Last Friday, Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America. Gulp. I spent two years working on the effort to make sure this wouldn’t happen. We failed. Sigh.
As he becomes president, Democrats, independents and even some Republicans across the country are asking the same questions about how they should stand up, how they should fight back and how they should resist. There are lots of good ideas and countless important efforts in Washington.
While all these efforts are important, none of them is as important as the one here in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Having grown up in Richmond and worked for nearly a decade in Virginia politics, I see one top focus for every Virginian in 2017: November 7. That’s when we choose our next governor.
Obviously, this election matters to the future of the commonwealth. It will affect how we carry forward the successful legacy of Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the progress we make on important issues ranging from strengthening education to improving transportation to providing quality, affordable health care.
But there’s something beyond that and something that matters beyond Virginia. The election of Virginia’s governor is the first chance the voters of this country will get to speak up about the Trump administration.
The resistance will start in Richmond.
Many people have said that the 2018 midterm elections are our version of Star Wars’ “New Hope” where we fight back against the Death Star. If that analogy is to hold true in 2018, then 2017 in Virginia is going to be our “Rogue One,” where the seeds of the resistance are sown.
Elected representatives in Washington will have been doing battle with Trump for a year by Election Day 2017. The Virginia governor’s race is the first real chance that our democracy gets to weigh in and the voters get to speak. And when voters speak in Virginia’s governor’s races, it matters.
- On the heels of Bill Clinton’s victory in 1992 presidential campaign, upstart conservative George Allen defied expectations in defeating an establishment Republican in the primary and defeating the Democratic front-runner Mary Sue Terry in the 1993 general election. One year later, we had the Gingrich revolution.
- In 2004, Democrats were demoralized when George W. Bush won a second term as president, but one year later, Tim Kaine won the Virginia governor’s mansion. That was the first political wound to the Bush administration and the Republican Party, setting the stage for the GOP’s loss of the Senate and House in 2006 and the White House in 2008.
- And, just a few years ago, President Obama won a historic victory in 2008, including becoming the first Democrat to win Virginia since LBJ in 1964. But, one year later, conservative ideologue Bob McDonnell swept the state — the first harbinger of the Tea Party revolution that would take a record number of seats in Congress in 2010.
Now, we look at 2017. What will Virginians do? What message will we send to the nation and what will it portend for the midterms and the future of the Trump administration? Virginians have the chance to be the first major electoral blow to the Trump administration that, hopefully, begins its electoral decline. But it’s going to take some work.
In November, Virginians will elect a governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, as well as all 100 members of the House of Delegates. While we fell short of winning the Electoral College votes needed nationwide in 2016, Hillary Clinton did better in Virginia in 2016 than Barack Obama did in 2012. Democrats have a roadmap to win in Virginia if we build on that coalition. In fact, 17 Republican members of the House of Delegates hold seats in districts Clinton won.
Once known as the Mother of Presidents, in recent years Virginia has been the early warning system and first signal of electoral troubles for presidents instead. We can perform that role again in 2017. The diversity of Virginia with urban, suburban, exurban and rural populations makes the voice of Virginia voters in 2017 a good representation of what we may see across the nation in 2018.
Virginia is the right place for the decline of the new Trump administration to formally begin. First, we’re a diverse state, a tolerant state, and a state that appreciates progress, building a brighter future for every resident. Second, we’re a state that has steadily moved away from our one-time role as the Capital of the Confederacy and now largely embraces who we are and who we want to be as a country — things Trump has often rejected.
Third, and most importantly, the motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia is Sic Semper Tyrannis — Thus Always to Tyrants. Where better to launch the resistance?