‘Women of color are not here to play:’ List of women eyeing statewide office grows longer at weekend town hall

By: - May 18, 2019 2:58 pm

(From left) Democratic Dels. Marcia Price, Newport News, and Jennifer Carroll-Foy, Woodbridge, spoke on a panel with Portsmouth school board member Tamara Shewmake at She the People’s event at Virginia Union University on Saturday. Speakers stressed the importance of women of color in the political process. (Mechelle Hankerson/The Virginia Mercury)

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, doesn’t think there are too many black women eyeing Virginia’s highest posts.

“We hear of two African-American women thinking about running for governor and that’s awesome,” she said at an event hosted by the national political organization She the People Saturday at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria. (Virginia House of Delegates)

“But we also hear people say, ‘But what if they run against each other, then maybe one won’t win the general election.’ We need to call that kind of thinking out.”

Later in the same speech, Herring became the latest black woman who appears to be considering higher office.

She announced Saturday she would relaunch a leadership PAC she formed in 2015 when she became House Caucus chair.

The lawyer from Northern Virginia also said she is “seriously considering” a run for attorney general in 2021.

Recently,  Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge, launched separate PACS to support Democratic candidates of color. Those PACs appear to be laying the groundwork for statewide runs.

Like Carroll Foy and McClellan and the governorship, Herring would be the first black woman to run for Attorney General; no woman of color has been nominated for statewide office by either party in the state’s history.

Del. Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria (right) said at an event Saturday she is “seriously considering” running for Attorney General. She’s the third black woman in the legislature to hint at a statewide run. (Mechelle Hankerson/The Virginia Mercury)

She the People is a national organization that supports women of color candidates, organizers and political advocates. Saturday’s event was held at a time of heightened focus on minority Virginians after a racist photo of two people — one in a Ku Klux Klan costume and another in blackface — was found on Gov. Ralph Northam’s medical school yearbook page.

Days after the photo got attention, Stanford professor Vanessa Tyson said she was sexually assaulted by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Another woman, Meredith Watson, made similar accusations within the same week. He denied the claims and implied the women made them up to sabotage his presumed ascension to governor if Northam was to resign.

Then, Attorney General Mark Herring, who would become governor if Northam and Fairfax couldn’t take the post, admitted to wearing blackface in college.

“There’s an opportunity for us right here in Virginia to have the right people represented on the ballot, the right set of leaders who adhere to our values who want to govern with their full humanity in view, who don’t have skeletons in the closet and expect us to forgive acts of racism, to forgive accusations of sexual assault, to overlook that because they’re a member of a particular party,” She the People Founder Aimee Allison said.

“Women of color are not here to play, we have higher standards.”

She the People is making stops in key swing states ahead of legislative races and the 2020 presidential election. Virginia was first on the list of stops, sandwiched between an all-women presidential forum the group held last month in Texas and future stops in Pennsylvania, Georgia, Arizona and Florida.

There are only a handful of statehouse races around the country this year. With Republicans holding onto a slim majority in the legislature, Virginia will likely be of interest to national groups on both sides of the political spectrum.

Allison said Virginia is important for a number of policy reasons, the most pressing being abortion. Last week, Del. Bob Thomas, R-Stafford, said if Republicans could secure the governor’s seat and legislative majority, the party would introduce a bill similar to one passed in Georgia that would ban abortion from the time a fetal heartbeat is detected. That can be as early as six weeks, when many women don’t know they’re pregnant, opponents of the law have said.

That’s the sort of policy minority women voters could stop, if they’re politically engaged enough to vote or run for office, Allison said.

Speakers at She the People’s event avoided rehashing the details of the executive branch scandals and recent abortion laws passed in other states, but made no bones that women of color would be the ones to right Virginia’s course when it comes to gender and racial inequity.

In wide-ranging panel discussions with elected officials from Virginia, women discussed the importance of rallying minority voters and supporting minority candidates.

“It is time that we take our seat at the table,” McClellan said.

“We are a government by and for the people. What that means is that government is only as good as the people who participate, the people who show up to vote, the people who run for office, the people that show up in the walls of power advocating for things for our communities. We are more diverse than ever but we have a long way to go.”

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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.