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Fresh from her decisive win, Chesterfield County Commonwealth’s Attorney-elect Stacey Davenport said Wednesday that she will scrap at least one of incumbent Scott Miles’ criminal justice reform initiatives and will change others as she seeks to re-establish a collaborative working relationship with county law enforcement officials.
The changes that Miles made as a progressive Democrat during his one year in office largely will be undone, although Davenport said she is not opposed in principle to some of the initiatives. Those could continue in some form but not as a broad standard for all criminal defendants.
“I don’t plan to continue them the way that he’s written and implemented them,” Davenport said of Miles’ signature policy to end the practice of requesting cash bail for nonviolent offenders, as well as his initiative that seeks dismissal of simple marijuana possession charges against defendants if they adhere to certain conditions.
And Davenport said her office will enforce the law as it was written by the General Assembly.
“That doesn’t mean that everybody is going to jail because they have marijuana,” she said. “But I don’t think ignoring it is going to fix the problem. I think it’s going to make a bigger problem.”
Davenport on Tuesday beat Miles handily by nearly 10,000 votes, capturing 54% of the ballot to Miles’ 45%. She will assume office on Jan. 1 as the first woman to be elected commonwealth’s attorney in Chesterfield.
Asked for comment, Miles said: “I’ll leave it to others more qualified to theorize about which feature(s) of this race produced the vote differential.”
Davenport, who currently serves as a Henrico County prosecutor, said she doesn’t think “every single person charged with a crime should have to post a cash bail to be released.” But she doesn’t believe it should be granted across the board. “I think [Miles] too broadly applied that standard.”
Davenport said she believes Miles’ marijuana prosecution policy — which would allow a possession charge to be dismissed if a defendant completed 24 hours of community service and took a substance abuse class — doesn’t comply with state law and won’t be continued in its current form.
Miles previously has acknowledged that many of the county’s General District Court judges are not accepting his office’s agreements with defense attorneys under the terms of his policy — which essentially treats all marijuana possession cases alike.
Miles’ most controversial initiative, a felony drug diversion program known as the Chesterfield Recovery Initiative, will be scrapped, Davenport said.
Under the program, Miles would forgo indictment of drug offenders whose cases had already been certified by a judge to a grand jury if they agreed to waive their preliminary hearings and successfully complete a drug treatment program through three private recovery organizations Miles selected. Miles’ office has nearly complete control over the criminal cases of defendants participating in the programs without any oversight by the county’s judges.
The program drew the ire of Chesterfield law enforcement officials because they said Miles acted unilaterally without any notification or buy-in from county judges, the police or the sheriff’s office, among other criminal justice stakeholders.
“I just don’t think it’s compatible with state code,” Davenport said. “There are other ways to provide addicts with opportunities to receive treatment in their criminal case while still complying with state law.”
Davenport said she believes she won the election, in part, because of the “negative reaction” many county residents had to Miles’ go-it-alone approach in implementing his policies.
“People were just very upset at the idea that the top prosecutor — the lead law enforcement official in this county — wasn’t working supportively with the police,” Davenport said. “I picked it up at community events, I picked it up when I went door to door, I even had people reaching out to me that I had never met or spoken to saying, I want to help you, because I’m retired law enforcement or my husband is retired law enforcement.”
Two local politicians who won their respective races expressed similar views Wednesday on state Sen.-elect Joe Morrissey’s radio show.
Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, who won re-election Tuesday, told Morrissey during the broadcast that Miles “completely dismissed” police and “that was his fatal mistake.”
“This was a huge referendum on him and a huge opportunity for Stacey Davenport,” said Chase, who weathered campaign controversies of her own that included cursing at a Capitol Police officer who wouldn’t let her park in a secure area.
Morrissey agreed. “You got to bring in other stakeholders [when proposing new ideas] and that was Scott Miles’ Waterloo,” he said. “He needed to consult, at the very least, with law enforcement, and he did not [do that]. I think it’s as simple as that.”
Davenport believes her win also can be attributed to the fact that “more people were aware of the race this year.” And because all county elected offices were on the ballot, “there was more time for people to become informed and knowledgeable.”
“The other thing that played into [the outcome] — if you look across the board of what happened last night — is it appears people were excited to elect women,” she said. “So I think the fact I was a woman also helped me. I think there are men that are voting for us, too, that think, we believe women are professionals that are equally capable, and we like the idea of giving them this opportunity.”
