The Virginia House of Delegates reconvenes on Wednesday with fewer white faces, gray hairs and men.
Voters in November sent 19 newcomers to the 100-member House of Delegates, a dozen of whom unseated Republican incumbents. The shake-up injected diversity and marked several firsts in a chamber long dominated by older white men, while also shedding decades of institutional knowledge as longtime incumbents gave way to fresh faces.
A look at how the freshman class of lawmakers is reshaping Richmond:
Closer to gender parity
The Virginia House is seating the most women ever this year: 28, compared to 17 last year. Roughly half of the Democratic caucus is female. And Emily Brewer, 33, of the western Tidewater region will be the youngest Republican woman to join the body, succeeding an incumbent who didn’t seek re-election amid accusations he assaulted his wife and stepson (authorities later dropped the charges).
The freshmen class of delegates is also marking several firsts for representing ethnic groups.
Dels. Hala Ayala and Elizabeth Guzman, both Democrats from majority-minority Prince William county, will be the first Latinas in the legislature. Del. Kelly Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), of Filipino descent, and Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax), a Vietnamese refugee, will be the first Asian American women.
Danica Roem (D-Prince William) earned worldwide attention when she unseated the author of a state ‘bathroom bill’ to become Virginia’s first openly transgender elected official — and possibly the first transgender person elected and seated in any state legislature. Lost in the media furor was the ascension of the first openly lesbian member of the state legislature: Democrat Dawn Adams of Chesterfield County.
They join two gay men in the House: Dels. Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) and Mark Levine (D-Alexandria).
In 2010, then-Del. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) made history as the first lawmaker to become pregnant while in office. This year, incoming Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (D-Prince William) knocked on doors while pregnant with twins. Tran, the Fairfax Democrat, canvassed with her nine-month-old daughter strapped to her chest and brought her to several orientation events.
They are part of the growing number of women with young children who are seeking office. And their arrival coincides with the first-ever permanent lactation rooms on floors of the building where the House conducts its operations.
Ten of the incoming lawmakers are under the age of 40. All are replacing older incumbents. The youngest is Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, a 28-year-old Democrat from Norfolk. The newcomers will bring down the median age in the House from 54 in 2017 to 51.5 in 2018, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
Younger members also means a loss of institutional knowledge. Roughly half will have less than four years of experience, according to VPAP. The number of delegates who have served longer than 15 years declined from 31 to 16 over the last two decades.
Unconventional family backgrounds
Just three of the new lawmakers are Republicans, but two of them share similar stories of early family hardships.
Brewer, the incoming Republican woman from Tidewater, was adopted at a young age. Del. John McGuire (R-Henrico), a former Navy SEAL, says he bounced around foster homes and attended nine elementary schools after his mother abandoned him when he was 5.
From headlines to office
Chris Hurst, a Roanoke news anchor, became the subject of a news story himself when his girlfriend Allison Parker and another co-worker were fatally shot during a live broadcast. In his search for meaning, he decided to run for office.
He challenged incumbent Joseph Yost and defeated him in the most expensive House race in recent Virginia history.