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Susan Shibut

Democratic Majority Could Bring Monumental Change to Confederate Symbols

By McKenzie Lambert and Susan Shibut, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- Virginia has 110 Confederate monuments, many of which are housed in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. Among the most notable are the five towering monuments of Confederate leaders lining Monument Avenue. Others live in neighborhoods across the city from Church Hill to Bellevue. The city is home to significant Civil War buildings, including the American Civil War Museum and White House of the Confederacy. Street names such as Confederate Avenue inhabit the Northside, while Jefferson Davis Highway, named for the president of the Confederacy, runs along the city and throughout the state. Schools such as John B. Cary Elementary — named after a Confederate soldier who later served as his district’s superintendent — and George Mason Elementary — named after a slave-owning Founding Father — still exist even though concern for renaming the schools has been articulated. 

In recent years, residents have been pushing for the Monument Avenue monuments to come down. But the statues, which represent the dark and violent history of slavery for some Virginians and their families, stand tall, staring down the median of a prominent and busy avenue. This is in part because the power to remove the monuments has been denied to localities under the Dillon Rule, which allows the state to limit the powers of local governments. However, a new Democratic majority in Virginia’s state legislature may open the door to more local government control — and perhaps the removal of the monuments.

The Dillon Rule is derived from the 1868 written decision by Judge John Dillon of Iowa. Dillon identified local governments as political subdivisions of the state government. According to the American Legislative Exchange Council, 39 states apply the Dillon Rule to some capacity. Thirty-one apply it to all localities, while eight use the rule for only certain municipalities. The Virginia Supreme Court adopted the Dillon Rule in 1896.

Because Virginia law states that localities cannot remove war monuments after they have been established, the Dillon Rule has prevented localities such as Richmond and Charlottesville from passing measures to remove their Confederate monuments.

When the General Assembly resumes session in January, a Democratic majority would make it easier for legislators to make a new law stating that local governments have the power to remove Confederate monuments, or a law that bans them outright. John Aughenbaugh, assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, said a new law is a way he could see localities gain the power to make their own decisions about the monuments.

“I don’t think many members of the General Assembly want to get blamed for upsetting those who still like the monuments,” Aughenbaugh said. “But they’ll be willing to go ahead and give the local governments the authority to make that decision on their own.”

Jim Nolan, press secretary for Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, said that increasing local authority has been a legislative priority for the mayor and will remain one heading into the 2020 General Assembly session. He said the mayor believes the General Assembly should grant authority to allow localities to determine the future of Confederate monuments. 

“Cities should have the right to choose if they want to contextualize or permanently remove monuments,” Nolan said.

In recent years, the Richmond City Council voted against two resolutions brought by Councilman Michael Jones requesting that state lawmakers give the city authority on what to do with the monuments. The resolutions would have put pressure on lawmakers to give the city authority. However, the General Assembly is not the only avenue for localities to gain the power to remove their monuments. Aughenbaugh said he predicts a locality will sue for the right to remove their monuments and the Virginia Supreme Court will be the deciding body. 

One city has already brought such a suit. Earlier this year, Norfolk filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Virginia, arguing that requiring the city to keep a Confederate monument was contrary to their freedom of speech. The suit has not been decided yet.

More than 1,800 Confederate symbols stand in 22 states as of February, according to a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Virginia, with 262 Confederate symbols, has more than any other state and has removed 17 of its symbols since the racially-charged Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting in which nine African-Americans were murdered, the organization said.

For decades, Richmond has sought to offset Confederate symbols. In 1996, a sixth statue was added to Monument Avenue depicting Arthur Ashe, an African American tennis champion from Richmond. Earlier this year the Richmond City Council voted to rename the Boulevard to Arthur Ashe Boulevard. J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School was renamed Barack Obama Elementary after a 6-1 vote by the Richmond Public School Board in 2018. Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts unveiled Tuesday, in front of a welcoming crowd, Kehinde Wiley’s statue “Rumors of War,” which depicts a black man in classic equestrian portraiture — a response to the monuments on Monument Avenue.

