Stakes high for Tuesday’s General Assembly races

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/31/2019, 6 p.m.
The future direction of Virginia will be on the line when voters in Richmond and across the state go to ...

The future direction of Virginia will be on the line when voters in Richmond and across the state go to the polls next Tuesday, Nov. 5, to elect a new legislature.

Along with local races, including one for the 5th District City Council seat in Richmond, ordinary citizens will vote to fill 140 General Assembly seats — 100 seats in the House of Delegates and 40 in the state Senate. The outcome will decide which political party, Democrats or Republicans, will hold the majority in each chamber and control policy making and state spending.

Richmond voters will play a role. The city is now cut into eight House districts, with significant contests in four. The city also is split into three Senate districts, with a major contest in the 10th District that covers The Fan and other western portions on both sides of the river.

The selection of the winners — and majority control — is expected to directly affect people’s lives in areas where the two parties generally are diametrically opposed. That includes whether Virginia’s $7.25 minimum wage should be increased, whether gun control laws are approved and whether a constitutional amendment providing equal rights for women is passed. Also at stake are control of the state budget, election of judges and policies regarding health care and spending on public education.

As has been the case since at least 2011, Republicans control both the House and Senate, although with only slender majorities after a 2017 surge in Democratic House wins. At this moment, the GOP holds a 51-48 edge over Democrats in the House, with one vacancy, and a 20-19 edge in the Senate, with one vacancy.

Heading into the election, public records suggest Democrats are ahead in fundraising for candidates and in popular opinion, with recent polls suggesting more people are enthusiastic about the Democratic Party’s candidates. But only the balloting will determine if such polls are accurate.

Should Democrats win enough seats to capture both houses, it would build on the momentum from 2017 when the party’s candidates captured all three top statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general.

It could also usher in what some are calling a “new Virginia.”

For workers, GOP majorities have meant a blockade against any state increase in the $7.25 minimum wage that has been in place since 2009, despite Democratic efforts and overwhelming public support for a hike to as high as $15 an hour, according to published polls.

The Republican majority in the House also has stood in the way of Virginia becoming the 38th and final state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to constitutionally ensure women are on equal legal footing with men.

And in an era when mass shootings have become almost a weekly occurrence, the Virginia legislature in GOP hands has become the place where gun control bills go to die, a key reason the National Rifle Association is spending lavishly to support Republican candidates in the commonwealth.

A Democratic majority would have the votes to pass many of the gun laws polls show the majority of the public supports. Those include universal background checks for all gun buyers, red flag authority to confiscate weapons from the mentally disturbed, bans on high-capacity am- munition magazines, restoration of local authority to ban guns from libraries, parks and other public places and to limit handgun sales to one gun a month.