Davenport plans to resign her current prosecutor’s position at the end of November and use December to work on the transition. She said Miles has been “very open and willing to assist me.”
She has no plans to “clean house” or make wholesale staff changes once taking office; she hasn’t yet decided on who will be her chief deputy.
“Many of those attorneys are incredibly competent and passionate about what they do,” Davenport said of the Chesterfield Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office staff. “And they have valuable, historical knowledge that would be assisting me. I likely will make some staff changes because I have to have a team that I know is supportive of me and that I can trust.”
Davenport said she plans to meet one on one with every member of the current staff, from the chief deputy to secretarial help.
“If I’m going to be their boss, I should know them, I should understand what they think works, what they think could work better and why that is,” she said.
Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, said she is challenging House Democratic leader Eileen Filler-Corn of Fairfax for House speaker.
Aird’s move sets up an unpredictable contest within the House Democrats, who won a majority in Tuesday’s election, that spans racial and generational gaps.
Aird is 33 and black. Filler-Corn is 55 and white. House Democrats are to gather Saturday in Richmond to pick a party leader for when they assume control in January.
Also on Wednesday, Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, another member of the Legislative Black Caucus, and Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, the longest-serving member of the House, said they are interested in being speaker.
Aird, chief of staff to the president of Richard Bland College, was first elected to the House in 2015. Her first job out of college was as a General Assembly staffer.
She said in an interview Wednesday morning that she wants to bring values of transparency, collaboration and inclusiveness to Richmond governance.
Winning control of the General Assembly was “only the first step in truly being able to advance the lives of Virginians, and I strongly believe that the mandate that we received from Democrats across the commonwealth” was “not just to take the majority but to govern in a way that has been unlike the past,” she said.
“The unique experiences that I offer as a black woman also properly position me to speak with a voice of authority on a number of these issues, particularly around equity.”
Aird said Democrats had strong candidates on Tuesday’s ballot but she said a court-ordered redistricting this year helped lead the party to control of the House.
“We won ... because of redistricting, not because of some brand-new approach that was taken,” she said. “I think I’m exactly what is necessary to unify us as a caucus.”
Democrats chose Filler-Corn as the party leader in December to replace Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, who decided to leave the leadership post he’d held since 2011. Toscano did not seek re-election this year.
Filler-Corn beat five other Democrats for the leader job in December, defeating Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, in the final round. Rasoul is interested in being the Democrats’ majority leader, the position under speaker, The Roanoke Times reported. A spokesman for Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, said she too is interested in being majority leader.
Filler-Corn has served as a delegate since 2010.
She said in an interview that she led the party through a tumultuous General Assembly session followed by a contentious election, raising big money along the way.
“I have a reputation for being steady, inclusive and definitely a strategic leader,” she said. “I’ve been around a long time. I have a lot of good relationships.”
She said her style is to be inclusive and she wants to move the caucus forward as speaker by utilizing the diverse views and experiences of the caucus.
Filler-Corn noted that before becoming minority leader she was the caucus whip and then vice chair, and said she’s seeking support of her colleagues based on her reputation and her record.
Either Filler-Corn or Aird would become the first female House speaker in Virginia history.
Torian, 61, the longtime pastor of First Mount Zion Baptist Church in Dumfries, was first elected to the House in 2009. In addition to being speaker, he has expressed interest in being chairman of the powerful and budget-writing House Appropriations Committee. Republicans in 2018 made Torian the chairman of the Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on General Government & Capital Outlay.
Earlier in the 2018 session, Torian seconded the nomination of Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, as speaker to succeed Del. Bill Howell, R-Stafford, after Howell retired.
“I enjoy serving beside Eileen and Delegate Aird,” Torian said. “We just look forward to coming in in January and doing a good job for the commonwealth.”
Torian said that if he’s not speaker, he would like to be chairman of the Appropriations Committee.
“I would hope whoever is speaker would respect their peers and their years of seniority,” he said.
Plum, 78, a delegate since 1982, wrote in an email to fellow Democrats that Tuesday’s election was “another bloodless revolution in Mr. Jefferson’s Virginia” but they now need to govern.
He said in an interview that he wants transparent rules for House governance and said the speaker shouldn’t use the rules to prevent action on major legislation.
“I’m not saying people elect me because I have been around a long time,” Plum said. “I’ve been elected because I’ve got the temperament and knowledge … to move us forward. I’m not interested in looking back.”
Northern Virginia will hold the purse strings on the state budget when the new General Assembly convenes in January.
