RICHMOND, Va. — History could be made Saturday in Virginia’s House of Delegates. Democrats will vote on who will be the new speaker of the House, and we could see a woman or person of color in the job for the first time.
The Speaker of the House sets the agenda for what bills are voted on in the House of Delegates and determines who holds power in committees overseeing them.
The vote could make major changes to the General Assembly for years to come, in terms of what issues lawmakers make a priority and who leads different committees.
“Speakers of the House of Delegates have been, for hundreds of years … white men, so that will change most likely in this session coming up,” said Rich Meagher, an associate political science professor at Randolph Macon College. “That is a historic moment for the state and I think it signals to Democrats as well as voters more generally that change is coming.”
The possible picks include Del. Ken Plum (Fairfax), the longest-serving member of the House. Either Del. Luke Torian (Prince William) or Del. Lashrecse Aird (Petersburg) would be the first African-American speaker and Meagher says their names being considered reveals the increasing power of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, which they are both members of. If elected, Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (Fairfax) would be the first Jewish person to hold the job.
Oftentimes, lawmakers already in leadership positions, are a consistent nominee for these roles, Meagher said.
“[Filler-Corn] might try to say ‘Let’s keep a steady hand going. I’m the person who’s been guiding us recently, you know what you’re getting with me, so why don’t we continue on,’” Meagher said.
Meagher says Filler-Corn and Aird are top contenders for the job. If either were elected, they would be the first woman to hold this role in Virginia.
Democrats have not held the majority in the General Assembly in more than 20 years.
Aird, who is the youngest woman ever elected to the General Assembly, has released a 60-day plan for what she would do if chosen as the speaker.
“Virginia Democrats have not been terribly organized over the past two decades,” Meagher said. “So what Aird’s suggests is ‘If you vote for me for speaker we will be organized for the first time in years’… She’s really trying to suggest it’s not business as usual that what we’re trying to do in the democratic party is a move forward in a new direction.”
Republican Kirk Cox has been the speaker since 2018. He was reelected for another term after serving 30 years in the House of Delegates.
The 2020 General Assembly session begins Jan. 8.