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Record Number Of Women Elected To The Virginia Legislature

female supporters cheering
Female supporters cheer on results at the Democratic election night watch party. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

This week’s election resulted in a Democratic takeover of both the House and Senate — and for the first time in Virginia history, there are more women in the General Assembly than ever before. They now hold 41 out of 140 seats. 

Women gained four seats in the House of Representatives. Republican Carrie Coyner of District 62, and Democrats Nancy Guy, District 83, Martha Mugler, District 91 and Shelly Simonds in District 94. In 2017, Simonds against Del. David Yancey (R-Newport News) in a race that resulted in a tie, and Simonds losing the seat in a random. This time around, she defeated Yancey by almost 3500 votes. 

Simonds attributed her success to something she said voters need — change. 

“There was this desire for more diversity and more balance in our state legislature and nationally,” Simonds said. “We need leaders that are going to lead the way up, not lead the way down.”

The Senate added two women, Republican Jennifer Kiggans in District 7 and Democrat Ghazala Hashmi in the 10th. Hashmi is the first Muslim elected to the chamber.

Dr. Keneisha Grant, an associate professor of political science at Howard University, said people want legislators they can relate to. 

“Women who are elected to office can bring perspective. They are thinking about policy issues from a different position than a man might think about policy issues because they have a different life experience,” Grant said. 

Grant said it’s important for women to run, regardless of the outcome. She noted the significance of Sheila Bynum-Coleman’s run against Speaker of the House Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) in the 66th House District. 

“It increases the likelihood that women who run after her can be successful,” Grant said. “The woman who comes after her can learn from the things that happened and use those things to change the way that they approach their campaign.”

Grant said that if Democrats want to carry the momentum into the 2020 election, they should support more women and candidates of color. 

Alexsis Rodgers is the Virginia Director of Care in Action, a nonprofit representing domestic workers. She echoed Grant’s message and said there’s still a question of who will lead the new majority. 

“It's important that the folks who are leading our causes have the values and the perspectives to set the party priorities straight,” Rodgers said

There are four lawmakers competing to lead Democrats as House speaker in a vote on Saturday. House Minority Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn who would be the first woman to have the title, Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston), as well as Del. Luke Torian (D-Prince William County) and Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) — both of which could be the first African American speaker.

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