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Filler-Corn, first woman as Va. House speaker, joins wave of departures

Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) at a 4th District election party for incoming Rep. Jennifer L. McClellan on Feb. 21. Filler-Corn said she would not seek reelection. (John C. Clark/AP)
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RICHMOND — Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), the first woman and first person of Jewish faith to serve as speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, said she will not seek reelection this fall, adding to a historic loss of senior lawmakers ahead of next year’s legislative session.

Filler-Corn said she plans to work to get other Democrats elected and is eyeing a run for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2025.

Others who have announced retirements include Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax), the longest-serving member of that chamber; Senate Minority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City); Sen. Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), the co-chair of the powerful Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee; and Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax), the second-longest-serving delegate in the history of the House.

The rush to the exits was prompted in part by last year’s redistricting, which was supervised by the Supreme Court of Virginia without regard for protecting incumbents. Large numbers of lawmakers wound up with boundaries that overlapped with those of one or even two of their colleagues. While some moved their homes to run in a new district, others are simply stepping aside in a year when all 140 seats in the legislature are on the ballot.

Virginia redistricting proposals leave incumbents vulnerable, candidates scrambling to rethink campaigns

“It was a kind of backdoor term limits,” said Bob Holsworth, a Richmond political analyst who has been following General Assembly elections for about 40 years. He pointed out that there have been other periods with large turnover; nearly half of the current House of Delegates was elected in the past six years, for instance. But this purge is historic in terms of lost seniority, he said.

“It will obviously reduce the level of institutional knowledge, which can be very important in a part-time legislature,” Holsworth said. Two possible consequences: a bigger ideological divide between the two major parties as old-time moderates retire, he said, and more power to staffers and lobbyists who know the ropes of the legislature.

As Virginia House speaker, Filler-Corn broke ranks with her predecessors

Filler-Corn, 58, served as speaker in 2020 and 2021, presiding over a blue wave that saw Democrats take control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation. Working with then-Gov. Ralph Northam, a fellow Democrat, the legislature enacted sweeping changes that included ending the death penalty, legalizing recreational marijuana, and easing access to abortion and the ballot box.

After Republicans reclaimed the Executive Mansion and narrow control of the House in 2021′s elections, a coalition of newer Democratic delegates ousted Filler-Corn as the party’s leader in that chamber, opting for Del. Don L. Scott Jr., a Portsmouth defense lawyer.

Filler-Corn, who first won her seat in the House in 2010, said in an interview Monday that she decided after this year’s session concluded on Feb. 25 that continuing to work on legislation that could be blocked by the Republican-controlled House or by Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) was not an effective way to make a difference.

“If I want to move things forward and have more impact for Virginians, it’s got to be outside of the House of Delegates,” Filler-Corn said. “We need to win back the governor’s mansion and the House of Delegates.”

Filler-Corn acknowledged that she is eyeing a run for governor in 2025, but she said she first wants to help rally the party to victories this fall. “It’s definitely something that . . . I’m seriously considering,” she said. “First things first — let’s win these elections and let’s get these Democrats elected.”

Filler-Corn has raised prodigious amounts of money for fellow Democratic candidates, and last year she relaunched her Energized for Change political action committee with an emphasis on helping Democrats get elected to local as well as state offices.

That focus could help build support within the party for a statewide run, but she is not alone. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.), former congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Va.) and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney have all launched PACs to raise money for other candidates, generating chatter about possible gubernatorial campaigns.

Youngkin is prohibited by the state constitution from running for a second consecutive term. Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears and state Attorney Gen. Jason S. Miyares are both thought to be considering a run for the GOP nomination.

Filler-Corn said she is concerned about the loss of experienced lawmakers in the legislature. On the House side, 14 other members have announced plans to retire — seven Democrats and seven Republicans. Another 12 are running for other offices, primarily in the state Senate. That means more than a quarter of the 100-seat House could face turnover. More could announce; candidates have until April 6 to decide.

In the 40-seat state Senate, seven members are retiring, and at least two others are guaranteed not to return because they’ve been paired in new districts with other incumbents.

Richard Saslaw, Virginia's longest-serving state senator, will retire

The planned retirements include some of the chamber’s most powerful figures. Saslaw, who joined the Senate in 1980 after four years in the House, is Virginia’s longest-serving state senator. Norment and Howell have served since 1992.

“The main reason I’m not running is just plain age — I’m almost 80,” Howell, who turns 79 in May, said in an interview Monday. “It’s time for another generation.”

At the same time, Howell thinks the large number of departures could have a downside. “I do worry about [the loss of] institutional knowledge,” she said. “There are more people leaving than I expected.”

Over their long tenures, Howell said, Senate leaders developed personal trust and friendships that helped keep a lid on partisan tensions in that chamber.

“It keeps the Senate sort of moderate. We’re moving in a progressive way, but not at tremendous speed. . . . Nothing happens really fast and that, for me, was originally a big disappointment, but I now understand the wisdom of that,” she said.

Other senators not seeking reelection: John S. Edwards (D-Roanoke), who has served since 1996; Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier), a senator since 2008 and her party’s nominee for lieutenant governor in 2017; Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack), who spent a decade in the House before joining the Senate in 2014; and John J. Bell (D-Loudoun), who served four years in the House before moving to the upper chamber in 2020. Bell announced last week that he needed to focus on treatment for prostate cancer.

The new political maps also pit two of the legislature’s most senior Black members against each other in a primary: Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), the Senate’s president pro tempore and a member since 1992, vs. Sen. Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake), who served 22 years in the House before joining the Senate in 2016.

State Sens. Stephen D. Newman (R-Bedford) and Mark J. Peake (R-Lynchburg) are paired in a district, but they are political allies who are not inclined to square off for the nomination.

“We would not run against each other,” Peake said in an interview Monday. “Due to Senator Newman’s standing and seniority there, I am trying to give him as much time as he needs to make a decision.” Newman did not respond to a request for comment.

This article has been updated to reflect that Sen. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack) announced plans to retire in a statement made public Tuesday.