Most Virginians have not heard of State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax). They should. He runs Virginia’s government.
2020 marked the first time in 26 years that Virginia’s Democrats controlled executive offices, the judicial branch, and the General Assembly.
The politics in Old Dominion have trended increasingly blue thanks to major population centers, but rural red districts and some conservative suburban voters are still a significant source of political power in the Commonwealth.
That meant that although Democrats had a golden opportunity to pass sweeping progressive legislation, they had to walk a tightrope to reach those goals. A narrow Democratic state Senate majority – with three veteran moderates in the Democratic Senate caucus – left no room for in-fighting between the leftist and centrist wings of the party.
The Virginia Star’s person of the year Surovell functioned as the bridge in the Democratic Senate caucus, having gained the trust of Majority Leader Senator Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax).
Surovell’s support was critical for bills introduced into the Senate. Legislators from both caucuses frequently walked across the conference hall floor at the Virginia Science Museum to speak with him. Highly respected by both factions, Surovell deftly negotiated compromises, and let more progressive legislation crossing over from the liberals in House die silently in committee.
He was a chief patron or chief co-patron on over 60 bills in the 2020 session, including SB 35, which provided for local gun control laws, and SB 240, a “red flag law” that allows law enforcement to get an emergency order to take firearms from people dangerous to themselves or others.
Surovell also sponsored SB 160, which bans holding cell phones while driving, and SB 437, which increases the penalty for distracted drivers who injure bicyclists and pedestrians. During the 2020 regular and special sessions, the General Assembly introduced the pro-LGBTQ Virginia Values Act and legalized removal of Confederate monuments. In a long special session, legislators took the opportunity to respond to the protests and pandemic of 2020, passing criminal reform bills and a budget that included new economic provisions and protections for individuals and businesses harmed by the crises.
Prior to winning a state Senate election in 2015, Surovell served three terms in the House of Delegates, with a stint as Democratic caucus chair. After he moved to the Senate in 2016, he served as caucus whip in 2019, and then became the caucus Vice-Chair in 2020, giving him long experience mobilizing votes within the legislature. In 2020, Surovell served on five committees, including the powerful Commerce and Labor committee. He was also a member of the Judiciary, Privileges and Elections, Rehabilitation and Social Services, and Transportation committees.
Surovell is fairly junior compared to some senators like Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth,) who has served in the Senate since 1992, or Saslaw, who first took office in the Senate in 1980. As such, Surovell has a chance to continue guiding the Democratic caucus for decades.
For 2021, Surovell’s goals include introducing a more equitable criminal records system, increasing minimum auto insurance limits, and expanding the Virginia Court of Appeals’ power. He and the other leaders will be challenged to fit as much work as possible into the 45-day regular session.
The Virginia Star will be watching to see how the General Assembly makes the most of 2021 – with statewide elections in November, the Democratic caucus needs to capitalize on the upcoming regular session without alienating moderate voters who might flip Republican. As a power broker in the Senate’s Democratic caucus, Surovell’s bridge-building skills will be critical.
Frankly, no new legislation can get passed in Virginia without going through Scott Surovell first.
That’s why Scott Surovell is Virginia’s 2020 person of the year.
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