Three candidates who emphasized collaboration and democracy reform have triumphed in hotly contested Virginia legislative primaries.
The bipartisan trio of off-year victories Tuesday are a small but emblematic sign that such campaigns can succeed despite the highly polarized and partisan nature of politics at all levels of government.
The notable winners are likely to cruise to election November because each of their districts is safe for their parties. Two are Democrats running for open and solidly blue seats in the state House, Suhas Subramanyam in the Washington exurbs and Martha Mugler in the Hampton Roads area. The other is a two-decade veteran Republican who represents conservative areas north of Charlottesville in the state Senate, Emmett Hanger.
Another longtime GOP incumbent running on similar reformer themes, state Rep. Chris Peace from outside Richmond, declared victory but so did his rival and the winner will likely be determined in court.
The campaigns of the four were elevated to prominence because they were the only legislative candidates endorsed by Unite Virginia, a state affiliate of Unite America, which seeks to elect "candidates who put people over party." The group praised them all for their commitment to reform — all support proposals to turn political mapmaking in the state over to a bipartisan commission, for example — and a commitment to working with politicians of the other party.
Unite Virginia's Matt Scoble emphasized Hanger's efforts to advance an anti-gerrymandering bill in Richmond as evidence he was a "pragmatic and effective legislator."
Subramanyam, who worked in the Obama administration, and Mugler, a Hampton school board member, were both singled out for their interest in bipartisanship. Additionally, Subramanyam campaigned for government transparency, better campaign finance reform and a more fair voting system.
Unite Virginia's goal is not to pick candidates based on ideology, Scoble said, but "to make the system more functional and bring more governance to the people."
Advocates for political reform nationwide always take heart when something they favor happens close to Washington, believing changes at the local level will eventually boost interest in federal action. So there's excitement among crusaders against gerrymandering, because Virginia is on the cusp of depoliticizing the way its election boundaries are drawn.
Both chambers of the state legislature have passed measures that would call a statewide vote on amending the Virginia constitution to create a bipartisan redistricting commission. The two bills are different in some important ways, but the Washington Post editorial board believes a compromise will be struck in coming days – because both Republican and Democratic legislators have concluded that claiming a good-government victory is in their best interests headed into the state's off-year campaign cycle.
"Facing the possibility of losses in this fall's legislative elections, and the certainty of new electoral maps following the 2020 Census, many in the GOP see a bipartisan redistricting commission as their best protection against the growing likelihood of Democratic dominance in Richmond," the paper writes. "For their part, Democrats have talked a good game on redistricting reform for years. Now, incumbents seem to realize they had better deliver or face the wrath of their own party's voters in June primaries."