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Leadership falls into place for upcoming General Assembly session

House Democratic Leader Don Scott smiles as he gives remarks
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
House Democratic Leader Don Scott gives remarks to members of the media during the Virginia House and Senate Democratic Caucuses watch party on Wednesday, November 8, 2023 at the Omni Richmond Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.

Democrats in the General Assembly will have an unprecedented number of Black legislators in leadership positions.

Democratic legislators announced more leadership positions Wednesday, choosing Sen. Scott Surovell, of Fairfax, to be the majority leader. This comes after Saturday’s nomination of Del. Don Scott, of Portsmouth, to be speaker of the House.

Democrats in the General Assembly will have an unprecedented number of Black legislators in leadership positions. Del. Charniele Herring, of Alexandria, will return as majority leader in the House, and Sen. Mamie Locke will be caucus chair in the Senate. Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears will continue to preside over the Senate.

Leader Scott and Wilder have lunch
Don Scott
House Democratic Leader Don Scott, left, has lunch with former Gov. Doug Wilder on Thursday Nov. 14, 2023, according to the Leader's X post.

“I think it is monumental, as it relates to people overcoming previous barriers of denial and to be in a position; likewise to overcome previous things in their own lives,” said former Gov. Douglas Wilder.

Wilder was the first elected Black Virginia senator since reconstruction and later became the first elected Black governor in the U.S.

Wilder and Scott met for breakfast Tuesday.

There will also be a record number of Black legislators in the Assembly. In 1869, there were 24 Black delegates and six Black senators, previously the highest number of Black legislators in elected state government. In January, when the 2024 session begins, there will be at least 24 Black delegates and seven Black senators.

Black legislators first served in the General Assembly during the post-Civil War period of Reconstruction, but none were in office from 1890-1969. That’s when William Ferguson Reid and Wilder were elected to the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia, respectively.

Black legislators are also poised to lead the budgeting process.

While Scott said Tuesday that Del. Luke Torian, of Prince William County, would return as chairperson of House Appropriations, senate committee chairs will not be announced until session, a spokesperson for the caucus wrote in an email. Sen. Louise Lucas, of Portsmouth, is the most senior member in the chamber and served on that committee last session.

Wilder said the money committee leadership will “be in a position to determine more equitable distribution of taxpayer dollars to benefit all of Virginia's taxpayers.”

“My one-word definition of politics is 'money,'" he said.

Locke and Surovell speak at a podium
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie E. Locke and Vice Chair Scott Surovell give remarks while holding a brick during the Virginia House and Senate Democratic Caucuses watch party on Tuesday, November 7, 2023 at the Omni Richmond Hotel in Richmond, Virginia.

Republican senators and senators-elect also chose their leadership Wednesday. Sen. Ryan McDougle, of Hanover, will be minority leader and Sen. Mark Obenshain, of Harrisonburg, will be the Senate GOP’s caucus chairperson.

“We will be working collaboratively with Governor Youngkin to promote his priorities, and we are determined to thwart partisan obstructionism,” said McDougle in a press release.

Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert will be minority leader in that chamber again.

“I look forward to working with our caucus to advance our shared Republican values and serve as a check on the worst far-left policies put forward by the incoming Democratic majority,” said Gilbert.

Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said that the governor thinks he and the Democratic legislature can come together on “ensuring safe communities, continuing the transformation in behavioral health, providing additional tax relief, prioritizing excellence in education, and making sure government is responsive and efficient.”

Wilder said he thought the new Democratic leadership might collaborate with Youngkin on funding for HBCUs. Recently, federal officials estimated Virginia State University was underfunded by over $277 million between 1987 and 2020.

Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.