The Democratic takeover of the House and Senate is likely to place senior leaders from Northern Virginia atop the so-called money committees that reshape the budget the governor proposes and set tax policy that determines the flow of revenue into the state treasury.
“Northern Virginia is now going to be controlling the money committees, no doubt about it,” Secretary of Finance Aubrey Layne said on Wednesday. “It’s a new day.”
Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, second in seniority only to soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, will become chairwoman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, as senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, would be first in line to become chairman and succeed Del. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, who was defeated Tuesday. If Torian were to become speaker of the House of Delegates, as he hopes, Del. Mark Sickles, another Fairfax Democrat, would be next to chair Appropriations.
Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, is the senior Democrat on the House Finance Committee, which would play a key role if Democrats try to revise the tax reform package adopted this year under Republican control.
More than half of the House Democrats — 30 members — will represent parts of Planning District 8, encompassing Northern Virginia and its outer suburbs, Sickles said. “So there you go!”
However, Democrats from outside of Northern Virginia already are pushing back on the potential political dominance of the highly populated and economically vibrant region in the suburbs surrounding Washington.
“If you’re outside of Northern Virginia, will you be heard? Will you have influence?” asked Del. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, who is vying with Torian and two other Fairfax Democrats, House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Del. Ken Plum, to succeed House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.
“There are people who are skeptical of an all-NOVA party structure,” Aird said in an interview a few days before the elections on Tuesday flipped the legislature to Democrats.
Hampton Roads stands to lose the most influence on budget policy with the loss of Jones, who has chaired Appropriations for six years and put his stamp on the budget by expanding Medicaid, boosting behavioral health treatment and jump-starting higher education research in commercially promising technologies.
“It’s a loss, not just for us, but for the state,” said John “Dubby” Wynne, a retired Norfolk businessman who formerly led the GO Virginia economic development and state research initiatives.
Hampton Roads also will lose some influence when Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, steps down as co-chairman of Senate Finance, as well as with the retirement of Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, who had been a ranking member of the committee.
In the Senate, Howell will become the sole occupant of a committee chair now shared by Norment and Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, a moderate who tends to side with Democrats on health care issues.
“I find her to be a very evenhanded, great person,” said Wynne, who worked closely with Howell on GO Virginia. “She’s a statewide figure.”
Howell said Wednesday that she plans to give Republicans just as many seats on the Finance Committee as they gave Democrats — five of 15.
She also plans to shift the committee’s funding priorities, especially for education, from prekindergarten to colleges and universities.
Howell pledged to raise teacher salaries “as least to the national average — that amounts to a hefty lift.”
She also wants to improve state funding not only for George Mason University in Fairfax, which lags behind other public doctoral institutions, but also Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
Those institutions lack the deep endowments and donor bases of flagship universities, such as the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and the College of William & Mary, but they enroll many students who come from lower-income families and diverse communities, she said.
“I plan to tilt in their direction,” Howell said.
In the House, committee assignments will depend on who becomes the next speaker, although traditionally, committee seniority determines who moves to the top.
“I’m a believer in the seniority system,” said Sickles, who supports Torian as chairman of Appropriations. “I think he would be a good chairman.”
Sickles, as either No. 1 or 2 on Appropriations, agrees the state should raise its funding for George Mason at least to the level of VCU.
He also wants to give more structural flexibility to Northern Virginia Community College, by far the largest member of the Virginia Community College System. “They’re a fish out of water,” he said.
Torian, in contrast, is circumspect about pushing priorities for Northern Virginia.
“It’s not so much regional, as it is we come to serve the benefit of the whole commonwealth,” he said.
Plum, who has served a total of 40 years in the House, said he expects Democrats to focus on equity in spending across the state.
“With Democrats taking control of the House, I think you’re going to see more of an emphasis on equity in the budget than just equality,” he said, citing a need to give “a boost” to historically black colleges and universities across Virginia.
“While there is a shift in control in the legislature, I don’t think you’re going to see us back away from state goals,” Plum said. “You can’t have a state that’s half-successful and half-unsuccessful.”
In declaring Virginia a “blue state,” Gov. Ralph Northam vowed Wednesday to move ahead on liberal issues he said have long been stalled by Republican control of the statehouse.
Inside a room on the upper floors of the Capitol, Northam held an open Cabinet meeting that featured talk of “a new landscape” full of “great opportunity” for the administration’s ideals.
Surrounded by his top officials, Northam vowed to move forward on the gun control measures he pitched to lawmakers after the May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach. He talked about decriminalizing marijuana and sanctioning no-excuse absentee voting.