Virginia has been center stage in the national debate regarding the potential removal of Confederate monuments. In August 2017, the nation was rocked with news of violent clashes in Charlottesville. A “Unite the Right” rally and counter-demonstration were the climax of a months-long battle over the fate of a Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue that the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove. At the protest, James Alex Fields Jr., a white supremacist who traveled from Ohio to the event, drove his car into a crowd, killing counter-protester Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. The night before the protest, participants gathered in the park with tiki torches and chanted slogans including the Nazi-associated phrase “blood and soil.”

After the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting, Stoney created the Monument Avenue Commission in 2017 in hopes of creating new ways to remember Richmond’s history while addressing the past memorialized on Monument Avenue. Its first meeting took place days before Heyer died counter-protesting in Charlottesville.

“Richmond has a long, complex and conflicted history, and the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue represents a shameful part of our past,” Stoney said in the commission’s 117-page report. “The majority of the public acknowledges Monument Avenue cannot and should not remain exactly as it is. Change is needed and desired.” 

After 11 months of public deliberation, the commission suggested solutions, which included:

  •  Moving the monuments to a museum and creating a permanent exhibit, including a deeper historical look into the history of the monuments by creating a mobile app and a film that ensures historical accuracy.

  • Adding permanent signage that reflects the historic, biographical, artistic and changing meaning over time for each monument.

  • Erecting a monument that pays homage to the resilience of the formerly enslaved.

  • Having local artists create contemporary pieces that bring new meaning to Monument Avenue.

  • Removing the Jefferson Davis statue.

The city cannot implement these suggestions, however, if state law overrides local laws. 

House Bill 2377 was introduced by former Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, in the 2019 General Assembly session. It would have given localities the power to remove or add context to their monuments, but it did not pass the then-Republican majority House.

For those who oppose the monuments, hope is on the rise. Democrats hold both chambers of the General Assembly as well as the governorship after the Nov. 5 elections — a power that has not been seen in over 20 years. Several of the newly elected legislators have spoken out against the monuments, including Democratic Sen.-elect Ghazala Hashmi, Democratic Del.-elect Sally Husdon, and Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk. Hudson plans to introduce legislation very similar to Toscano’s bill — Jones said he will co-sponsor the legislation.

In November, Jones tweeted: “The ‘monuments’ are nothing more than vestigial symbols of oppression and hate that need to come down - ESPECIALLY if it is the locality’s choice. We’re moving VA into the 21st century rather than ‘honoring’ the failures of the 19th.”

This was not the first time Jones touched on this subject. During Black History month in February, following Gov. Ralph Northam’s blackface scandal, Jones stood in front of the House of Delegates and made a personal speech

Jones talked about “two Virginias,” a white one and a black one, and how they have existed “in parallel along the same arc of history, frequently intersecting, but never running together as one. Two different experiences, born from the same beginning four hundred years ago and still never merged into one shared story.” 

According to Jones, “glorification of the Confederacy via monuments and flags in public spaces,” are examples of how white Virginians “consciously or unconsciously attempted to demonstrate its power over black Virginians.”

In describing the racially-charged differences between Virginians, Jones said, “It seems that we have not come far enough to understand the hurt and pain and the effect on those who grew up in the shadow of separate but not equal. Thirty years on, throughout the duration of my life, we are still struggling mightily with race in our state.”

If localities are given the authority to legislate the fate of their monuments, Nolan said Stoney and his administration will ask the city’s History and Culture Commission to make recommendations and commit to following a process in accordance to solutions provided by the Monument Avenue Commission.

Virginia College Students Weigh in Before Election Day

Capital News Service, By Emma North, with contributing writers

RICHMOND -- All 140 seats of the Virginia legislature are up for election on Tuesday and college students across the state have been busy registering voters, hosting town halls and canvassing for candidates. 

"College students are more likely to vote in 2019 than any other Virginia midterm because of the aggressive voter registration efforts at college campuses around the state this fall,” Stephen Farnsworth, director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington, said in an email.

Many eyes are on the student vote this election. According to the United States Census Bureau, the largest percentage point increase in voter turnout for any age group in the 2018 U.S. midterm elections was among 18- to 29-year-olds, when voter turnout spiked from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018.

