Before cruising to victory unopposed Nov. 7, two local House of Delegates members prognosticated about the election’s results, anticipated dominant issues in the 2018 General Assembly session and discussed how the highly charged political atmosphere is motivating candidates.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th), who chairs the House Democratic Caucus, predicted the party would have success flipping some GOP districts over to the Democrats.
“If we won four seats, that would be our best performance in a decade,” he said. “If we get to five or more, it would be most Democratic seats since 1975, when they picked up 13.”
Sullivan predicted that Medicaid and health-care issues would occupy the General Assembly’s time next year, as well as Gov. McAuliffe’s last budget, which would be modified by whichever candidate was elected Virginia’s next governor.
Sullivan said he would continue pressing for legislation that would make it easier for people to vote and ensure that decennial redistricting is done equitably.
The delegate also is going to keep an eye on a Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, that will be decided next spring by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case’s central issue is whether a redistricting map in that Midwestern state was drawn unconstitutionally for political reasons, Sullivan said.
Sullivan would not speculate on whether some voters were less willing to reveal their political leanings because of ongoing controversies involving President Trump, but said Democrats are highly motivated.
“There are 66 Republican seats [up for grabs in the election] and we are challenging in 54, the most in recent memory,” Sullivan said Nov. 6. “It’s a sign of the times. People are motivated to get involved and run. It’s been a very gratifying year, win, lose or draw.”
The only challenger Sullivan has faced was Republican David Foster, whom he defeated in an August 2014 special election to succeed Del. Bob Brink (D-48th), who had taken a post in the McAuliffe administration. Sullivan was unopposed in 2015.
Del. Mark Keam (D-35th), who also ran unopposed Nov. 7, was upbeat about the Democratic Party’s prospects before the election. He cautiously predicted Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) would best Republican Ed Gillespie in the gubernatorial race and said Democrats likely would pick up four or five delegate seats.
The budget, health-care and Medicaid issues, transportation and other infrastructure needs, pension funding and the ongoing teacher shortage will garner much attention from state legislators in the next General Assembly session, Keam predicted.
Of that last topic, Keam said teachers were being asked to perform too many functions, such as counseling youths traumatized by family and neighborhood problems, instead of being able to concentrate more on teaching.
The teacher dearth may afford education leaders the opportunity to implement new hiring practices, such as recruiting instructors from other occupations who are looking for a career change or are on the cusp of retirement, he said.
“I’d like to use the challenges we have here to benefit our students,” Keam said.
President Trump’s win last year over Democrat Hillary Clinton indirectly forced local politicians to step up their game, Keam said.
“People are paying a lot more attention to their government,” he said. “It matters who’s in office and advocating what policies. It should never be seen as, ‘If you don’t like Trump, vote for Democrats.’ Both parties need to offer a positive and specific agenda about what their party will do.”
Keam has faced only two challengers in his eight-year legislative career. He edged out Republican James Hyland in 2009 to succeed Del. Stephen Shannon (D), who that year ran an unsuccessful campaign for state lieutenant governor. Keam in 2013 defeated Republican Leiann Luse by a wide margin.
Two other delegate races within the newspaper’s readership area were contested.
Del. Marcus Simon (D-53rd) ran for a third term Nov. 7 while facing independent challenger Mike Casey.
Simon had not had an opponent since the November 2013 election, when he defeated Republican Brad Tidwell and Libertarian Anthony Tellez to succeed Simon’s former mentor, James Scott (D).
In the 34th District, which has featured several close elections in recent years, incumbent Del. Kathleen Murphy (D) faced a challenge from Republican Cheryl Buford.