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Mark Keam served as delegate for Virginia’s 35th House District for 13 years (courtesy Mark Keam)

Mark Keam’s 13-year tenure in the Virginia General Assembly has come to a close.

After accepting a position in the Office of National Travel and Tourism in the Biden administration, Keam announced on Tuesday (Sept. 6) that he has submitted his resignation as delegate for the 35th House District, which includes Tysons, Vienna, Dunn Loring, Oakton and Fair Oaks.

Vying to succeed him in a special election set for Jan. 10 — one day before the legislature convenes for its 2023 session — will be Providence District School Board Representative Karl Frisch and BRAWS Executive Director Holly Seibold. Candidates can file to run until 5 p.m. on Nov. 14.

In a brief interview with FFXnow, Keam reflected on legislative highlights from his six-and-a-half terms in office, the increased diversity of the General Assembly, and his advice for the district’s next delegate.

(Editor’s note: The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)

What are the accomplishments you’re most proud of?

I’ve been very, very honored and fortunate to work on many, many issues…I’ve been able to pass, last time I counted, it was about 120 bills that I drafted myself, either under my name or something I drafted was incorporated into somebody else’s bill.

Among them, I think the one that stands out the most to me in terms of significance and [that] I feel very proud of is the Virginia Environmental Justice Act. It requires Virginia state government agencies, as they’re issuing permits and authorizations, to look at the environmental justice impact, not just in terms of how much it’s going to cost and the economics, but also who’s going to be harmed and who’s going to be benefitted from something where we’re allowing — let’s say, for example, a pipeline to go through a neighborhood or we’re building something that’s going to create smog and pollution. Because unfortunately, a lot of environmental impact, the worst part falls on people of color and minorities, poor people, uneducated people who don’t have a voice in our government.

…Another one I’m very proud of supporting and pushing through after years and years of trying is the Solar Freedom Act, which means that we allow now solar energy to be provided a lot more accessibly for families and homes and businesses and local governments, so that was something that I was very proud to do.

I think the other thing I was really, really proud to accomplish is I worked for years to get rid of the taxes on tampons and personal hygiene products, because I think that’s so discriminatory for women to have to pay taxes on tampons and menstrual pads. Guys never have to do that, so I always thought that was an unfair thing, and after working for years and years, I put the first bill in in 2016, and after working for five years, Governor Youngkin’s budget actually gets rid of that now. We were able to accomplish that, so I feel good about that. Read More

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Mark Keam has resigned as delegate for Virginia’s 35th House District after 13 years (courtesy Mark Keam)

(Updated at 1:30 p.m. on 9/7/2022) Del. Mark Keam (D-35) has stepped down from his seat in the Virginia General Assembly after representing Tysons, Vienna, and Oakton for over a decade.

In an email message to supporters, Keam announced this morning (Tuesday) that he has submitted his resignation to Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert in order to work in President Joe Biden’s administration.

“While I have loved every moment of the past thirteen years as your state legislator, I have decided to continue my public service in another capacity,” Keam said in the message. “…Returning to federal service will require me to work full time, all year long, which is why I submitted my resignation to the Speaker of the House who will soon call a special election to fill the vacancy until my term expires in January 2024.”

Keam will join the Department of Commerce and the Office of National Travel and Tourism in the International Trade Administration, he told FFXnow. His career has included past legal work for the federal government.

Contenders for the now-vacant 35th District seat are already stepping up for a special election that Speaker of the House Del. Todd Gilbert announced will be held on Jan. 10, just one day before the General Assembly starts its 2023 session.

Karl Frisch, who represents Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board, announced his candidacy this morning, positioning himself as “a progressive fighter” who will oppose Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s agenda.

“We need someone who will stand up to Governor Youngkin and the far-right — someone who will work every day to protect our world-class public schools, defend reproductive freedom, build an economy that works for everyone, prevent gun violence, heal our planet, and preserve our democracy,” Frisch said.

Holly Seibold, founder and executive director of the nonprofit Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters (BRAWS), confirmed to FFXnow that she will also compete for Keam’s seat in the upcoming special election.

(Correction: This article initially said Seibold was going to challenge Keam in a primary next year, but Seibold clarified that she had submitted her candidacy after learning that Keam was going to step down and she got his support to join the race for the open delegate seat.)

Originally elected to the House of Delegates in 2009, Keam was the first Asian-born immigrant and first Korean American to serve in the General Assembly. He helped found the legislative chamber’s first Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus last year.

During his 13 years as a state lawmaker, Keam made environmental issues a top focus, authoring a bill that established a state grant program to fund electric school buses. Other notable pieces of legislation include a requirement that public schools provide free menstural supplies and the creation of a special identification card for individuals who are blind or visually impaired.

Most recently, Keam easily won reelection to a seventh term last November after facing a challenger for the first time since 2013.

The Fairfax County Democratic Committee thanked Keam for “more than a decade of public service.”

“While we wait to hear when the special election to replace Del. Keam will happen, FCDC is formalizing its plans to operate an open and fair process to choose our nominee,” FCDC Chair Bryan Graham said in a statement. “We will ensure that a Democrat remains representing the people of Dunn Loring, Tysons, Vienna, and Oakton in the current 35th House District.”

Under Virginia’s new redistricting maps, which were approved by the state Supreme Court in December, much of the 35th District — including Tysons, Vienna, Dunn Loring, and part of Oakton — will be subsumed into a new 12th House District that extends south into Mantua down to Little River Turnpike.

The new district will take effect with the 2023 general election.

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