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Jennifer McClellan Announces Bid for Governor

Jennifer McClellan speaks at podium
Sen. Jennifer McClellan (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) officially announced a bid for governor on Thursday.

The Verizon attorney brings 15 sessions of legislative experience in the General Assembly and a rich network in Richmond and the Democratic Party of Virginia to her bid for next year's elections.

McClellan said she’ll leverage that experience with a push to increase education funding, improve access to healthcare, and push criminal justice reform. She said the pandemic and recent protests make those goals even more urgent.

“We are at a critical crossroads in our country and in our state,” McClellan said in an interview. “Are we going to rebuild our Virginia in the face of these crises as one that finally addresses 400 years of inequity and becomes a source of solving problems for all, or not?”

If either McClellan or Del. Jennifer Carrol Foy (D-Prince William), who is  also running for the Democratic nomination, wins the general election, they would be the first African American woman to hold a governor’s post in the U.S.

Both face a formidable foe in former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who expressed interest in returning to his old job to the Washington Post  last month . His political action committee has  taken in $370,000 in large-dollar donations since the article was published on May 11.

McClellan said she wasn’t running against McAuliffe or any other possible contenders, who include Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring. But she said she was best positioned to move Virginia into a new chapter of history given her legislative experience.

“I also have a 30-year history since college of being a community leader and party leader working with the grassroots to solve problems,” McClellan said.

McClellan was elected to the House of Delegates in 2005. She won her current Senate seat in 2017. Her deliberative, policy-driven approach to politics earned her respect from enough Republicans to pass bills when the chambers were in their hands, including  a bill that removed a loophole allowing children as young as 13 to legally marry.

The senator was especially prolific this session as the legislature flipped to Democratic control. McClellan successfully drove  bills that overhauled Virginia’s electrical grid, removed GOP restrictions on abortions, and established a commission on school modernization.

Rebuilding the state economy “in a way that doesn’t pit workers against business and doesn’t leave anyone behind” would be an early priority, McClellan said. She stopped short of calling for a repeal of Virgina's right-to-work law -- an interestingly popular position among progressiveDprogressive -- but said she supported legislation that would require non-unionized workers to pay dues in workplaces where collective bargaining is in place.

McClellan’s district includes the statue of Robert E. Lee slated for removal by Gov. Ralph Northam; she said in a statement Richmond’s confederate statues “cause pain and trigger trauma for my family and millions of Black families across America.”

McClellan is married to David Mills, former executive director of the state Democratic Party. She has been endorsed by Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax), Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield), and Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond).

Political analyst Bob Holsworth said many party leaders in Virginia had long seen McCellan as a prime contender for statewide office given her years of relationship-building inside the party.

“She has been the object of attention of Democrats for some time,” Holsworth said.

While McAuliffe is also well-liked by many Democrats and a tireless fundraiser, Holsworth said it was unlikely he would coast to an easy victory given the crowded field.

“There is a sense in the Democratic Party that it’s time for a woman,” Holsworth said.

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