Virginia Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy will step down from her seat in the House of Delegates to run for governor next year, a move she says will allow her to focus on “building a people-powered movement” for what’s expected to be a hard-fought Democratic primary.
Carroll Foy, D-Prince William, is planning to submit a House resignation letter today. It will take effect Dec. 12.
The resignation will allow Carroll Foy to continue raising money for her gubernatorial campaign by avoiding a law that bans state legislators from fundraising during General Assembly sessions.
The timing of her resignation also creates uncertainty over how her seat will be filled in the few weeks remaining before the 2021 session begins in January.
A 39-year-old attorney running as a more progressive newcomer to Democratic politics, Carroll Foy is hoping to break out in a primary field that already includes Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe is expected to enter the race soon, mounting what will likely be a well-funded comeback bid unhindered by the demands of a legislative session.
In an interview, Carroll Foy said she agrees with the need for strong campaign finance rules and supports a ban on fundraising in regular and special sessions. But she said the campaign system isn’t built for candidates like her, a young mother of two who chose to become a public defender instead of pursuing a higher-paying legal job.
“It’s set up to benefit people who have been in politics for their whole lives, career politicians who have put special interests first,” Carroll Foy said.
By resigning, Foy is giving up the option to run for reelection to her House seat if she loses the gubernatorial primary, a maneuver commonly employed by members of the General Assembly who seek their party’s nomination for statewide office.
In a statement Tuesday morning, McClellan said she’ll continue serving in the Senate.
“I have served the people of Virginia for 15 years and will continue to do so in the midst of this unprecedented crisis,” McClellan said. “I will always put public service first: That means fighting for my constituents to build a stronger and more equitable Virginia as we navigate the coronavirus crisis every day.”
Fairfax is also subject to the in-session fundraising ban, but he too has given no indication he plans to step down before his term expires. One of the main duties of his office is overseeing the day-to-day legislative business of the state Senate, where he also casts tie-breaking votes.
Carroll Foy said she hopes her resignation is seen as a sign that she’s “all in” on running for governor and continuing the work she’s done in the House “fighting every day for working families.”
Her decision will trigger a special election for the Northern Virginia House seat she flipped from Republican control in 2017 in an initial blue wave that put Democrats within striking distance of retaking the House. When Carroll Foy was re-elected to a second term last year, she defeated her Republican opponent, Heather Mitchell, by a 20-point margin.
It’s unclear when that election will be held, but Carroll Foy said she hopes it will happen in time for her district to be represented when bills are being debated and voted upon.
Though a Republican could potentially be competitive in the district in a low-turnout special election, House Democrats would retain their majority even if the seat fell to the GOP.
Carroll Foy’s campaign noted that several other political figures have also chosen to resign while seeking higher office. Stacey Abrams, who gained a national profile by almost becoming the first Black woman elected governor of any state, stepped down from her seat in Georgia’s legislature in 2018 to focus on her gubernatorial run.
Virginia has never elected a woman as governor.
Carroll Foy said she’s planning to use the time she would have spent in session to “to actively campaign, to fundraise and continue to energize and excite people across the Commonwealth.”
“I’m excited to be able to have conversations with Virginians about their needs and what they want in their next governor and the policies and budget that we need to pass in order to improve their quality of life,” she said.
The 2021 session is scheduled to begin Jan. 13.