RICHMOND — The leader of the Virginia House Democrats sent an email with the subject line “wow.” The caucus chair thanked members for wearing pink in solidarity with Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s female judicial appointee. Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) even used it in a fundraising pitch.
At a time when Democrats are out of power in both chambers of the General Assembly, there’s no doubt that their much-needed procedural win Monday, abruptly ending a contentious special session, was good for party morale.
But with the real prize up for grabs in November – control of the state Senate – Democrats are less certain whether the victory will translate into votes.
“What we’re at risk of losing is the feeling that we’re different from what’s happening across the river,” said Del. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax). “With this kind of silliness that we had in the last 24 hours — we start to lose that, and I think that’s a shame.”
Few voters closely track the winners and losers resulting from the complicated machinations involving judgeships, redistricting and parliamentary procedure that gave Democrats that lucky feeling again. Instead, many just look at the headlines coming out Richmond and roll their eyes over yet another partisan fight.
Unlike Republicans, whose activists more reliably turn out for off-year elections, Democrats say they must work harder to get their voters to the polls — especially this year, when a few races will determine control of the Senate.
The acrimony between Republicans and Democrats was on display Monday when GOP leaders began to carry out a plan to oust former Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush, whom McAuliffe (D) had appointed on an interim basis to the Supreme Court.
All went smoothly as far as the GOP was concerned, until Sen. John C. Watkins (R-Powhatan), a retiring moderate, derailed plans to install his party’s pick: Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr.
Next,Republicans were blindsided by a motion from Sen. A. Donald McEachin (D-Henrico), who called for an adjournment, effectively preserving McAuliffe’s ability to keep Roush on the court for about six more months.
All along, Democrats had hoped voters would bite on their message that Republicans were intent on ousting a female judge as part of pattern of what they called bad treatment of women. For their part, Republicans eventually pointed out that Democrats were bypassing an African American judge in Alston.
Del. Scott Surovell (D-Fairfax), an attorney, said he’s gotten an earful from the legal community at least.
“It got women’s attention,” he said. “We’ll see if it translates into votes.”