A state official who helps oversee felon rights restoration, one of outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s signature policy efforts, will continue in that role under Gov.-elect Ralph Northam, the Northam transition team announced Thursday.
At a news conference at the Capitol, Northam said Secretary of the Commonwealth Kelly Thomasson, a Richmond native, Virginia Commonwealth University graduate and former aide to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., will keep her position when Northam takes office next month.
Thomasson, who is married to Northam Chief of Staff Clark Mercer, has served as a Cabinet secretary since April 2016, when she took over for Levar Stoney, who stepped down to focus on his Richmond mayoral campaign.
In addition to rights restoration and pardons, the secretary of the commonwealth’s office handles extraditions, appointments to state boards, and commissions and certifies notaries public.
Deputy Secretary of the Commonwealth Traci DeShazor, a Danville native who previously served as deputy director of the Virginia Office of Intergovernmental Affairs the African-American outreach coordinator for McAuliffe’s gubernatorial campaign, will also continue in that role under Northam.
Highlighting McAuliffe’s work to restore voting rights to more than 169,000 felons over his four-year term, Northam said he plans to continue those efforts with the same team in place.
“This has taken a tremendous amount of effort and work,” Northam said. “But it was the right thing to do.”
During the gubernatorial race this year, Northam, a Democrat, sparred with Republican Ed Gillespie over rights restoration. Echoing earlier GOP critiques from Republican General Assembly leaders, Gillespie argued McAuliffe’s near-automatic approach to rights restoration didn’t do enough to distinguish between violent, unrepentant criminals and rehabilitated ex-offenders hoping to rejoin society and lead productive lives.
Northam and McAuliffe have long argued that the restoration policy should be as far-reaching as possible to put Virginia on par with the majority of other states that don’t have lifetime disenfranchisement as a default punishment for felons.
Northam also announced Thursday that Keyanna Conner, a native of the Eastern Shore and another Warner alum who currently works as the senator’s state director, will serve as Northam’s secretary of administration, a Cabinet job that oversees several nuts-and-bolts functions of state government such as building and land management, human resources, elections, and compensation for constitutional officers.
Grindly Johnson, who works as deputy secretary of transportation under McAuliffe, will shift roles to become deputy secretary of administration.
Joe Damico, the current deputy director of general services, will become director under Northam, succeeding current Director Chris Beschler. The responsibilities of the Department of General Services include building and managing state facilities, maintaining the state vehicle fleet and overseeing statewide procurement.