GMU professor relaunches 41-year-old almanac with focus on women in Virginia politics

By: - October 4, 2018 6:05 am
The Virginia House of Delegates met Thursday to discuss redistricting, but didn't get far. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - Aug. 30, 2018)

The Virginia House of Delegates. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury – Aug. 30, 2018)

A George Mason University professor is reviving a 41-year-old record book of state government information, this time online and with a focus on women in Virginia politics.

Toni-Michelle Travis, along with seven GMU students in the Schar School of Policy, is working on a new and improved digital version of the Almanac of Virginia Politics that she hopes to finish in December.

When complete, it will have information on members of the General Assembly, the state budget, election results and organize legislation by topic and whether it passed.

“It’s a basic data pool from a lot of other public sites,” Travis said. “The problem is that all this information isn’t in one place.”

The Almanac of Virginia Politics was published as a book by GMU in 2008 but it was begun in 1977 by now-deceased equal rights activist Flora Crater, a GMU graduate. 

Travis helped Crater with one version of the almanac, and eventually they partnered with GMU’s Schar School of Policy and Government to publish it. The printed version wasn’t making any money, though, so the university suggested going digital, Travis said.

Now, students handle most of the technicalities and research, Travis said, and she supplements their work with her vast knowledge from 35 years of teaching and about 15 years of knowing Crater, who once ran for lieutenant governor.

Travis expects the digital almanac will serve the same role it did when Crater started it and be used in libraries and schools, and shared among legislators, lobbyists and newcomers to the state.

“Trying to explain Virginia is just complicated,” she said.

Travis’ version will branch out from basic information and try to highlight minorities, specifically women and African-Americans in Virginia politics.

“Women get overlooked,” she said. “There’s more interest in women in politics, in running.”

By including facts on women who ran or served in the past, it could reveal patterns that have kept women out of higher offices, Travis said.

“We’ve never had a female lieutenant governor or governor,” she said. “It’s still an uncharted territory on how do you get there.”

From 1934 to 1954, there weren’t many women in state politics, probably because of former Virginia Gov. Harry Byrd, Travis said. He created a deep network of political connections, the Byrd Organization, that ran the state for several decades.

Travis has been in touch with the League of Women Voters to confirm the role of some of those women she’s learned about in her research, including a woman who may have ran against Byrd at one point.

“As much as I can pull together and document, I would like to get up on the site,” Travis said.

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Mechelle Hankerson
Mechelle Hankerson

Mechelle, born and raised in Virginia Beach, is a graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a degree in mass communications and a concentration in print journalism. She covered the General Assembly for the university’s Capital News Service and was among 12 student journalists in swing states selected by the Washington Post to cover the 2012 presidential election. For the past five years, she has covered local government, crime, housing, infrastructure and other issues at the Raleigh News & Observer and The Virginian-Pilot, where she most recently covered the state’s biggest city, Virginia Beach. Mechelle was with the Virginia Mercury until January 3rd, 2019.

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