Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, speaks on the floor of the House of Delegates during the 2020 session. (Ned Oliver/ Virginia Mercury)
Speaking to reporters after his successful bid to become the new Democratic leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, said he upgraded his TV room during the pandemic so it’d be easy to “go home and relax.”
“But there are too many people that are hurting. There are too many people that need us. And when we don’t do the things that we promised to do, then real people hurt,” Scott said, shortly after he was declared the House Democrats’ new leader, replacing the former speaker, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax.
Scott, a 52-year-old lawyer who grew up poor in Texas and served time in prison on drug charges, will now be tasked with leading House Democrats’ efforts to win back their majority in 2023 after losing power last year. Scott has served in the House since 2020, the year Democrats took power and elected Filler-Corn as the first woman to ever serve as House speaker.
After the closed-door caucus vote went his way, Scott immediately got to work drawing a sharp contrast between his vision and that of Gov. Glenn Youngkin and Virginia Republicans, saying Democrats need to “earn back the right” to a majority.
“We don’t want to fight the culture wars. We don’t want to deal with CRT and all this stuff,” Scott said. “We want to deal with how do we protect a family’s right to choose whether to have an abortion or not. How do we make sure that we protect our children in schools. The same people who said they did not want children to wear masks? Well how about children wearing body armor pretty soon because they want to arm teachers to fight.”
Scott’s victory adds another Black delegate to House Democrats’ leadership ranks, joining Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, a Filler-Corn ally who will remain in her position despite the leadership shakeup. Herring served as the caucus majority leader while Filler-Corn was speaker.
Some of Scott’s fellow Democrats described him Wednesday as a sharp and authentic voice who can help the caucus rebuild from last year’s losses, which led to a slim, 52-48 Republican majority in the chamber.
“The road back to the majority leads through Hampton Roads,” said Del. Shelly Simonds, D-Newport News. “He understands the complicated political landscape of the Hampton Roads region. So I think he’s the right person to move us forward.”
Del. Dan Helmer, D-Fairfax, who was elected the caucus’s vice chair of outreach, said Scott shares the experiences of Virginians struggling to make ends meet.
“We now have a leader who has the lived experience of knowing what it’s like to … work up, to have made a mistake in life,” Helmer said.
Scott drew Helmer and Simonds to his side as he spoke to reporters after the vote, saying he hopes to bring an attitude of inclusivity to his new role.
“Once you’ve done very well for yourself and you know the challenges other people are facing, you have a responsibility to look back and see if you can pay it forward,” he said. “And that is why I chose to do this. Not because there’s something in it for me.”
Asked what he thinks Democrats need to do differently in 2023 to avoid a repeat of 2021, he said he hopes the caucus will do more to emphasize its own policy positions and focus less on former President Donald Trump, whose election helped House Democrats make sweeping inroads in 2017 before winning a majority in 2019.
“A lot of people think that President Trump may have gotten us here. I don’t believe that. But because of the dissatisfaction with Trump … we continue to look backward,” Scott said. “Elections are about the future. So we need to tell a story about what happens next year. What happens in the future. And people want to know what does the future look like for them with the Democrats in the majority.”
He declined to weigh in on the pending federal lawsuit seeking new House elections this year, saying only Democrats will be ready to run whenever they have to.
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