Sen. Jennifer McClellan announces her candidacy for governor

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 6/25/2020, 6 p.m.
After 15 years in the General Assembly, Sen. Jennifer L. Mc- Clellan wants to play a bigger role in shaping …
Sen. McClellan

After 15 years in the General Assembly, Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan wants to play a bigger role in shaping state policy.

The Richmond lawmaker promised to offer leadership that would allow Virginia to “boldly step into the future” in entering the race for governor.

Now in her second term in the General Assembly’s upper chamber, Sen. McClellan announced on June 18 her bid for the state’s top elected office in 2021 and portrayed herself as the person to guide the state that is at a “critical crossroads right now about what direction we’re going to go.”

The main focus of her campaign, Sen. McClellan told the Free Press this week, will be on restoring faith in government as a “positive force for change and for solving problems” in dealing with the health, economic and racial crises that have upended business as usual. “We need to rebuild Virginia’s economy, restore health care and the social safety net and overcome the systematic inequities that we have been dealing with,” she said. “I am ready to lead Virginia forward through these crises,” said the 47-year-old Petersburg native who has long made Richmond her home and public service a mainstay of her life.

An attorney and married mother of two, Sen. McClellan said she is negotiating a leave of absence from Verizon, where she works as an assistant legal counsel.

Sen. McClellan hopes to become the state’s first female and the nation’s first African-American woman governor. She is the second Democratic candidate to officially announce her bid for the nomination, although others are waiting in the wings to jump in.

Prince William Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, also an African-American, declared her candidacy in late May.

Lt. Gov. Justin E. Fairfax and former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the nation’s first elected African-American governor who served from 1990 to 1994, remain the only African-Americans elected to statewide office in Virginia.

Sen. McClellan served 11 years in the House of Delegates before winning a special election in January 2017 for the Senate seat after former state Sen. A. Donald McEachin was elected to Congress.

Both in the House and Senate, Sen. McClellan built a reputation as a knowledgeable legislator who has worked to bring together progressive and establishment groups. She touts her record of working across the aisle with Republicans to get legislation passed, even when Democrats were in the minority in the General Assembly.

Sen. McClellan was a leader in putting Virginia on the path to 100 percent clean energy by 2045 and providing stronger protections for pregnant workers.

She also was chief Senate sponsor on the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, while Delegate Carroll Foy took the lead in the House.

Sen. McClellan led the effort to strengthen Obamacare by creating a state health care insurance exchange and in the expanding Medicaid that has led to health coverage for more than 430,000 adults who were not previously covered.

Sen. McClellan, who serves on the state Democratic steering committee, also has been engaged in racial justice issues as vice chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus and as chair of the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission.

As chair of the King Commission, she is now engaged in bringing a new statue honoring emancipation and freedom to Brown’s Island and in marking the 150th anniversary of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that have been critical to protecting African-American rights.

On criminal justice, Sen. McClellan has been a leader in pushing parole reform and stopping the school-to-prison pipeline. She also supports making the disciplinary history of police officers public and is supporting other police reforms that are expected to dominate an upcoming special session of the legislature in August.

In her view, the time is ripe to consider how resources are allocated for public safety and to focus more “resources on prevention and addressing underlying causes.”

Like other Virginia Legislative Black Caucus members, Sen. McClellan supports the removal of Confederate statues. She noted conversations have begun on removing Confederate statues in Capitol Square and in the State Capitol.

Meanwhile, Democratic competitors are gathering. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is weighing running to succeed Gov. Ralph S. Northam. So are Lt. Gov. Fairfax and Attorney General Mark R. Herring.

Still, Sen. McClellan, like Delegate Carroll Foy, is undaunted. She said she has been flooded with expressions of support.

“This is not a time to sit on the sidelines,” she said. “Black women have been the backbone of our communities and our economy but have been relegated to the shadows or the back over the past 400 years. But we’re going to keep pushing through to lead and keep striving for progress.”