Virginia Supreme Court Appoints Special Masters for Redistricting

The Virginia Supreme Court has selected Republican nominee Sean Trende and Democratic nominee Bernard Grofman to be the two Special Masters who will work together to draw legislative and congressional map proposals for the court. Due to deep partisan splits, the Virginia Redistricting Commission failed to submit any maps by constitutionally-required deadlines, leaving the task to the Court.

In the order issued Friday, the Court wrote, “Though each was nominated by legislative leaders of a particular political party, the nominees — upon being appointed by this Court as Special Masters — shall serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity. Consequently, the Special Masters shall be neutral and shall not act as advocates or representatives of any political party. By accepting their appointment, the Special Masters warrant that they have no ‘conflicts of interest,’ Code § 30-399(F), that preclude them from prudently exercising independent judgment, dispassionately following the Court’s instructions, or objectively applying the governing decision-making criteria.”

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Paul Goldman Files Motion for Injunction to Block Certification of Virginia House Races for Two-Year Terms

Democratic operative Paul Goldman is asking a federal court to issue a temporary injunction blocking the State Board of Elections from issuing Certificates of Election in the House of Delegates certifying that the winners have the right to a two-year term. Goldman’s motion is part of his ongoing lawsuit arguing that the recent elections were unconstitutional, since they were held on old district lines due to redistricting delays. Goldman filed his suit before the election. He said he didn’t receive support from Democrats, and that Attorney General Mark Herring slow-walked the process. Herring’s office is defending state elections officials in the suit.

“They have specifically avoided dealing with this. Herring could have issued an opinion during the election. They could have had the Supreme Court do a ruling. They didn’t do it. Why? Because the Democrats were trying to get a two-year term,” Goldman told The Virginia Star. “Now this same argument can be used by the Republicans.”

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House Republicans Nominate Gilbert to be Speaker, Both Caucuses Elect Leadership

The Virginia House Republican Caucus unanimously nominated current Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) for Speaker of the House in a Sunday caucus meeting. They also elected Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Scott) to be majority leader in the 2022 session, the result of a compromise between the two former rivals for House minority leader.

“I am proud to serve with and lead a strong and united Republican majority as we look toward the 2022 General Assembly session and beyond,” Gilbert said in a press release.

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Virginia Governor-Elect Youngkin’s Top Campaign Promises in Education, COVID-19, Economics, Law Enforcement, and Elections Policy

Glenn Youngkin in crowd during a rally

Glenn Youngkin will be Virginia’s next governor, part of a near-complete Republican takeover of Virginia’s government. In 2022, Republicans will be governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor. They will also likely hold a two-seat majority in the House of Delegates, although two close races may go to recounts. However, they will not hold the Senate, where Democrats have a 21-to-19 majority. Still, if one Democratic senator flips on a vote, that would create a tie that lieutenant governor-elect Winsome Sears would break. Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), who House Republicans nominated for Speaker, has said that Republicans do have a mandate, but he is also aware of the need to work across the aisle with the Senate.

All that gives political novice Youngkin strong Republican support to launch efforts to fulfill his campaign promises, but also sets him up for serious challenges to get his policies across the finish line. Still, Virginia governors have extensive power to set policy and funding priorities, and Youngkin will also have executive authority, which will allow him to fulfill some key promises without legislative buy-in.

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After Virginia Supreme Court Disqualifies Republican Redistricting Nominees, Republicans Ask Court to Disqualify Democratic Nominees

The Supreme Court of Virginia rejected all three of Republicans nominees for special master to work with the Court for redistricting, noting that the nominees had conflicts of interest. The Court also rejected one of the Democratic nominees, noting that he might not be able to perform the job. The Court explained that it was taking the opportunity to more clearly define how it views special masters.

“This Court has not previously addressed the role and requirements for its Special Masters. It is appropriate to do so now,” the Court wrote Friday. “Although the Special Master candidates are to be nominated by legislative leaders of a particular political party, the nominees — upon being appointed by this Court as Special Masters — will serve as officers of the Court in a quasi-judicial capacity. Consequently, the Special Masters must be neutral and not act as advocates or representatives of any one political party.”

