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PolitiFact VA: Lucas falsely inflates Youngkin’s special election setback

Sen. L. Louise Lucas sitting the Virginia Senate chamber
Scott Elmquist
VPM News
State Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D–Portsmouth, has been in state office since the early 1990s.

Several Virginia governors have seen their party lose General Assembly seats during their term.

Speaker: State Sen. Louise Lucas
Statement: Glenn Youngkin is “the first sitting Governor in the modern era to have their party have less legislative seats than when they were elected.”
Date: Jan. 18
Setting: Twitter

State Sen. Louise Lucas (D–Portsmouth) says Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin suffered a historic setback in a Jan. 10 special election in Virginia Beach for an open state Senate seat.

Democrat Aaron Rouse beat Republican Kevin Adams in a race to replace Republican Jen Kiggans, who was elected last fall to the U.S. House of Representatives. Rouse’s victory increased the Democratic Senate majority to 22 to 18, and appears to have ended any immediate chance Youngkin had to push new abortion restrictions through the General Assembly.

Lucas tweeted on Jan. 18, “Today we swear in Senator Aaron Rouse and Glenn Youngkin becomes the first sitting governor in the modern era to have their party have less legislative seats than when they were elected.”

Lucas has 86,300 followers on Twitter. We fact checked her claim and found it is wrong. Since 1970, there have been more than 1,750 races to elect members of the General Assembly, including special elections. So, while we won’t list every instance of a governor’s party losing an election here, some notable examples disprove Lucas’s tweet.

Three governors have seen their party’s membership in the General Assembly shrink during their terms since the modern era of Virginia politics, often said to have begun with the inauguration of Republican Gov. Linwood Holton in 1970. Holton ended a 44-year stretch in which the governorship was held by segregationist Democrats who were loyal to a political machine founded by Harry Byrd, a former governor and longtime U.S. senator.

There are 140 seats in the General Assembly: 40 in the Virginia Senate and 100 in the House of Delegates.

Holton saw his party lose five seats during his historic term from 1970 to 1974, according to a database run by the Virginia Department of Elections. There were 31 Republicans in the legislature (Senate and House) when he took office and 26 when he left.

Democrat Gerry Baliles saw his party lose eight seats during his governorship from 1986 to 1990. There were 97 Democrats in the General Assembly when he was inaugurated and 89 when his term ended.

Democrat Doug Wilder’s party lost 15 seats when he led the state from 1990 to 1994. There were 89 Democrats when he started and 74 when he left.

Lucas told us she defines the modern era of Virginia politics as beginning in 1992, when she first took a seat in the General Assembly. “I’ve been here so long that anything after 1992 is modern to me,” she said.

By that count, however, Lucas’ statement doesn’t hold up. She took office during the final two years of Wilder’s term, when Democrats lost six of the 15 seats dropped under the former governor.

Lucas said also she meant to tweet that no Virginia governor in the modern era had seen his party’s membership shrink in the Senate — not the full legislature — during his term.

So, we applied both of Lucas’ added filters, starting a search in 1992 and limiting it to the state Senate. Lucas’s amended claim is still wrong.

Democrat Mark Warner’s party lost three Senate seats when he was governor from 2002 to 2006. The number of Democratic senators dropped from 19 to 16.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s party lost one Senate seat when he was governor from 2014 to 2018. The number of Democratic seats dropped from 20 to 19.

Our ruling

Lucas tweeted that Youngkin is “the first sitting Governor in the modern era to have their party have less legislative seats than when they were elected.”

Her statement doesn’t hold up when you begin in 1970, the widely cited start of the modern era of Virginia politics, and count the partisan change in the entire General Assembly during each governor’s term.

And it doesn’t hold up when you check Lucas’ amended version and just count the partisan change in the state Senate from 1992.

We rate Lucas’s statement False.


Louise Lucas tweet, Jan. 18, 2023

Interview with Lucas, Jan. 25, 2023

Virginia Department of Elections, database of past Virginia election results, legislative general and special election results from 1967-2022

Text message from Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, Jan. 24, 2023

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