He backed an increase to the state’s minimum wage and an end to gerrymandering of political boundaries. He pitched plans for a new state-based health insurance marketplace to boost the number of insured Virginians. He proclaimed the expansion of early childhood education a top priority, along with battling climate change.
The list went on.
“This is a blue state. I declared that last night,” Northam said, adding that the “blue wave” that swept Virginia in 2017, when Democrats swept the top three statewide offices and gained 15 House seats, “was still out there” Tuesday night.
New Democratic majorities in the House and Senate will come at a critical time for Northam, who is retooling his signature budget and legislative package to take advantage of his party’s newfound power.
The two-year spending plan for July 1, 2020, to June 30, 2022, that Northam is expected to present to the General Assembly’s money committees on Dec. 17 is the only budget that he will build and roll out during his four-year term.
On Wednesday, Northam repeatedly promoted Virginia’s designation as the “No. 1 state to do business,” bestowed upon the state by CNBC.
“While we are the No. 1 state in the country in which to do business, I want to do everything that I can to support our workers as well,” Northam said.
Northam signaled boosting workforce training as a key way to help workers. Asked about more contentious proposals promoted by progressive Democrats, Northam appeared split.
Northam threw his weight behind an increase to the minimum wage, which right now sits at $7.25 an hour. Past efforts on the minimum wage, he said, have “fallen on deaf ears.”
“All of us could hopefully agree that there is no way you could support yourself or your family on $7.25,” Northam said. “To what level, or how fast we get there, I can’t tell you. But we’re certainly open, and I’ll support raising the minimum wage.”
Asked about a repeal of the state’s “right-to-work” law, which prohibits private sector unions from forcibly collecting dues, Northam refused to engage with “a hypothetical question.”
“I deal with what is put on my desk,” he said.
While appetite for repealing the law is not pervasive among Democrats, more progressive senior and incoming members support a repeal or have said they would consider one.
“If something like that gets to my desk, I’ll certainly look at it.”
Eight bills backed by Northam and introduced by Democrats during a July 9 special session on gun control will be at the top of the administration’s legislative to-do list.
Northam proposed measures calling for universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons to include suppressors and bump stocks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and to restore a state law, repealed in 2012, to restrict handgun purchases to one a month.
Northam also proposed legislation that would set tougher penalties for leaving a loaded gun near a child, that would allow for “extreme risk” protective orders to remove guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, and that would require people to report stolen or lost guns within 24 hours.
Northam is also pushing for legislation to allow localities to regulate firearms within their jurisdictions — including banning them in government buildings.
The state’s crime commission is expected to take up the issue this coming Tuesday, but it’s unclear whether the commission’s staff has finished studying the proposals, or whether the commission will make formal recommendations.
On Nov. 18, the current, GOP-controlled General Assembly is scheduled to reconvene to take up Northam’s proposals.
“We welcome their support, but regardless, it will be a new day,” said Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security.
Northam added: “I suspect most of the work will be done in January,” after the new General Assembly is sworn in.
Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey said his office was working on a proposal that would bring a state-based health insurance marketplace to Virginia. The marketplace would allow Virginians to compare and enroll in a health care plan through a state-run website that pools in available plans. Right now, Virginians not covered by their workplace can enroll through the federal government’s marketplace.
Some states that rolled out their own marketplaces, many of which were controlled by Democrats, ran into technological roadblocks that forced them to return to the federal marketplace. But an April report by the National Academy for State Health Policy showed that state-based exchanges enrolled more people and offered lower health care costs than the federal marketplace.
Northam said the model would give the state “a lot more control and would save the commonwealth a lot of money.”
Carey also talked about maternal health and said that in the coming weeks, his office would release a five-year plan aimed at improving maternal mortality. Northam directed state officials earlier this year to study racial disparities in maternal mortality in Virginia that result in more black and Hispanic women dying during or after childbirth, compared with white women.
“We want to make sure that plan is rooted in the communities we want to serve,” Carey said.
Northam reiterated Wednesday that expanding access to preschool in Virginia will be a budget priority moving forward. In referring to a “top to bottom review” of the state’s base budget, Northam cited the need for funding for early childhood education.
“I think we can all agree that if we can provide pre-K, early childhood education to all children across Virginia, it will really give them a good start,” Northam said.
Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni also said his office was working on adjusting staffing ratios for support positions within schools.