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Recounts Possible in Apparent Republican Flips of Two Virginia House Seats

Local electoral boards certified Republican wins in House Districts 85 and 91 on Tuesday, according to House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah.) The two seats were the most narrow victories for House Republicans, who appear set to hold a 52-48 majority in 2022 according to preliminary results. But with less than a one percent margin of victory in both seats, the campaigns may ask for recounts.

“Today’s certifications by the local electoral boards make it official: Karen Greenhalgh and A.C. Cordoza have prevailed in House Districts 85 and 91. I again congratulate the Delegates-elect on their win, and look forward to working with them as members of our 52-member Republican House majority,” Gilbert said in a press release.

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Deal Struck: Gilbert for Virginia Speaker of the House, Kilgore for Majority Leader

Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) and Delegate Terry Kilgore (R-Wise) have come to an agreement where Gilbert will run unopposed for Speaker of the House, and Kilgore will run unopposed for Majority Leader. The two delegates jointly sent a message to the caucus Friday afternoon, describing the agreement.

“We are writing to you today to let you know that we have come to an understanding with one another about our intentions with respect to seeking leadership roles. Todd is proud to endorse Terry for Majority Leader, and Terry is proud to endorse Todd for Speaker. Ultimately, any final decision will be left up to you,” they wrote.

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Minority Leader Todd Gilbert Previews Republican Priorities for New Virginia House Majority

House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenadoah) outlined Republicans’ legislative goals for when they take majority control of the House, governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor’s seats. In a press conference Friday, he said that win did give Republicans a mandate, but said he was also aware of the need to work across the aisle since the Senate remains in Democratic control. He said the issues that Republicans raised during the campaigns would drive their agenda, including schools, cost of living, and public safety.

“We know we have a divided government now, and for lots of reasons, we think at least in terms of administration of the institutions, we will probably work better with the Democratic leadership  than the House leadership did,” Gilbert said.

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Republicans Flip Seven Seats and the Virginia House Majority

Virginia Republicans retook the House of Delegates by protecting their incumbents and flipping seven seats, giving them a 52-48 majority, according to unofficial election results. Those flips included some predictable results. Otto Wachsmann defeated Delegate Roslyn Tyler (D-Sussex). Republicans won in four out of five competitive Virginia Beach races. Mike Cherry protected Republican control of outgoing Delegate Kirk Cox’s (R-Colonial Heights) district.

Republicans also pulled off some surprises. A.C. Cordoza has apparently defeated Delegate Martha Mugler (D-Hampton) 49.68 percent to 48.70 percent — a nail biting result since mail-in ballots can still come in.

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Youngkin Announces Major Policy Goals in His ‘Day One Game Plan’

GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin unveiled a long list of policy priorities prominently featuring tax breaks alongside spending on law enforcement and schools in his “Day One Game Plan.” His Monday announcement in Falls Church also included a declaration that he would ban Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in schools or used in teacher training, and he said he wouldn’t implement COVID-19 shutdowns.

“I will not allow COVID lock downs to ever occur in Virginia again,” Youngkin said to loud cheers and applause from the crowd.

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Virginia Gov. Northam Mandates Masks in Private and Public K-12 Schools

Governor Ralph Northam mandated masks at indoor settings for all people over age two at public and private K-12 schools in Virginia.

Northam said in a Thursday announcement, “This Public Health Order makes it very clear that masks are required in all indoor K-12 settings, and Virginia expects all schools to comply.”

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General Assembly Elects Eight Judges to Fill Newly-Expanded Virginia Court of Appeals

RICHMOND, Virginia – The General Assembly approved eight new judges for the Court of Appeals of Virginia Tuesday. Although tradition kept Republicans from voting against the candidates, votes on individual candidates varied as Republican legislators abstained. That completed the General Assembly’s goals for the special session: allocating American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds and filling court vacancies.

