Virginia Primary: Neither a disaster nor a triumph for the working class
This campaign event helped lead to the victory of Nadarius Clark in Virginia. | Hon. Nadaraius Clark/Twitter

On June 20, Virginia held primary elections for state, county, and local offices.  As usual in this state’s primaries, turnout was low—in single figures in some counties.

For several years, many parts of the Southern states have been a “culture wars” target for the Republican ultra-right which has elected its people to the posts of governor (Glenn Youngkin), lieutenant governor (Winsome Sears), and state attorney general (Jason Miyares).

LGBTQ+ people, public education, minorities, and workers’ rights have all been at the center of strident campaigns of vilification. But when votes were counted after June 20, the progressive forces turned out not to have done badly.

Up for election in 2023 are all 40 seats in the Virginia General Assembly (the state legislature) and all 100 in the lower house, Called the House of Delegates.  Currently, there are 22 Democrats and 18 Republicans in the Senate.  But there are 51  Republicans and 46 Democrats in the House, with three seats currently empty.

Moreover, the Democrats are divided on some important issues, especially labor rights. For progressive Democrats, important goals include repealing Virginia’s “right to work” law and strengthening the labor rights of public sector workers to unionizing and public bargaining.

In the latter regard, current Virginia law gives local governments and school boards effective veto power over the collective bargaining rights of their employees. Some of the more “establishment” Democrats are not as keen on the pro-labor laws.

So for much of organized labor, the 2023 elections are vitally important—as they are for every sector now under such vicious attack by fascist onslaughts. And to add to the drama, many of the General Assembly races have been churned up by redistricting, with incumbents no longer living in the districts they have been representing or being placed in the same district with other incumbents with very similar politics.

There are also important local elections in many parts of the state. Three progressive states attorneys in Northern Virginia were targeted by the right for not being sufficiently tough on crime, for example.

In the Senate, the worst Democratic incumbent and the worst Republican incumbent were each sent packing by the voters. The Democrat, Joe Morrisey, a scandal ridden attorney and abortion opponent, was defeated by former state Delegate Lashrecse Aird, by a huge margin. The Senate seat is in the Richmond area where the Democrats’ chances are good for retaining it in November. Aird also built up a solid progressive legislative record in the House.

The ousted worst Republican senator is Amanda Chase who defines herself as “Trump in heels.” Chase is known for calling on Trump to declare martial law to prevent Biden from being sworn in in January 2021, and similar antics. She was defeated in the primary by former state senator Glen Sturtevant, a more boring Republican, but not by a very big margin.

Elsewhere in Virginia, it was a matter of win some, lose some for the progressive forces.  A disappointment in the Senate races was that an outstanding challenger, delegate Elizabeth Guzman, fell about 50 votes short of defeating a more centrist incumbent, Jeremy McPike, for the Democratic race in the newly redistricted 29th Senate district.  Guzman is a Peruvian immigrant who has played an outstanding role as a defender of immigrants’ and LGBTQ+ rights in the House.  She has been a solid ally of the cause of labor, which earned her the endorsement and support of the Virginia AFL-CIO.

On the other hand, an extremely impressive young state delegate, Nadarius Clark, romped to victory in the Democratic primary in the 84th House district in the Tidewater-Hampton Roads area of Southeastern Virginia, with more than 80 percent of the vote. Clark is one of several delegates who were redistricted out of their original districts; in his case, he resigned in March, moved, and ran successfully in his new district.  He received the support of the Virginia Education Association (the state branch of NEA) and of the majority of African American leaders and elected officials in his area—and this in spite of only having been in the House of Delegates for one year and two months.

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Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.