Mar 23, 2023 - Politics

General Assembly's mass exodus could usher in generation of new leaders

Illustration of the Virginia State Capitol with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

It’s been a rolling retirement party at the state Capitol since lawmakers adjourned last month.

What’s happening: An astonishing 22 lawmakers, many of them longtime members serving in leadership, announced they will not seek re-election this year.

Between the lines: The departures are largely the result of the state’s new nonpartisan redistricting process, which for the first time redrew legislative districts without regard for protecting incumbent legislators.

  • As a result, many lawmakers found themselves paired in districts with other sitting lawmakers or drawn into unfamiliar (and often unfriendly) political territory.
  • On top of that, many of the departing lawmakers were well into their senior years and already eyeing the exits.

Why it matters: Especially in the Senate, the retirements have created vacancies in a range of leadership posts, creating an opening for a new generation to step up.

  • The departures also include a handful of more moderate lawmakers from both parties — including Republican Jill Vogel and Democrat Lynwood Lewis — which could make it more difficult for the closely divided chamber to reach compromises in coming years.

By the numbers: The nine members of the Senate who have said they won’t seek re-election represent just under a quarter of the chamber’s total members and have served a collective 231 years in the General Assembly.

  • The most senior (both in age and rank) is Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, who is 83 and was first elected in ’76.

What we’re watching: Who steps up to fill the leadership vacuum in the Senate.

  • On the Democratic side, the second and third highest ranking Democrats are Sens. Mamie Locke and Scott Surovell, both of whom are said to be interested in replacing Saslaw.
  • On the Republican side, Sens. Ryan McDougle and Mark Obenshain are seen as likely successors to Minority Leader Tommy Norment.

What’s next: More departures, and not necessarily voluntary.

  • Moderate Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger still hasn’t finalized his plans, which could involve a move and a primary challenge.
  • And two of the most senior remaining Democratic senators, Louise Lucas and Lionell Spruill, look like they’re going to face off in a primary after being drawn into the same district.
  • Unlike in other pairings, neither have so far opted to move or retire. “Let the chips fall where they may,” Lucas told the Times-Dispatch last year.

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