Jan 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Don Scott, Virginia’s first Black House speaker, on Youngkin, Trump and history

Speaker of the House Don Scott at the State Capitol building on Wednesday. Photo: Billy Schuerman/The Virginian-Pilot/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Virginia's first Black House speaker in the legislature's 405-year history couldn't help but think of the past as he was sworn in this week.

The big picture: Don Scott, a Democrat from Portsmouth, now reigns over a chamber that voted to block the desegregation of public schools nearly 70 years ago, inside a Capitol built by enslaved Virginians, in the former capital of the Confederacy.

  • "I know I stand on the shoulders of giants," Scott said after taking his oath of office on Wednesday.
  • The day also included the presence of former Gov. Robert McDonnell, a Republican who restored Scott's voting rights in 2013 after Scott served nearly eight years in federal prison for a drug-related felony conviction.

State of play: Scott takes the job at a critical point for Virginia.

  • The state swung right in 2021 by electing Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin then back left this past fall when Democrats seized the statehouse.
  • He'll have to find common ground between both parties to successfully pass legislation at a time when abortion, gun policy and the presidential election are exacerbating political tensions nationally and locally.

What's happening: We spoke to Scott the day after the historic moment about his legacy, Youngkin, Trump and what he listens to before session. Here's what he said.

On whether Trump should be on Virginia's presidential ballot

"In my opinion, he should not," Scott told Axios.

  • "He's too extreme for Virginia, and he'll continue to be," Scott said.
  • But Scott acknowledged that the decision is up to the court, and a federal judge has already dismissed efforts to block Trump from being on it.

On Youngkin

Youngkin infamously showed up to Scott's office last year after Scott criticized the governor's policies on how racism is taught in schools. Scott told Axios they have an agreement to not discuss what was said and remain cordial.

  • "I think Gov. Youngkin has an opportunity to create a lot of people, regardless of political affiliation, that will look at him one day the same way that I look at Gov. McDonnell: someone who changed the rules, changed the law, to make sure that our democracy is inclusive."
  • Scott said he expects to see compromises this session on issues both sides of the aisle agree on: preventing gun violence, retaining teachers and addressing opioid addiction.

On what his mother, Helen, told him

Scott flew his mother in from Houston, Texas, for his first day as speaker.

  • "She was amazed. She said, 'I'm looking at you, and you're my son, and I'm proud of you, but you are something else right now,'" Scott said.
  • "I broke down and I tried to get control of myself before I had to go up and give the speech of my life."

On how he gets pumped up for session

Scott said he's a walking oxymoron. Sometimes he listens to gospel songs like "Total Praise" by Richard Smallwood. Then he'll switch up and put on Jay-Z.

  • "That's my guy," Scott said. "And maybe, as I'm calming down and getting ready, I'll listen to some Nas. I'm old."

On his legacy

"It's great to be the first, but you could be remembered for the first to screw it all up, too," Scott said laughing.

  • "I want to be remembered for the person that was the first African-American, but I was also efficient, excellent, capable and got the job done."
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