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Democrats Select First Female Speaker; House Won't Hold Special Session on Guns

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn at a press conference in August. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn at a press conference in August. (Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Virginia’s legislature has been around for 400 years, but it’s always been led by men. That will change in January, when Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) takes over the House of Delegates.

House Democrats selected Filler-Corn as their pick for the next Speaker of the House in a closed-door meeting on Saturday. She works for a northern Virginia lobbying firm and has been in the House for a decade. She’s also the first Jewish woman to take the helm in the House.

“We will continue to have a wide range of opinions as to the best path forward,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “We are not bound by an ideology that comes from me or any other Democratic leaders in our Commonwealth or our nation.”

Democrats will hold a 55-45 advantage in the lower chamber when the legislature convenes in January.

Filler-Corn beat out three other contenders, including two black delegates, to take the post. Del. Lascharese Aird (D-Petersburg), who was backed by some progressives in the party, said in a statement that she looked forward to working with Filler-Corn.

“Though I may have come up short this time, I am proud to have helped pave the road for young, black-women with dreams of rising to leadership,” Aird said.

Another African-American lawmaker, Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), was selected as majority leader, while Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) will serve as caucus chair.

The current GOP Majority Leader, Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) congratulated the new picks but expressed concern that the Democratic leadership team all hailed from northern Virginia.

"Republicans remain hopeful that all parts of our Commonwealth will be heard in the new House of Delegates,” Gilbert said in a statement.

Separately, Gilbert said House Republicans wouldn’t press ahead with plans for a full November 18 special session devoted to gun violence after discussing the issue with Democrats. Gilbert said it was clear that Gov. Ralph Northam would veto any GOP legislation that made it out of both chambers.

“Going forward with a session that has no chance of producing legislation that will become law would be a waste of taxpayer resources,” Gilbert said.

Gov. Northam called a special session on gun violence in the wake of a May mass shooting in Virginia Beach, with GOP leaders accusing Northam of acting hastily and attempting to politicize the tragedy. When the session convened in July, Republicans voted to delay the session until November 18, deferring bills to the State Crime Commission for review.

The Crime Commission’s meeting on Tuesday to review its findings was also canceled by the group’s chairman, Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham). Obenshain said the report will be released “in the coming days.”

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