ago and early voting got underway [Friday, Sept. 22]. However, she said she intends to continue the lawsuit and keep arguing the state needs a better mechanism to resolve disputes over whether primaries were conducted fairly. Little now identifies as an independent, but said she still supports many Democratic priorities.
“It’s disappointing that the party of inclusion can be so exclusionary,” Little said. “And what they call vetting is actually gatekeeping.”
Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, one of Virginia’s most prominent purveyors of unfounded election fraud claims, explored the idea of running a write-in campaign after losing a suburban Richmond primary battle against former state Sen. Glen Sturtevant. Chase told supporters in a Sept. 13 email she was dropping that plan because write-in campaigns involve “far too much work with little return.” She also floated the possibility of a statewide campaign next year, without identifying a specific office. Read More