Virginia House Republicans outline agenda as Democrats hold out hope on uncalled races

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On top of sweeping Virginia’s three statewide elections, Republicans appear poised to reclaim a majority in the House of Delegates after two years of Democratic control.

The GOP has flipped five districts to win at least 50 seats and ensure a tie in the chamber, but House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (Shenandoah) said Thursday he doesn’t see a path for Democrats to win the races that have yet to be called and that he’s confident the GOP has flipped seven districts and will have a four-seat advantage in the House.

House Democrats have not conceded they have lost their majority and multiple races are still too close to call to give Republicans an edge, according to the Associated Press. Spokespeople for current House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) and the House Democratic caucus have not responded to 8News’ multiple requests for comment.

“We are going to make sure every Virginian’s voice is heard and every vote is counted,” Filler-Corn wrote in a statement Wednesday, noting that several races remain uncalled. Absentee ballots postmarked by Nov. 2 that come in by noon Friday are counted.

Even though votes still need to be counted and Democrats are not ceding control of the chamber, Gilbert outlined the caucus’s top priorities in a virtual press conference Thursday as if Republicans have regained a majority.

Gilbert shared the measures enacted under Democratic rule in the last two years that House Republicans aim to reverse with a majority, saying the caucus needs to “right some wrongs.” He also touched on the internal battle for House speaker.

The current status of the House’s balance of power

Republicans and Democrats are following three tight House races, all of which are within the 1% threshold for a recount.

Two Democratic incumbents, Del. Alex Askew (Virginia Beach) and Del. Martha Mugler (Hampton), trail their Republican challengers. Askew is 202 votes behind Karen Greenhalgh and Mugler is 272 votes away from Cordoza, according to results from the state’s Department of Elections.

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach) holds a small edge over Republican Tanya Gould, leading 14,969 votes to 14,735 with 24 of 26 precincts reporting.

All statewide election results in Virginia are unofficial until they are certified by the State Board of Elections on Nov. 15. 

Education is the top priority for Virginia House Republicans

When asked about what House Republicans’ top priority would be moving forward towards the next General Assembly session, Gilbert was clear that education was a top issue in the elections and would remain the main concern for the caucus.

“Absolutely, it’s education,” Gilbert said Thursday. “We have seen the education issue resonate so thoroughly and completely with Virginians this year because of what their children have been through. And it started with the pandemic and it progressed through our realization that there was really a movement afoot…to put excellence to the side in favor of so-called equity.”

Gilbert said Republicans would need “to right some wrongs,” citing a new law that removes the mandate that school principals report certain misdemeanors, including sexual battery, to the authorities. He added that the law was a focus for Republicans on the campaign trail and that it provided the base for the closing narrative of Glenn Youngkin’s campaign.

The top Virginia House Republican also spoke about school choice, embracing a proposal from Youngkin to bring more charter schools to Virginia.

A push to require photo IDs at the polls

Del. Gilbert said House Republicans would look to reinstate the requirement for voters to show a photo ID at the polls.

Republicans, including Youngkin, pushed the issue of “election integrity” during their campaigns. Democrats accused GOP candidates of pressing forward with the topic to align themselves with former President Donald Trump and his false claims that the 2020 presidential election was “stolen.”

After the GOP convention, Youngkin eventually acknowledged that President Joe Biden legitimately won the election. He continued to focus on voting reforms, specifically the photo ID requirement. 

“We are certainly going to do smart things like try to bring back common sense, in terms of voting rights, bring back common-sense measures like voter ID,” Gilbert said Thursday. “That’s something that I think universally people think is a good idea, that you should have to prove who you are before doing something as important as voting.” 

Virginia’s marijuana law

Democrats narrowly passed marijuana legalization last General Assembly session, with Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax breaking a tie in the state Senate. Republicans shared their concerns with the process, saying it was rushed after the state legislature decriminalized cannabis the year before. 

On Thursday, Del. Gilbert said Democrats in the Senate left many unresolved issues with the legislation after deciding to move forward without a regulatory framework.

While Republicans don’t seem interested in rolling back legalization, Gilbert claimed the existing law simply enhances the black market for marijuana. 

“They didn’t do it the right way,” Gilbert said of Senate Democrats. “If there is a right way to do it. So, we’re going to have to fix all that and we’re going to work with the Democratic Senate to fix all that. And I imagine the roadmap that they laid out as to how that would occur if they did it in the future, is going to change dramatically. But obviously, we’ve been left with that live grenade kind of rolling around and we need to fix it, or else all we have is a black market.” 

The race for Virginia House Speaker

While House Democrats await a few uncalled races, Republican contenders for a new House speaker have already emerged.

Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Scott), a House member since 1994 who ran unopposed this year, didn’t waste time to put his name in the hat for speaker. “It is time for fresh leadership and leadership that will keep and grow our new majority,” Kilgore, the House Republican campaign chair for this year’s elections, wrote in a statement Wednesday.

The announcement from Kilgore sets up a battle with Gilbert, who served as minority leader after former House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) decided not to seek a leadership role after Democrats seized power of the 100-member chamber in 2019.

Gilbert acknowledged that a speaker’s race is underway, saying Thursday that he feels confident that he has kept his promises on how he would lead the caucus and plans to make his case to members before they vote on new leadership on Nov. 14.

“Those things are internal caucus issues and matters and while I’m happy to discuss what I can, I think that is a different election with a very small constituency,” Gilbert said. “And I’ve been making my case to our caucus just as I did two years when we had kind of the same lineup of candidates.”

Del. Kilgore did not respond to multiple messages from 8News requesting an interview on Thursday.

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