“I thought it was an historic session,” Senator Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax) told The Virginia Star. “What just happened with the Court of Appeals was the largest number of judges to go on the Court of Appeals since 1985, and we gave Virginians the same right to appeal their legal matter that every other American has.”

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Virginia House Democrats Defeat Republican Proposals to Alter American Rescue Plan Act Spending Bill

RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates voted against several Republican attempts to change proposals to allocate $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds on Tuesday afternoon. House Republicans led by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) introduced an alternate bill, but it was defeated 53 to 43. House Democrats also defeated amendments from Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) and attorney general candidate Delegate Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach).

“It is a shame that despite our concerns that this process was not opened up to the traditional committee vetting process, that members on this side of the aisle were told, and frankly on your side of the aisle were told, ‘Your input is not welcome.’ I would have hoped that in this process we would have at least been afforded the opportunity to explain our bill, but instead we are left with the inevitable two minutes,” Gilbert said.

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Virginia Department of Health Recommends Local School Districts Require Masks in Elementary Schools

New guidance from the Virginia Department of Health and the Virginia Department of Education asks local divisions to implement their own mask guidelines based on the local COVID-19 environment.

The guidance doesn’t include mandatory policies for the whole Commonwealth, but does recommend requiring masks for everyone in elementary schools regardless of vaccination status until vaccines are available for children under 12. They also recommend that middle- and high-school staff and students should wear masks if not vaccinated.

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Biden, Northam Celebrate New COVID-19 Case Lows, End of Virginia’s Social Distancing and Capacity Restrictions

Virginia’s COVID-19 social distancing and capacity restrictions ended Friday morning at midnight. On Friday afternoon, President Joe Biden and Governor Ralph Northam highlighted Virginia’s progress on COVID-19 case numbers and vaccinations in a stop at Sportrock Climbing Center in Alexandria.

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RPV Unassembled Convention Goes Smoothly with About 29,000 Ballots Cast

The Republican Party of Virginia held its unassembled convention to pick party nominees for governor, attorney general, and lieutenant governor on Saturday. Official results will be slow to come in, thanks in part to a decision to hand-count the tens of thousands of ranked-choice ballots. As a result, campaigns and elections watchers are looking at turnout estimates for clues about who the nominees might be. Estimates from Republican Governor’s Association officials claim about 52 percent of the over 53,000 registered delegates turned out.

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Law Firm Nixon Peabody Appointed Investigator of Investigation into Virginia Parole Board

Travis Hil

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office announced that major international law firm Nixon Peabody LLP will investigate the Office of the State Inspector General’s investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. The firm is required to send a report on the investigation to leading Virginia elected officials from both parties by June 15, 2021.

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Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative Draws Concern Over Lowering Academic Standards

A proposed Virginia Mathematics Pathways Initiative (VMPI) has Republicans concerned after Loudoun County School Board member Ian Serotkin warned about the plan on Facebook, first reported by Fox News. Serotkin wrote that there are some good things in the initiative, like enabling students to take calculus in high school. But Serotkin also warned that the VMPI would end math acceleration before 11th grade.

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General Assembly Republicans Call for Special Session to Investigate Virginia Parole Board

General Assembly Republicans renewed calls for a special session to investigate the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) after media obtained recordings of a call held last summer between Northam administration officials and State Inspector General Michael Westfall.

House of Delegates Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a Monday press release, “The recording of the meeting between the Office of State Inspector General and Governor  [Ralph] Northam’s team explains why the Governor’s budget amendment only called for an investigation of OSIG, and not the Parole Board. The Governor’s office doesn’t think the Parole Board did anything wrong.”

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Democrats Approve Northam’s Investigation into Parole Board Investigation

Democrats approved Governor Ralph Northam’s proposal for an investigation into a 2020 investigation of the Virginia Parole Board. In Wednesday’s veto session, legislators passed a Northam budget amendment funding a $250,000 investigation into the 2020 Vincent Martin parole investigation. Although both Republicans and Democrats have been calling for a new investigation, Republicans said the proposal was too narrow and criticized the decision to allow the Attorney General any oversight.

