Introducing The Progressive Virginia Project

This year, the entire Virginia state legislature is up for election. Democrats are currently favored to take the House of Delegates and State Senate, which means the next session has enormous potential for ambitious progressive policies like a state-level Green New Deal.

But that won’t happen if Dominion Energy continues to run the state.

We need true progressives to replace corporate Dominion Energy allies in the House of Delegates and State Senate.

That’s why we’re launching the Progressive Virginia Project, to support progressives in Virginia’s upcoming primaries.

Click here to donate to four progressives fighting for a Green New Deal in Virginia. (No money will go to Data for Progress or Primaries for Progress).

In addition to the Primaries for Progress team, Grassroots Analytics and Chaz Nuttycombe have helped put the project together.These elections are going to shape Virginia’s future for decades to come. Democrats, down one seat each in the House of Delegates and the State Senate, with near-guaranteed pickups in sight, are favored to win both chambers of the state legislature, and with them unified control of state government. This was true before the cascade of scandals from the statewide office holders, and it remains true now. This would make Virginia the first former Confederate state to have a unified Democratic government without relying on conservative Blue Dogs and Dixiecrats. In order to make sure that Virginia is not just a blue state, but a progressive one, Data for Progress is unveiling our first big Virginia project for this year’s elections: the Progressive Virginia Project.

Virginia has long been a state where corporate interests have called the shots. This was evident in the Dominion pipeline deal, and is even more so now with the Amazon giveaway. Virginia puts bosses ahead of workers, business shortcuts ahead of the state’s environmental health, and, fundamentally, profits over people. But this cannot be solely be laid at the feet of the state’s Republican Party. Far too many Democrats have been both willing participants and active supporters of the “Virginia Way”. We will be targeting four state legislative primaries for this year’s elections in Virginia. Each primary is important to making sure that we can do away with the old “Virginia Way” and make Virginia a more progressive commonwealth.

State Senate

First up is Virginia’s 35th State Senate district, where longtime incumbent Dick Saslaw is bought and paid for by the state’s most notorious corporation, Dominion Energy. Dominion got a lot of attention for attempting to force many Virginia communities to put themselves at risk to bump up the profit margin on a pipeline, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. They’re a monopoly that acts like one, and they buy off the legislators who are supposed to be regulating them. Dick is the crown jewel of their collected legislators. He’s taken more money from Dominion Energy than any other politician in Virginia history, an investment which has paid off handsomely for Dominion, with Saslaw killing bills that would regulate Dominion’s predatory practices year after year.

Saslaw’s clashes with Democratic values extend beyond Dominon. He was the only politician to defend Northam’s blackface scandal, and he thought highly of the speech where Justin Fairfax compared the investigation into his rape allegations to lynching. He also thinks that he’s safe for re-election, because his opponent is a Muslim woman, and a majority-white district wouldn’t vote for her. That’s not just insulting -Andre Carson and Ilhan Omar would like a word about majority-white districts not voting for Muslims - but also factually incorrect: Saslaw is so out of touch that he’s unaware that his district is less than forty percent non-Hispanic white.

His opponent, Yasmine Taeb, is a human rights lawyer and refugee advocate who’s already broken ground as the first Muslim woman elected to the DNC. She’s made it clear that she will not be bullied by Dominion in her defense of the environment and consumers. There is a groundswell of support around her campaign, from local politicians to national progressive leaders who share her progressive values. Sending Yasmine Taeb to the Virginia State Senate would show that Democrats in Virginia are not going to tolerate Dominion-bought politicians anymore.

In Virginia’s 31st Senate district, in the deep blue inner suburbs of DC, incumbent senator Barbara Favola is close with lobbyists. Very close with lobbyists. Extremely close with lobbyists. Actually, she is a lobbyist. Favola is a registered Richmond lobbyist for Pathways to 21st Century Communication. She lobbies her own colleagues. That’s one of those things you just assume isn’t legal, because obviously it can’t be. But in Virginia, one of the few states that still doesn’t have campaign donation limits, legislators can concurrently work as lobbyists in Richmond. Favola is close to corporate interests in other ways, including accepting over $10,000 in donations from Dominion Energy, and exploiting a loophole in the gift ethics laws to accept $8,300 in gifts, the second highest in the legislature over the course of a single session, after Bob McDonnell went to prison for the gifts he accepted. There’s more to Favola-including someone literally auctioning off access to her office, plus even more lobbying (this time on behalf of a sleazy towing company.) Recently, during an interview on public radio station WAMU, she said she no longer thinks Ralph Northam should resign.

But let’s not talk any more about Favola. Let’s move on to the woman who’s running to take back this seat for clean government. Nicole Merlene describes herself as “one of the most civically engaged millennials in the region” and she may be selling herself short in that description. Her activism includes everything from the Arlington Young Dems to economic development councils to nonprofits to housing advocacy. And as much as a campaign against an incumbent has to be about them to some extent (Merlene wants to ban legislators from being lobbyists, amazingly something that needs to be said), it’s clear she’s in this race to get things done. Her policy outlook is as detailed as it is ambitious. She’s looking to take on Dominion, landlord abuses, marijuana prohibition, and much more.

State House

Virginia’s 49th House District covers a diverse and liberal part of Arlington, a city which no one would mistake for Trump country. At a time where Democratic counties, municipalities, and states across the country are voting to reject participation with ICE’s inhumane practices, Delegate Alfonso Lopez has been personally profiting from ICE. And he seems more comfortable with other ICE profiteers than those looking to curtail these human rights abuses, recently opining, “It’s not just one side, is it okay that the far left sometimes have activists who have regularly calling out Trump appointees in restaurants and public places? Where is the line drawn, and when is it crossed?”.  In 2019, we have the opportunity to replace Lopez with JD Spain. Spain is a community leader and NAACP president who wants to break up cycles of imprisonment and deportation--rather than looking to make a few bucks off the pain and suffering of his neighbors.

Supporting progressive change through primaries doesn’t just mean supporting challengers, it means helping incumbents willing to take on the status quo in Richmond. Lee Carter of the 50th House District is a democratic socialist from Manassas. He’s stood up to Dominion and Amazon when the party line was to follow along, and he bravely shared his experience as a sexual assault survivor in support of the investigations into Justin Fairfax. For his efforts, he’s earned enemies in the Manassas Democratic Party. They found a former Republican elected official who’s been a Democrat for less than three years to run against Carter. Then they went to Twitter to talk up their guy and smear Carter, despite official neutrality. It is imperative to the future of a progressive Virginia that we keep Carter in his seat. We need to keep Carter’s individual strengths as a politician, and we need to show party insiders that they can’t go after Democrats who chose to put the interests of the people over corporations. The symbolism of this race extends far beyond the actual district.

With your help, we can make sure that Virginia is not only a blue state, but a progressive one as well.

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