Freshman Class of Va Delegates 2018 Brings Diversity to the House

| January 23, 2018 | 0 Comments | News

Kathy Tran, Hala Ayala, Danica Roem, Jennifer Carroll Foy and Elizabeth Guzman. (Photo by Mike Beaty.)

Thirteen new members of the Virginia House of Delegates participated in a celebratory swearing in ceremony in Richmond, Jan. 20, including a diverse group Northern Virginia representatives. Six more new delegates were sworn in Sunday.

Although all members were officially sworn in on Jan. 10, the ceremony marked the occasion for friends and family.

Delegate Danica Roem (D-13th) described the event as a way to share the day with those who to helped make it happen.

“We get to celebrate with family and friends. More than a 1,000 people showed up to see them and to stand up, applaud and cheer. My entire campaign staff showed up, my family of birth, family of choice and family of work, a lot of people who have been a major part of my life. It was a really sweet and incredible day, and just a joyous occasion.”

The vast majority of new members to the House of Delegates are Democrats. They are being celebrated, especially within their party, for the diversity they bring to the house. Eleven of the newly elected delegates are women.

Roem made history by being the first transgender woman to serve in a U.S. state house. Elizabeth Guzman (31st) is one of the first Latina Americans to serve on the General Assembly. Kathy Tran (42nd) is an Asian-American woman and Jennifer Carroll Foy (2nd) an African-American woman. Hala Ayala (51st) has Latin, African, Middle-Eastern and European ancestry.

And although Lee Carter appears a typical delegate on the surface, as a Democratic-Socialist, he surprised many by winning in a once-solidly Republican District.

See more of Mike Beaty’s photos on Flickr

The ceremony occurred the same day as the “March On the Polls DC” and one year after the Women’s March; perhaps appropriate for a swearing in that featured so many female legislators.

Virginia jumped from being ranked 35th (19%) in women in the legislature in 2017 to 22nd (27%) in 2018, according to Julie Copeland, Executive Director of Emerge Virginia, an organization which trains Democratic women to run for office.

“Emerge Virginia alumnae made political history both in-state and across the country,” said Copeland.

As such, many of the new female delegates were featured on the cover of TIME Magazine, which celebrated the “blue wave” and dubbed female politicians “Avengers,” for rewriting the rule books on how to win elections.

The cover did not focus on one overarching figure, but showed that many, many women had put themselves out there, ran and won. Roem, who is now used to media publicity said she appreciates that.

The most important thing about it to me is they highlighted the achievements of so many other women in our freshman class who ran their races just as hard as I did. It’s really, really nice to be highlighted among a group of women delegates instead of singled out because of my gender,” she said. 

Yet, in 2018, it is still newsworthy when heterosexual women are elected to office because there is still a lack of parity between men and women in politics. But it’s not only about statistics, explained Roem, it’s about including different perspectives.

“Women tend to bring a strong sense of a collaborative spirit, of great ideas based upon lived experience – whether its parenting, intimate involvement in your children’s education, to transportation policy, civil rights, the judicial system… our voices are often missing from the negotiating table.”

However, it is just getting to the point in which there is near parity within the Democratic caucus. “Ideally, more of our legislators should be women.We have more work to do.” 

But as Democrats celebrate, they are just falling short of the majority, and that has consequences.** For one thing, it means that every committee has two more Republicans than Democrats, making it very difficult for Democratic bills to make it out of committee. And almost all committees and subcommittees are Republican led.

Roem said this is just one reason 2018 is so important; it is an opportunity to rewrite the rules, something both parties are surely interested in.

However, this year, she does think the Democrats can have a big influence on passing the budget.

Meanwhile, Carter remains hopeful on many fronts.

“There are items that I believe are ‘low hanging fruit’ that will get passed that will make life better for Virginians. I’m partnering with some Republicans on bills, and if you’ve got buy-in across the aisle like that, it boosts the odds of success.”

He also thinks Medicaid expansion is within reach, saying he’s “really hopeful” about its chances.

“It was something the top of the ticket ran on last year, and it’s something I feel strongly will go a long way in helping 400,000 Virginians get healthcare, including several thousand that live in the 50th district.”

“In terms of my bills, I’m very hopeful that the three Worker’s Compensation reform bills I’ve submitted will be successful. It’s been an interesting session thus far, but I’m optimistic,” said Carter.

*Bristow Beat reached out to additional delegates but did not hear back in time for publication.

*The makeup of the delegation could change during the session. A tied delegation seat in the 94th District was decided by choosing a name out of a bowl and Republican incumbent Del. David Yancey was named the winner.

Another seat in Stafford County is being contested. Republican Robert Thomas beat Democrat Joshua Cole by a small margin in the Fredericksburg-area 28th District race. Election officials have said some voters were given the wrong ballots. Democrats have asked a Federal judge to review the ruling.

Photos by Mike Beaty. He encourages readers to visit his Flickr page

© 2018, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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