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Virginia Leaders Mourn Sudden Passing of Dominion Energy Chairman and Philanthropist Tom Farrell

Tom Farrell

Dominion Energy Chairman and Virginia philanthropist Thomas F. “Tom” Farrell II has died, causing the Commonwealth of Virginia and it’s political leaders to mourn the loss of one of the most powerful businessmen in Virginia history. Farrell, age 66, passed away due to cancer on Friday, one day after relinquishing the Chairmanship of the company he had steered from 2007 to 2020. Mr. Farrell and his family have heavily influenced some of the most important business and political decisions in the Commonwealth.

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Virginia House of Delegates Kills Senator Kiggans’ Bill Requiring Weekly List of Decedents Sent to Department of Elections

Senator Jen Kiggans’ (R-Virginia Beach) election reform bill passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support 34 to five. But when the bill was sent to the House of Delegates, the Privileges and Elections Committee voted to table the bill, effectively killing it. Kiggans’ bill SB 1422 would have required the State Registrar of Vital Records to provide a weekly list of deceased people to the Department of Elections, a process that currently is required to happen monthly.

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Virginia Legislators Call for New Parole Board Investigation After More Details Leaked About Release of Man Convicted of Killing Police Officer

Legislators are calling for a new investigation into alleged misconduct by the Virginia Parole Board (VPB). Last summer, a leaked six-page report from the Office of the State Inspector General detailed how the VPB violated laws and policies when, in April 2020, it decided to parole Vincent Martin without giving his victims the required 50-day notice. Martin was serving a life sentence for killing police officer Michael Connors in 1979, and was released last June. But a new 13-page draft of the report leaked this week, first reported by WTVR, revealing more details about the alleged misconduct by the board and by former Chair Adrianne Bennett, who is now a judge.

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General Assembly Votes to Give Virginia Teachers a Raise, Senate Passes In-Person Learning Bills

The House of Delegates and the Senate both voted to give Virginia teachers’ a pay raise in the budget bills passed with bipartisan support Friday. HB 1800, passed 68 to 30, features a five percent teachers’ raise for Fiscal Year 2022, while its counterpart SB 1100, which features a three percent teachers’ raise, passed 31 to eight. The Senate also passed an amendment to the budget that requires schools to provide in-person learning options in 2021-2022; however, the House defeated a similar floor amendment on Friday.

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Virginia House Passes Repeal of Adoption Conscience Clause

The House of Delegates approved Delegate Mark Levine’s (D-Arlington) HB 1932 on Wednesday in a 53 to 43 vote. The bill would remove the child-placement conscience clause which protects child-placement agencies from being forced to place children where it would violate the agency’s moral or religious convictions. Supporters of the bill say it ends discrimination currently protected by the Commonwealth, but Catholic adoption agencies and Republican legislators warn that removing the protection could effectively eliminate thousands of potential homes for children in foster care and adoption programs. The bill is now in committee in the Senate.

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Democrats Kill Right-to-Work Repeal in Virginia House

Delegate Lee Carter’s right-to-work repeal died in crossover Friday, much like in the previous two years, but on Wednesday, Carter fought to give it one last chance. On the floor of the virtual House session, Carter raised a motion to discharge the bill from committee, a procedural move that would allow delegates to vote on hearing the bill in the House even though it had not been passed out of committee.

Carter said, “I’ve introduced this bill for the last three years running, and its fate in both previous years has been to die in crossover without a recorded vote on its final disposition.”

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Governor Ralph Northam Extends 2021 General Assembly Session

Virginia Democrats will get more time to pass legislation after Governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session to begin February 10. Northam’s announcement effectively adds 16 days to the current regular session, which is scheduled to end February 11. The proclamation comes after Republicans blocked a move to extend the 30-day regular session, hoping to limit their losses in a Democrat-controlled legislature.

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Virginia House Republicans Blast Slow COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

House of Delegate Republicans have repeatedly begun the regular sessions this week by blasting Virginia’s government for the slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout.

