From Hampton Roads to Henrico: How economic proposals fueled Democratic victories

From Hampton Roads to Henrico: How economic proposals fueled Democratic victories

(AP photo/Bryan Woolston)

By Carolyn Fiddler

November 16, 2023

The 2023 General Assembly elections are behind us, and Virginia Democrats successfully faced down immense amounts of Republican spending to secure majorities in the state House and Senate. Abortion was the most visible issue in most legislative races, but polling indicates that Virginians had pocketbook issues on their minds, as well.

Many of the swing House and Senate districts that determined which party would have majority control of the legislature were in or near Henrico County and Hampton Roads – two areas that are no stranger to issues concerning housing affordability, access to the workforce, union membership, meaningful tax reform, and more.

Simonds points to union growth

Del. Shelley Simonds was reelected to the House of Delegates to represent District 70, which includes much of Newport News.

In a recent interview, Simonds highlighted Newport News’ high rate of union membership relative to the state and said she wants to ensure that the legislature protects Virginians’ right to organize and provide pathways to apprenticeships for students who want to enter the workforce right after high school.

“I try to work with our unions on workforce development and support our local trade schools and our regional career and education center to make sure that we’ve got lots of opportunities,” she said. “It’s really important to make sure that unions have a way to connect to our students so they know about these great opportunities.”

Housing affordability a priority for Feggans

Delegate-elect Michael Feggans will represent Virginia Beach-area House District 97 in the upcoming General Assembly session.

Feggans told Dogwood that one of the biggest issues he heard about on the campaign trail was local residents’ inability to purchase a home. He plans to work closely with the Virginia Housing Authority, the city of Virginia Beach, and neighboring cities to meaningfully address this issue. 

In September 2020, the median home sale price in Virginia Beach was $312,500. As of September of this year, that figure had risen to $355,000, a nearly 14% increase, according to Redfin. As of November 2023, the average cost of rent for a one bedroom apartment in Virginia Beach is $1,540, a 14% increase from just a year ago. 

“When you look at the amount of rent individuals have to pay now versus how much a mortgage will cost…you’re seeing individuals pay double what a mortgage would cost,” he said. “We know that we can do more.

“Obtain a home…that’s one of the best ways to actually create generational wealth,” continued Feggans. “That actually a tremendous amount in terms of someone’s personal and family economics.”

Rouse to tackle affordability, climate change

State Sen. Aaron Rouse won reelection to represent Virginia Beach-area District 22 in the next General Assembly session.

He told Dogwood that the economy was one of the “very important issues” on the ballot this fall and spoke about his own experience of having to work from a young age just to help support his family. 

“From the early age of 10 years old, I’ve been working,” he said. “Whether it was cutting grass throughout the neighborhoods, or working at the local supermarkets, working at McDonald’s, or working for the Virginia Beach school bus garage washing buses. That took a tremendous load off of my mother.

“I know what it’s like to get my hands dirty, to put in a hard day’s work,” he added.

But a hard day’s work isn’t affording Virginians a liveable wage in today’s economy, Rouse argued. 

“If you look at where we are today, where the cost of living has continuously outpaced a liveable wage…that’s a real issue,” he said. “At the end of the week, you look at your paycheck and you go, ‘Wow, all this work and I only made $300 and I’m working more than 40 hours a week, and yet I have to buy Pampers, I have to buy clothes, provide rent and food for my family.’” 

Rouse also addressed the impact that climate change is having on the local economy and discussed efforts to prepare Virginia Beach for its effects. For example, he called attention to the $7 million this year’s state budget agreement allocated for “stormwater encroachment resilience activities” and natural space preservation in the Southern Rivers Watershed and Chowan River Basin. 

“Virginia Beach is among the most vulnerable communities in the nation to the impacts of climate change,” Rouse said, highlighting the importance of these funds.

Rouse also plans to focus on bringing more businesses to the Virginia Beach area, and he plans to do that through “a strong partnership with the state.”

VanValkenburg moves to the Senate

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg just won a pitched battle for Senate District 16, and he’ll continue to teach in Henrico County Public Schools as he serves in the General Assembly. As an educator, he’s keen on providing pathways from school to the workforce. 

As a new member of the state Senate, he plans to ensure that Virginia remains a place where businesses and workers want to relocate by investing in site readiness, being economically responsible, and ensuring that workers are paid a livable wage.

While in the state House, where he’s served since 2018, VanValkenburg helped to promote healthy economic competition and growth, like his measure that banned noncompete agreements for low-wage workers.

Willett eyes child tax credit

Del. Rodney Willett won reelection to Henrico-area House District 58 last week.

Willett touted the direct cash rebates that Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly fought for in the state budget agreement this year, which delivered most taxpayers a rebate of up to $200 for individual filers and up to $400 for joint filers earlier this month.

Willett said he’d like to see similar measures to help families that are “struggling the most.” 

“A third child tax credit is probably the best thing we could do,” he said. “I’d like to see that done federally. But certainly there are states now taking matters into their own hands, passing those tax credits. That has been proven to be one of the most direct, most impactful things we can do as a government to help families in need. I certainly would like to see us focus on that. That’s a Democratic initiative.” 

Willet, who has worked as a small business entrepreneur and technology consultant, said he’s talked to business leaders who’ve said they need a “well-educated workforce” to staff their companies.

In order to achieve this, Willett said there needs to be more investment in “providing a robust education system.” 

“Taking money away from education and giving tax breaks to the wealthiest individuals is the exact opposite of what we should be doing,” he said.


  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

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