Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus swells to 23. ‘We unleashed some of those black votes.’

Robin Jones casts her ballot at Christ the King Church in Richmond, Va., November 5, 2019. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ for the Virginia Mercury)

Del. Lamont Bagby, D-Henrico, is still a little giddy.

“We all thought it was too good to be true,” the chairman of Virginia’s legislative black caucus said of Tuesday’s election results. “I’m still in pinch-me mode.”

Democrats flipped six seats in Virginia’s House of Delegates, according to unofficial results. Four of them were made more competitive by a court-ordered redistricting plan that sought to correct racial gerrymandering that federal courts ruled had unconstitutionally packed black voters into the same districts.

“We picked up seats because we unleashed some of those black votes,” he said.

Democratic Del. Lamont Bagby of Henrico speaks to supporters at a watch party in downtown Richmond, Va., November 5, 2019. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ for the Virginia Mercury)

Republicans agree that the redistricting plan played a key role in Democrats’ House victories this week, though, unlike Bagby, they don’t see it as a good thing. House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, blamed “liberal judicial gerrymandering” and a flood of out-of-state cash in an election-night statement bemoaning his party’s losses.

Of the four Democratic candidates who won those seats, one is black: Real estate agent Clint Jenkins, who challenged House Appropriations Chairman Chris Jones, R-Suffolk. Jones was the architect of Republicans’ 2011 redistricting plan that was later overturned by the court, and, coincidentally or not, was most impacted by the remedial plan approved by the courts. It shifted his district 27.4 points to the left, according to the Virginia Public Access Project.

A second black candidate, Josh Cole in Stafford County, flipped a Republican seat that was not touched by the new redistricting plan. And a third, Alex Askew, won a Virginia-Beach anchored seat Democrats flipped back in 2017 and which was made slightly more Democratic as part of the 2018 redistricting plan. (A fourth candidate, Don Scott, won election in Portsmouth to a seat that is already represented by a black candidate.)

The victories bring the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus’ membership roster up to 23. Bagby said he hopes to use those boosted numbers to push for criminal justice reform, more state funding for schools in low-income neighborhoods and more money for the state’s historically black colleges and universities.

During the election, Republicans touted the diversity of their own slate of candidates, which included two black candidates campaigning to be the first black members of the state GOP in 15 years, but neither was successful in that effort.