RICHMOND — A Republican delegate in the General Assembly is resigning his seat representing an area near Roanoke, potentially jeopardizing the GOP’s delicate 51-49 advantage in the House of Delegates.
Del. Greg Habeeb (R-Salem), a seven-year veteran of the House, notified party leadership on Friday that he will step down as of Aug. 31, in the middle of his two-year term.
It was not immediately clear why Habeeb, 42, a popular and outspoken figure around the legislature, was resigning.
He disclosed his plans in an email to supporters and fellow members of the General Assembly. Saying he believes in the idea of a “citizen legislature” where people “take their turn at bat” and then step aside for others, Habeeb said the time is right for him to shift focus to his family and career at the Roanoke firm Gentry, Locke, Rakes & Moore.
“Over the last few years, I’ve begun to take on a more significant role at Gentry Locke, culminating with my becoming an owner this year,” wrote Habeeb, who is married with three children. “Looking forward, there are some very exciting professional opportunities for my firm and me on the horizon. Those new responsibilities, along with the ever-growing responsibilities of being a Dad to my amazing kids and a husband to my incredible wife, make now the right time for me to step away.”
A special election to replace Habeeb offers a chance for Democrats to gain the seat and achieve parity with Republicans, but the district will be a tough one for them to win. The 8th House of Delegates district — which consists of the city of Salem, Craig County and parts of Roanoke and Montgomery counties — is reliably Republican.
President Trump won the district with 62 percent of the vote in 2016. Habeeb ran unopposed in three straight elections until Democrats mustered an opponent in last year’s big anti-Trump push. But Habeeb won that race easily, with 64 percent of the vote.
Democrats made an aggressive effort in last year’s elections to field opponents even in heavily red districts. They managed to pick up 15 seats in the House, whittling down what had been a 66-34 GOP advantage. The chamber almost wound up evenly divided, only tipping toward Republicans after a tied race in a Hampton Roads district was decided by drawing names out of a bowl.
If the House is split 50-50, the parties would have to work out a power-sharing arrangement to determine leadership of the House and of committees.
Because the legislature is technically still in session — the General Assembly never adjourned after reaching a budget deal and is still pondering several appointments to judgeships — it will fall to House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) to call a special election to replace Habeeb. There is no word yet on timing.
All House seats are up for election every two years; Habeeb is in the middle of his fourth term.
Though he is a deeply conservative member of the House, Habeeb has cultivated relationships across the aisle and often walks across the House chamber to make peace when partisan rancor flares during floor sessions. His sharp wit takes aim at both parties.
One other Republican is reported to be considering retirement: Del. Riley E. Ingram (R-Hopewell) told the Richmond Times-Dispatch this month that he might not run for reelection after completing his term next year. Ingram has been in the House for 23 years.