By Jesse Adcock and Mary Lee Clark
Capital News Service
Democrat Jennifer McClellan of Richmond easily won a seat in the Virginia Senate in a special election Tuesday, but Republicans retained control of the chamber by holding on to a district west of the capital city.
As expected, McClellan won the 9th Senate District race, receiving 91 percent of the votes against her opponent, Libertarian Corey Fauconier.
McClellan, an attorney who currently serves in the Virginia House of Delegates, will be sworn in as a state senator on Wednesday as the General Assembly convenes for its 2017 session. During the session, balancing the state budget will be a priority, McClellan said Tuesday night.
“The big thing is to make sure that as we address the budget shortfall, we don’t make any cuts to education,” McClellan said. “We made some historic investments in this budget, and we just need to protect them.”
McClellan also said she would work to break up what critics call the school-to-prison pipeline – the suspensions and expulsions that may lead students into the criminal justice system. McClellan said she would do this by taking aim at disciplinary measures in school that unfairly target minority students and students with disabilities.
McClellan will fill the Senate seat vacated by a fellow Democrat, Donald McEachin, who was elected in November to the U.S. House of Representatives. The 9th Senate District includes Charles City County, parts of Henrico and Hanover counties, and part of the city of Richmond.
By holding onto the district, the Democrats have 19 of the 40 Senate seats. The Republicans will continue to hold 21 seats by winning the 22nd Senate District on Tuesday.
Republican Mark Peake defeated Democrat Ryant Washington and Independent Joe Hines in that district, which includes the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Buckingham, Cumberland, Fluvanna and Goochland, as well as parts of Louisa County and the city of Lynchburg.
“I look forward to representing everybody – not just Republicans – but Democrats and everybody in the 22nd District,” Peake said. “I look forward to working with Republican senators and think it’s important that we kept the majority in the state Senate.”
Peake served on the Commonwealth Transportation Board under former Gov. Bob McDonnell. He is a strong supporter of 2nd Amendment rights and ran for Senate advocating “more freedoms and less government in our lives.”
With tallies from 82 of the 84 polling precincts in the 22nd Senate District, Peake had more 50 percent of the votes, while Washington got about 40 percent and Hines less than 10 percent.
Peake will replace Republican Tom Garrett in the state Senate. Garrett was elected to the U.S. Congress in November.
It was a tough loss for Democrats, because it means that Republicans will maintain control over both the House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate.
If the Democrats had captured the 22nd Senate District seat, the Senate would have been evenly divided between the two parties. But the Democrats effectively would have controlled the Senate, because the lieutenant governor – currently Ralph Northam, a Democrat – gets to cast tie-breaking votes in that chamber.
Quentin Kidd, a political science professor at Christopher Newport University, said it would have been significant in many ways if the Democrats had won the 22nd Senate District race.
“It would force House Republicans to deal with pieces of legislation that they otherwise might not want to deal with, and if they had control of both chambers, they wouldn’t have to deal with,” Kidd said.
McClellan said being in the minority in the Senate is “not any different than what I’m used to.”
“I’ve been in the House of Delegates for 11 years where I was in the minority,” she said. “The Senate majority flipped back and forth. I’m very used to working across the aisle, but standing up on progressive values when I need to.”
A special election now will be called for the 71st House District seat, which McClellan had held for more than a decade. That district includes parts of Henrico County and the city of Richmond.
Also on Tuesday, Republican N. D. “Rocky” Holcomb III won the 85th House District race in Virginia Beach against Democrat Cheryl Turpin. Holcomb received 53 percent of the votes to Turpin’s 47 percent. Holcomb will replace Scott Taylor, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in November.
Holcomb is a captain in the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Office, where he heads the Criminal Intelligence Unit. He previously served in the U.S. Marine Corps.