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New Face To Lead House Democrats
By Stephen J. Rossie

Square2017 imageRichmond – The New Year will bring a new House Democrat leader. In an hours-long vote among five candidates in Richmond last Saturday, the 49-member Democrat caucus elected Eileen Filler-Corn (DFairfax County) as the new minority leader. Several weeks ago, current Minority Leader David Toscano (D-Charlottesville), announced he would relinquish the position at the end of 2018 but stay in the House and seek reelection next year.

Delegates Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke), Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax County) and Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax County) also sought the position. While the method and tallies of the votes were not released, it is believed a system where the person who received the least votes dropped out after each round until two remained. Rasoul, who infamously introduced a bill last session that would have obliterated the Family Life Education curriculum, was the other finalist. After the final vote the caucus elected Filler-Corn by acclamation, which is customary.

Filler-Corn presents a contrast to both Toscano and her Republican counterpart, Todd Gilbert (RWoodstock), all of whom are attorneys. Toscano is a mild mannered, studious legislator who at times seemed to be a reluctant leader. For years he carried on against a super majority GOP, picking his fights and trying to make points where they were available. A few years ago, during a crucial moment when the budget process broke down because of Senate inaction, he delivered his caucus to join House Republicans in a unanimous vote — the only way possible — to bring back the House’s bill to restart the process. He could’ve sat it out and allowed for political chaos.

But there were rumblings among Democrats as soon as the polls closed in 2017, when Democrats stunningly almost erased the Republican majority, that Toscano was old news. While he retained his position, others — mainly newer, younger members — were maneuvering for a coup. Filler-Corn, a member since 2010, seems to have captured the allegiance of the unapologetic progressive new breed, while latching on to enough of the establishment types. No moderates, they, but they also know when it’s time to do business as opposed to the ideology first, last and always new wave. Her election may have been more a nod toward a campaign leader.

If the Democrats win the special election later this month in the Southwest’s 24th district (to replace U.S. Representative-elect Ben Cline), Filler-Corn could find herself not only as Democrat leader, but co- Speaker. But ironically, there is speculation that if the Democrats get to 51 in November of 2019, she would face a challenge for one of the most powerful positions of any state legislature — and be the first woman Speaker in Virginia history.

Her more immediate challenge will be to battle Gilbert — a sharp witted, combative, tactically astute, quick thinking debater fully immersed in procedure and House rules, who enacts all those assets simultaneously to devastating affect. A comprehensive conservative who plays to win, and often does, Gilbert’s most impressive strength is that he never underestimates opponents and thoroughly understands them.

Combine that with the steep learning curve Filler-Corn (a former member of the Warner and Kaine administrations, who has partnered with Republicans on specific issues) will have, and leadership may be the one advantage Republicans have to right their ship after a disastrous and discordant 2018 session. It may be the one edge they have going for themselves as they fight retain their majority.

Stephen J. (Steve) Rossie is a Richmond-based public and government relations’ consultant. He has been a General Assembly lobbyist since 2006 and has written about Virginia government since 2007.


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