Tuesday, January 9, 2018

T'was the Night Before Session and What Do We Know

The gavel will go down at noon tomorrow on the 2018 General Assembly session here in Virginia. This is an even numbered year, so this is a long, budget session. Even a long session is only 60 days, so frantic chaos is something we always expect. This year will be even more chaotic given the big changes here in Richmond.

Let's start with the biggest changes. All of those came to us as a result of the 2017 elections. The VEA Fund-endorsed statewide candidates were all victorious, and Ralph Northam won with an unexpected 9 point margin. With Governor Northam we will have so much more than a goalie in the mansion; we will have a friend and partner. We have already seen evidence of that with his selection of classroom teacher and VEA member, Atif Qarni, as Secretary of Education. The VEA applied sustained pressure on Northam to name someone with real (and recent) classroom experience to that position, and he did just that. We look forward to working with Governor Northam and Secretary Qarni!

Justin Fairfax was also victorious and we, once again, will have a friendly Lieutenant Governor presiding over the VA Senate. In our 40 member Senate, if a vote ties 20-20, Lt. Governor Fairfax will break the tie, and we know where he stands on public education. With the Republicans holding a 21-19 majority, it only takes one vote to force a tie, so it's good to have a friendly Lt. Governor presiding.

Mark Herring was reelected our Attorney General and we know he will continue to fight the good fight on behalf of our public schools and the children and families of the Commonwealth. We are looking forward to working with him for another 4 years!

And, of course, you may have heard about the election results in the VA House of Delegates. Going into the election, the Republicans held 66 seats, the Democrats held 34. As of today, the Democrats picked up 15 seats (there are two races that have been certified, but may still end up in court). It looks like we will start session with the Republicans having a razor thin margin of 51-49, but there is a slight chance it may be a 50-50 split. That is looking less likely as we move towards session, but we will see.

So BIG changes in the make up of the body, and, likely, on all the House Committees. We are still waiting to find out committee assignments in the House and we may not know until tomorrow night. Because change is the theme this session, we will have a new Speaker of the House, with the retirement of long-serving Speaker Bill Howell. Kirk Cox will take the reins and make the committee assignments, and we are looking forward to seeing where everyone lands. As you hopefully know, we elected two teachers and VEA members to the House! Schyluer Van Valkenburg is the new Delegate in HD72, and Cheryl Turpin is in HD85 (and former VEA Vice-President Dom Melito is her Legislative Aide). We are certainly hopeful one (or both) of them will be assigned to the House Education Committee. We will see.

And in case all those changes aren't enough, all of the legislative offices have moved out of the General Assembly Building and into the smaller Pocahontas building down the hill. We are all lost and wandering in circles trying to find committee rooms and legislator offices. The hallways are narrow, the elevators small, and the seating is limited. Just a new challenge we will all face together. Be prepared if you head to Richmond to meet with your legislator, as you will face a whole lot of challenges maneuvering the building, so make sure you pack your patience when you come.

One last, but big, change is on the VEA Lobby Cadre. Long-serving members Gail Pittman and Pat Woods retired last year, and Alicia Smith has moved on to another chapter in her career. We will miss them all, but are thrilled that UniServ Directors Danielle Wilkerson and Fred Glover will join the team. We are grateful for their willingness to do "double duty" during session. Returning this session are  Lisa Staib, Travis Blankenship, and (for a 25th year) Jay Deck! Of course, VEA President Jim Livingston and VEA Vice-President, James Fedderman will be the faces and voices of our members again this session. We can always count on their leadership!

Lots to look forward to, lots of unknowns, lots of changes, but the VEA will hold firm on protecting our public schools and fighting the good fight for all of our members.

So tomorrow we begin the adventure.