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Controversial Republican State Senator Announces Retirement

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Craig Carper/WCVE News

Republican state Senator Dick Black announced on Wednesday that he would retire at the end of his term to spend more time with his family.

The move could influence the balance of power in the Senate, which Republicans currently control by a single vote.

Black became known for his arch-conservative politics and controversial statements and political gestures, including likening same-sex marriage to incest and passing out plastic fetuses on the floor of the General Assembly.

He also drew international headlines for 2016 and 2018 visits to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose policies Black defended. Al-Assad is accused of perpetrating war crimes by United Nations investigators.

The senator’s positions have made him a top target for Democrats in upcoming elections. His Northern Virginia district voted for Democratic Governor Ralph Northam by over 10 points in 2017 and handed Senator Tim Kaine a nearly 20 point victory last year.

Those trends point to a “strategic retirement” from Black, according to Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy.

“I think he just sees the writing on the wall,” Bitecofer said.

Bitecofer said the move would allow Republicans to nominate a more moderate candidate, but argued that President Trump’s persistent unpopularity in Virginia would continue to be a hurdle.

“It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see the GOP field a good candidate in that district and put up an expensive fight to hold the seat,” she said. “But the advantage will definitely be with the Democrats.”

In a statement, the 74-year-old former Marine and Vietnam War veteran said he was “honored to serve, both in uniform and in elected office.”

“Although I’ve appreciated representing a quarter million people in Richmond, it takes a tremendous amount of time away from the family,” he said. “I will continue to support our nation’s quest for strength–through peace.”

Black is widely seen as one of the most conservative members of the legislature. He sponsored bills that outlawing female genital mutilation, requiring parental consent before minors could get abortions, and mandating that school districts have a Dyslexia specialist on staff.

In 2002, Black spoke out against provisions of a bill that broadened the definition of marital rape to include couples living under the same roof.

“I do not know how on a Earth you can validly get a conviction of a husband/wife rape where they are living together, sleeping in the same bed--she’s in a nightie, and so forth,” he said at the time. Black later voted to pass the bill.

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Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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