In 2019 – for the first time in a quarter century – Virginians elected a Democratic trifecta, flipping both state legislative chambers blue. For a state that had historically aligned with its conservative neighbors to the South, this victory sent a resounding message: Virginia was ready for progressive change.
Democrats hit the ground running, passing transformational legislation – until Republicans won back the House of Delegates in 2021. For the past year and a half, a slim Democratic majority in the state Senate has been Virginians’ only defense against extreme GOP policies to restrict abortion rights and attack our LGBTQ+ neighbors.
Now, in 2023, Virginians find themselves at a crossroads: after two years of divided state government, November’s elections will determine the direction of the commonwealth’s future. The contrast between Democratic leadership and Republican extremism could not be any clearer, and the DLCC is all in on defending the Virginia Senate and winning back the House of Delegates.
After Virginia voters flipped the legislature blue in November 2019, Democrats moved quickly to pass legislation that the GOP had been blocking for decades, from LGBTQ+ equality to gun reform.
Strengthening access to abortion care was near the top of that list. Since 2012, Virginians seeking an abortion had to endure a 24-hour waiting period and a mandatory ultrasound. Democrats overturned both of those barriers, ensuring that pregnant people could make their own health care choices without government-mandated intimidation.
The Democratic trifecta transformed Virginia into a beacon of equality for the South – they passed the first LGBTQ+ non-discrimination protections in the region and repealed racist and discriminatory language still on the books. Before these reforms, Virginians could legally be fired or denied housing solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Democrats also moved quickly to codify voting rights protections. They repealed racist voter ID laws, opened absentee voting to all residents, implemented same-day voter registration, and more. These reforms were critical to ensuring all eligible Virginians had access to the ballot during the 2020 presidential election amid the pandemic.
Before Democrats took control of the chamber, Virginia had no significant laws on the books to address climate change. Democrats passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which boldly aimed for the commonwealth to reduce its carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
For Virginia workers, the minimum wage had been stagnant since 2009, holding at a pitiful $7.25 an hour while inflation grew. The trifecta delivered a nearly 66% increase – bringing the minimum wage to $12.00 an hour.
Democrats also broke the longstanding gridlock around gun safety. Still reeling from a 2019 Virginia Beach shooting that killed 12, Democrats implemented mandatory background checks for all gun sales, limited customers to one handgun a month, and implemented the use of emergency protection orders, otherwise known as red flag laws.
In this short timeframe, Democrats also managed to legalize marijuana, increase teachers’ salaries, establish a state-run insurance marketplace, and fund free community college for low and middle-income students.
After two years of progress in Virginia, a new GOP administration and a Republican House took power. The consensus among Republicans was clear: not only did the past two years need to be wiped away, but Virginia needed to be brought in line with MAGA extremists’ right-wing agenda.
Democrats still held a slim majority in the Senate, enabling them to block nearly all of the GOP’s attacks. But that didn’t stop Republicans from trying to roll back the commonwealth’s progress.
First on the GOP’s hit list was voting rights. House Republicans wasted no time introducing bills to roll back early voting and ban ballot drop boxes as well as reinstate a voter ID requirement, which would disproportionately disenfranchise Virginians of color. Senate Democrats held their ground and blocked these anti-democracy measures.
Next up was the environment: Republicans longed for the days of a completely deregulated environmental system with no intention of sustainability. House Republicans supported legislation to roll back the emission restrictions Democrats had put in place. Despite the past eight years being the warmest on record, the Virginia GOP still refuses to seriously confront climate change.
The 2022 overturn of Roe v. Wade presented an opportunity for new levels of misogynistic creativity. Virginia Republicans introduced anti-abortion bills ranging from a 15-week ban to a “life at conception” bill. While Senate Democrats blocked these attempts, Republicans killed their efforts to establish the right to abortion in the state constitution.
So far this year, there have been nearly 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced at the state level, cultivating a culture where queer people’s safety is not guaranteed. Virginia Republicans were no different, introducing legislation that would forcibly out trans children, restrict transgender athletes, and ban gender-affirming care for minors.
There is no debating it: if Republicans hold the House and take back the Senate, they will trample abortion rights, roll back progress, and sabotage democracy. And with a Republican governor, the stakes of this election could not be higher.
Now, Virginians find themselves at a critical juncture. Republicans are working tirelessly to drag the commonwealth back half a century, and the only way to stop them is by defending our majority in the Senate and regaining control of the House of Delegates.
Protecting Democratic wins in the Senate and flipping the House blue calls for a huge investment in time and resources now. That’s why the DLCC has added both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly to its 2023-2024 Path to the Majority – our bold plan to build back Democratic power across the country and stop MAGA Republicans.
Legislation surrounding abortion, voting rights, LGBTQ+ equality, and the environment have life-altering effects on the lives of millions in Virginia. Chip in now to help build the grassroots power we need to win in Virginia and beyond.