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A Year Early, House Control Suddenly Up For Grabs
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond – Virginia Democrats may not have to wait until November 2019 to win at least a share of the House of Delegates, which has a 51-49 Republican majority. Last week Delegate Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) announced that he is retiring in the middle of his term, effective August 31.

That’s not all. They may have a second bite of the apple in late fall or early winter. Depending on what happens in the race to succeed Habeeb, a potential race to fill the seat of Delegate Ben Cline (R-Rockbridge County), should he win his campaign for the 6th district seat in the House of Representatives, could even be for outright control.

Habeeb, in the middle of his fourth term, said he is retiring due to business issues and to spend more time with his family. He has taken on a significant leadership position at his expanding Roanoke-area law firm, which is likely to open offices in one or two in other parts of the state. One rumor had him potentially moving to open one of them.

Since the House technically still is in session — it never adjourned the special session this spring that adopted the new budget because it still has judicial elections to complete — House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) had the responsibility of setting the special election date, which he set for the same day as the federal midterm elections.

That’s also the date Democrats preferred. While the 8th House of Delegates district is reliably Republican — Donald Trump won it with 62 percent of the vote, and Habeeb, who himself first won the seat in a special election after Morgan Griffith was elected to Congress in 2010, won it in 2017 with 64 percent after running unopposed in his first three elections, the GOP thought it had a number of "safe” seats in 2017 and lost 15 of them.

The Democrats are counting on a mammoth turnout for U.S. Senator Tim Kaine’s reelection campaign and the piles of cash that will come into Virginia to facilitate a "Blue Wave.” A Democrat win would force a power sharing agreement of the Speaker’s and committee chairs, even while Democrats are in a potential fight for their own leadership.

The Republican caucus immediately issued an e-mail announcing, and soliciting for, a special election fund on the heels of multiple solicitations touting its efforts to allow non-profit fundraising car washes in response to a Fairfax County ban on them for "environmental” reasons. That, and the medley of mundane issues it has peddled recently cannot overshadow its adoption of Obamacare Medicaid expansion and aren’t building blocks of a realigning party platform.

For the most part Habeeb has been a reliable conservative, though he frustrated conservatives with an occasional monkey wrench into the process on certain bills, and has become a leader of sorts. He chairs the House Courts of Justice Civil Sub-committee. He often dominates the discussion there and on the full committee, delving into the minutia of the particulars of the laws under consideration, as well as taking part in floor debates, a characteristic that won him several "Freshman of the Year” awards — from the parody- driven Sensitivity Caucus — for years after his first session.


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