Longtime Virginia lawmaker Dick Saslaw, who’s represented parts of Fairfax County for nearly five decades, is retiring.
The 83-year-old Saslaw (D-35) made the announcement on the State Senate floor on this afternoon that he won’t be running for reelection in November.
“It has been the highest honor to serve the people of the 35th District for more than four decades in the Virginia State Senate,” Saslaw said in a statement. “…We’ve still got a ways to go, but I am proud to have played a role in the vast improvement we’ve seen in how marginalized communitiesare treated in the Commonwealth.”
— Senator Dick Saslaw (@DickSaslaw) February 23, 2023
Saslaw has served in the State Senate since 1980, representing the 35th District. That covers a chunk of Fairfax County, including parts of Annandale, Springfield, Falls Church, Lincolnia, Bailey’s Crossroads, and West Falls Church. He was first elected to public office in 1976 as a Virginia Delegate in District 19.
Saslaw is currently the Senate Majority Leader and the longest-serving member in the Senate by more than a decade.
Known throughout his career for being direct and having a colorful personality, Saslaw’s announcement on the Senate floor was true to form.
“Fish gotta swim. Birds gotta fly. And Saslaw’s gotta move on. Thank you all,” he said, according to Virginia Mercury reporter Graham Moomaw.
Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw making his retirement official right now on the Senate floor.
He says his "sell by date" is Jan. 10, 2024.
"By then I will have been in the General Assembly 48 years, including 44 in the Senate."
— Graham Moomaw (@gmoomaw) February 23, 2023
Saslaw will serve out his final term, which will end on Jan. 10, 2024.
The legislator’s retirement doesn’t come as a shock, considering his longevity and the long-held rumors, but it does clear up some election intrigue in regard to the recently redrawn 35th District.
2021’s redistricting process placed both Saslaw and fellow veteran lawmaker Sen. Dave Marsden into the same district. Last month, Marsden confirmed to FFXnow that he will run for election in the 35th District.
With Saslaw’s retirement, Marsden will no longer have to face off against a fellow incumbent, though he will have an opponent in June’s Democratic primary.
Saslaw is not the only long-time local lawmaker to announce their retirement in recent days.
Yesterday, long-time Del. Ken Plum announced he’s ending his 44-year career as a Virginia lawmaker. Plum has represented the Reston area in the General Assembly for 44 years.
He told FFXnow that the accomplishments he’s most proud of are helping to expand LGBTQ+ rights and protecting reproductive rights.
Almost immediately, four candidates jumped into the race to take over Plum’s seat next year.
Elsewhere in the county, some senior local elected officials are also heading for retirement. Both Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross and Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust announced they won’t seek reelection after their terms end on Dec. 31.
(Updated at 11:30 p.m.) Redistricting is going to make a number of state senate races in Fairfax County very interesting this year.
Just like the House of Delegates, every Virginia State Senate seat is up for election in 2023, and like in the Virginia General Assembly’s other chamber, several primaries may be extremely competitive after the 2021 redistricting process shook up electoral boundaries.
Incumbents that could face off
In the newly-drawn District 35, which covers Annandale, Springfield, and George Mason University, two longtime incumbents could be facing off.
Sen. Dave Marsden had been the senator in District 37 since 2010, but redistricting pushed him and about 31% of his constituents into the new district. He announced his bid for reelection a year ago and has been campaigning ever since, a campaign spokesperson told FFXnow.
“He’s knocked doors in more than half of the precincts of the new SD35, and looks forward to continuing to serve the residents of Fairfax,” the spokesperson said.
Marsden’s potential primary opponent, Sen. Dick Saslaw, has been in the senate since 1980, making him its longest-serving current member. He’s also been the Senate majority leader since the Democrats took control in 2020. While redistricting kept Saslaw in the 35th District, only about one-third of his former constituents remain with him.
There have been persistent rumors that the 82-year-old might retire, but no announcement has been made yet. FFXnow reached out to Saslaw about his 2023 intentions but hasn’t heard back as of publication.
Marsden and Saslaw, if he seeks reelection, would also face newcomer and entrepreneur Heidi Drauschak, who declared her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month.
The newly-drawn District 38, which includes Herndon, Reston, and McLean, could also pair two Democratic incumbents, including one that also has been rumored to retire.
Sen. Jennifer Boysko first became a senator in 2019 after previously serving in the House of Delegates for two terms. She hasn’t officially announced anything about 2023 and didn’t respond to FFXnow’s request for comment, but said last year that she intends to run again.
However, she may have to run against Sen. Janet Howell in the Democratic primary.
Howell has served in the senate for more than two decades, representing District 32. Her former constituents make up nearly half of the new District 38, but there are also similar rumors about her retiring.
Howell didn’t respond to inquiries from FFXnow.
Boysko told FFXnow when the redistricting maps were announced last January that she holds an enormous amount of respect for Howell, calling her “the dean of the Senate” and a “true pioneer for women in government.”
Whoever wins the Democratic nomination will have to face Republican Matt Lang in the Nov. 7 general election. Lang challenged Del. Ken Plum in 2021 but lost rather handily.
He told FFXnow that he’s running to break the “blue wall” in the senate, focusing on education policy, public safety, transportation issues and financial mismanagement.
Other potential primary battles
Other primaries that are shaping up to be potentially competitive include District 36, which covers Centreville, Chantilly, Clifton, and Fair Oaks.
Stella Pekarsky, who represents the Sully District on Fairfax County’s school board, announced last week that she will challenge for the seat to “stand up” to Governor Glenn Youngkin.
The incumbent is four-term George Barker, though redistricting kept only about 6% of his former constituents in District 36. As a member of the Virginia Redistricting Commission, he came under some fire in 2021 for drawing himself back into a district that, at the time, had no other challengers. Read More
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