When the 2020 session of the General Assembly is gaveled into order on Jan. 8, history will be made. Democrats will be in charge of both the House of Delegates and the state Senate, for the first time since the mid-1990s; with Democrat Ralph Northam in the governor’s office, it’s a political trifecta not seen by the Democrats since the early 1990s.
But as Democrats celebrate their recent triumph at the polls, we would urge them to pay heed to a lesson from ancient Roman history in the weeks and months ahead.
In imperial Rome, it was the custom of the emperor to grant a triumphal parade through the city to generals victorious in war. Slaves captured in the conquered cities, looted treasure and the victorious troops would parade down the capital’s grand avenues, with the conquering general bringing up the rear, in a horse-drawn chariot. At his side, though, would be a slave whispering this message in his ear: Sic omnia gloria transit … “All glory is fleeting.”
Pay heed, Democrats. Pay heed.
On Nov. 5, Democrats picked up six seats in the House to take a 55-45 advantage while gaining two seats in the Senate for a 21-19 margin. That’s after the 2017 elections for the House of Delegates in which the Democrats, to the surprise of just about every political observer in the state, erased a 2-1 Republican advantage, gained 17 seats and came within one tied race — the winner’s name was pulled from a fish bowl — of taking the chamber.
When the newly elected delegates gathered in Richmond on Nov. 9 to elect their caucus leaders and pick their candidate for the all-powerful post of speaker, they made even more history. Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria won the post of majority leader, becoming the first woman and the first African American in the post, with Del. Richard Sullivan Jr. of Fairfax tapped to be caucus leader.
The caucus’ candidate for speaker — the post will be elected by the full House in January — is Del. Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax. The speaker-designee will be the first woman and the first Jewish American to hold the post in the 400-year history of the General Assembly.
We have noted in the past that Virginia’s changing demographics and a court-ordered redrawing of almost a dozen House districts because of an unconstitutional racial gerrymander in 2011 played a large role in the party’s capturing the House. The state’s population centers have decidedly shifted to the urban and suburban areas of Northern Virginia, the Richmond region and Tidewater. Fairfax County alone has an estimated population of 1.15 million, more than one-seventh of the state’s total population of 8.5 million. Virginians in those regions tend to be more socially liberal and more ethnically diverse than Virginians living in Central, Southside and Southwest Virginia, areas where the population has been declining for the last three decades.
The newly empowered Democrats who will be arriving in the capital in just over six weeks are not the same Democrats who last controlled the Assembly two decades ago. They’re more ethnically and politically diverse than any group of legislators in the commonwealth’s history. A large contingent of them come from the most leftward flanks of the party, a flank that will be asserting its power early on, we suspect, on any number of topics dear to many a progressive’s heart: doubling the minimum wage, gun reform, social spending and the like.
Right now, the nation, the commonwealth and, indeed, our local communities are as divided as at any time in our history. Social and economic changes are underway, making people nervous and anxious for the future. We would urge the elected leaders in Richmond to navigate these waters carefully, to reach out to their political opponents — not enemies — to seek consensus and to do what they can to build bridges in the commonwealth to connect people, not walls to divide us.
Why? Well, not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the politically smart thing to do, because Sic omnia gloria transit … “All glory is fleeting.” All power, too.