VIRGINIA (WJHL) – Following Joe Biden’s easy victory over Donald Trump in Virginia, the commonwealth saw a major political shift this year with Republicans winning elections in the state that for years had been trending increasingly Democratic.
Even though Southwest Virginia is already predominantly republican, local elected officials told News Channel 11 the red sweep up in Richmond will have a positive effect on the region.
“With the red sweep or with Glenn Youngkin going into as Governor and Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General and taking back control the House of Delegates, what you saw was a move from all of the power being situated in Northern Virginia for the House and Senate to now that power and those chairmanships those leadership positions are in rural Virginia,” Delegate Terry Kilgore of the 1st legislative district said.
Local ideologies are likely to echo across the state.
“It’s going to mean a lot to have leaders from rural Virginia, sitting at the table when decisions are made when the budgets have been drawn up, and just being in the room to make sure that Southwest Virginia’s voice is being heard in those negotiations,” Kilgore said.
From the 5th legislative district, Delegate Israel O’Quinn said it will not only likely be easier to work with a governor of his own political party, but also as the majority of the House of Delegates will be Republican as well.
“Particularly in the House of Delegates where so many of these decisions get made, whether they’re legislative decisions or budgetary decisions, you know, having essentially two-fifths of the House leadership team, being from southwest Virginia is a huge deal,” O’Quinn said.
The big push is for Southwest Virginians to get broadband access. Kilgore detailed that the General Assembly has funded almost $750 million in broadband initiatives, adding that federal funds are also incoming.
“We think that clearly within two to three years every house in southwest Virginia, everyone that needs broadband should be able to get broadband,” he said.
O’Quinn added that he thought Southwest Virginia has actually been in decent shape overall when it comes to broadband access, but that more work needs to be done.
“It’s some of the hollers and in the back roads that don’t have the service and that’s what we are working to get completed. So, we put the building blocks in place legislatively to get this done rapidly,” O’Quinn said.
He added that funding has been secure, but now the headaches start.
“Now there are a few tripwires that we have seen some of these companies and entities coming across as they’ve worked towards broadband deployment so they’re gonna be a few things we’re gonna have to clean up,” he said.
The shift also means more GOP leadership positions. Kilgore has been appointed House of Delegates Majority Leader and he’s tapped O’Quinn to be his deputy.
“It really kind of gives us an outsized amount of influence in the process and certainly with Delegate Kilgore being you know, really kind of in the driver’s seat of moving the legislative process forward for really for the entire state. So, so southwest Virginia is in a very, very strong position,” O’Quinn said.
They said they aim to focus on economic development, broadband, and transportation in the upcoming session.
O’Quinn said the region has had a tremendous amount of success over the last couple of years with multiple job announcements of good companies with good-paying jobs.
“Not some of the fly by night companies we’ve seen from past administrations and so we are very excited about those prospects and just as with broadband, you know, we’ve come across some issues that have made it a little bit tough for these companies to do business and maybe even kept a few from locating here. So we’re gonna be tackling some of those as well,” he said.
Kilgore said he hopes to spread the work of leadership throughout the commonwealth.
“Not everything has to be done in Richmond. And that’s something that I think both Israel and I are going to take to new newly elected governor Youngkin to say ‘hey, we can do some of these, some of these tasks outside of Richmond,'” Kilgore said.
The shift in leadership creed also has an impact on the criminal justice system, something Wise County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chuck Slemp said he is excited about.
“Over the past four years, we’ve seen drastic changes to the criminal justice system across Virginia. And that has made significant changes to how police do their jobs, prosecutors do their jobs, and also significant changes to what the impact of crime means on families,” he said. “Victims no longer have the same voice in Virginia that they once had, sentences no longer mean the same thing that they once did.”
Slemp is working on the transition team for Attorney General-elect Jason Miyares.
“Now, we’re gonna see a turn the tide back of sanity is going to be restored in Richmond. And I’m very excited to see the legislative process work and what those tweaks will mean for the average citizen,” Slemp said.
He said he hopes the campaign promises made by the new administration will bear fruit.
“They campaigned on public safety issues, on restoring a lot of what we were used to in the criminal justice system in Virginia, and so getting us back to a victim-first mindset, getting us back to supporting law enforcement, supporting public safety efforts,” Slemp said.
His hope for the next session is to continue fighting elder abuse by helping to implement legislation to change the terminology qualifying a person as a victim of elder abuse.
“We’ll make it ‘vulnerable adult abuse’ which kind of broadens the spectrum of individuals who are protected,” he said.
This would include adults who may have intellectual disabilities, mental health challenges, or who are in fact, elderly and perhaps incapacitated.
“Our goal this session is to expand the elder abuse protections to those who are vulnerable adults and allow for prosecution of those who would do them harm as well. So, my personal priorities this session will be to kind of focus on helping to make sure that the vulnerable citizens in our community and across Virginia have the supportive protections they need from those who would do them harm,” he said.
Inauguration Day in Virginia is set for January 15.