On Monday, GOP Caucus Chairman Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) said, “Madam Speaker, as we meet today, Virginia’s government is struggling in a critical life-saving mission. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Virginia has received over 850,000 doses of the COVID vaccine, but we have administered fewer than 250,000 doses. That performance ranks us among the lowest of the fifty states.”

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Democrats Call for pro-Trump Virginia Redistricting Appointee to Resign

The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) is calling for Trump supporter Jose Feliciano Jr. to resign from Virginia’s redistricting commission. Feliciano is one of Republicans’ four citizen appointees, and is under fire for comments he allegedly made on Twitter.

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Virginia House of Delegates Blocks 45-Day Regular Session

The Virginia House of Delegates voted against extending the regular session from 30 to 45 days on the first day of the regular session. The move by House Republicans to block extending the session means that the Democrat-controlled General Assembly will have a short amount of time to handle standard government business and check off items from their progressive wish list.

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Virginia Governor Northam Plans to Extend Upcoming General Assembly Session

The Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday and a lot of conversation surrounding the annual gathering of state lawmakers this year is not on legislative agendas or hotbed issues under consideration, but on how long the session will last.

Intrigue over the session length began back in mid-November when Republican legislative leaders of the Senate and House of Delegates, Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City) and Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) announced their intention to limit the session to 30 days

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Legislative Leaders Pick Citizen Finalists for Virginia Redistricting Commission

The four legislative leaders of the House of Delegates and state Senate picked 62 citizen finalists last Friday to be considered for eight available spots on Virginia’s new redistricting commission.

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), Senate President Pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) and Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) were responsible for making lists of 16 citizens out of more than 1,200 applicants. 

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Governor Northam Outlines Budget Recommendations with Focuses on COVID-19, Education

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam unveiled his recommendations for the biennial budget on Wednesday with big spending toward the state’s continued response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public education and other items.

The governor presented his budget proposals to lawmakers during a joint virtual meeting of the House of Delegates and Senate appropriation committees.

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House and Senate Name Legislators for Virginia Redistricting Commission

Party leaders from the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates have appointed the eight lawmakers that will serve on the newly-formed bipartisan redistricting commission tasked with redrawing the Commonwealth’s legislative and congressional lines.

The Senators on the commission will be Steve Newman (R-Bedford), Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), George Barker (D-Fairfax County) and Mamie Locke (D-Hampton), Amigo Wade, acting director of the Virginia Division of Legislative Services, told The Virginia Star.

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Virginia House Will Remain Virtual in 2021; Republicans Leaders Want to Keep Regular Session at 30 Days

Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County) announced Monday that the Virginia House of Delegates would continue to meet virtually during the upcoming 2021 General Assembly regular session, just as they did during the special session, because of the current status of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the emailed statement, Filler-Corn’s decision was made after discussions with the Clerk of the House and officials from the Virginia Department of Health, which includes a letter from Virginia State Health Commissioner, Norman Oliver, strongly recommending the House hold sessions virtually “to the greatest extent possible.

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State Inspector General Substantiates Multiple Allegations Against the Virginia Parole Board

The Office of the State Inspector General (OSIG) has released reports substantiating multiple allegations that the Virginia Parole Board (VPB) violated state statutes as well as its own policies and procedures after investigating complaints regarding the parole of specific Department of Corrections offenders.

On Tuesday, the OSIG released copies of the reports, originally sent to Governor Ralph Northam’s administration, to media outlets who requested them that were mostly redacted and did not offer the specific findings of the investigation into the VPB.

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Virginia House Passes $134B Budget with Rental and Utility Assistance, Justice and Police Reform Funding

The Virginia House of Delegates passed its two-year $134 billion budget on Tuesday with specific funding for rental and utility assistance, public education, internet access, affordable housing, criminal justice and police reform.

The revised budget from the House does not perfectly lineup with the proposed budget Governor Ralph Northam presented to the General Assembly at the beginning of the 2020 special session.

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