Students at four-year institutions in Virginia make up around 5% of Virginia’s voting age population, according to an analysis of data from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. In certain key districts students make up a larger portion of the voting population. House District 12 covers part of the Virginia Tech campus and the entire Radford University campus. Radford students make up 19% of the district. 

"The impact of increased student voting also may shape races in districts without colleges and universities as some students choose to register to vote based on where they grew up, and others choose to register where they are going to school," Farnsworth said.

Grant Fox, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said Democratic campaigns have worked closely with the party’s groups in university districts.

“Often the best voter registration and canvassing efforts on college campuses are run by students, and Democratic campaigns have been working with student organizers to register and mobilize young voters effectively," Fox said.

John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia, said Republicans always try for the student vote. 

“Numerous campaigns have had internship programs and contacts with College Republican chapters,” Findlay said. 

CNS reporters compiled information about student voter engagement and policy concerns from 14 Virginia college campuses with enrollment over 4,500 people. Political groups and campaign campus organizers were contacted.

Several themes echoed across campuses: concerns about climate change, varying views on gun control and a strong push to register as many students as possible. 

Based on a CNS analysis of competitive races, redistricting changes and recent voting trends on Virginia Public Access Project, nine of these college campuses fall into competitive race districts. Candidates in some of these districts also weigh in on how they have focused on gaining student support. 

Findlay said student turnout could “definitely” affect House Districts 85, 93, 91 and 12 and Senate Districts 6 and 7. He also said turnout could affect SD 10 and HD 28, “although most students live outside those districts.”

Christopher Newport University

Senate District 1: Democratic incumbent Monty Mason, running unopposed

House of Delegates District 94: Republican incumbent David Yancey; Democrat Shelly Simonds; Libertarian Michael Bartley (competitive)

The rematch between incumbent Yancey and Simonds could be impacted by higher student voter turnout. In 2017, the seat was decided by a tiebreaker determined by a random drawing from a ceramic bowl. The undergraduate enrollment is almost 4,900. 

Rachel Bitecofer, assistant director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at CNU, said over email that student turnout can have an important impact on the outcome of elections big and small. She said the 18- to 24-year-old age group votes in exceedingly small numbers, as does the age cohort above them.

“This causes the population pyramid and the voting population pyramid to be inversed - and although younger Americans should make up the majority of voters they make up a small minority,” Bitecofer said. She added that even a small increase in turnout among college students can “have a profound impact.”

According to Bitecofer, a school the size of Virginia Commonwealth University can exert “great influence on the outcomes of these off off year elections which have low turnout overall.”

The challenge is a little harder for CNU because of the size of its student body, she said. “I think CNU is fairly reflective of other student bodies in that they care about issues like student loans and climate change,” Bitecofer said.

George Mason University

SD 34: Democratic incumbent Sen. Chap Petersen, running unopposed

HD 37: Democratic incumbent Del. David Bulova, running unopposed

There are over 26,000 undergraduate students at the university. The student-run George Mason Democrats organization provides voting education, hosts campus political events and canvasses dorm to dorm and house to house for get-out-the-vote efforts. Group member Erica Kelly expects a high voter turnout this off-election year. 

“Ever since we got our campus precinct, our numbers have gone up and up,” Kelly said. 

Registered GMU students can cast their ballot at the on-campus precinct in Murten Hall. The university registered 3,700 students to vote, according to Kelly. She expects around 2,000 will cast a ballot. George Mason Democrats will drive students to polling places on Election Day. They also helped register students for absentee voting. Fifty-three students voted absentee last year, Kelly said, but doesn’t have the numbers for this year. 

The GMU College Republicans group is also visible on campus. The group has thrown efforts into phone banking and canvassing for local races in Northern Virginia ahead of the election, since both House and Senate candidates are incumbents running unopposed.

James Madison University

SD 26: Republican incumbent Mark Obenshain; Democrat April Moore

HD 26: Republican incumbent Tony Wilt; Democrat Brent Finnegan

JMU has more than 19,000 undergraduate students. Both House and Senate districts skew Republican, though HD 26 leans slightly more Democratic after redistricting.

Dukes Vote, a student-led initiative supported by JMU’s Center for Civic Engagement, is leading the school’s get-out-the-vote efforts. 

Primarily focused on education and engagement, Dukes Vote said it has visited over 70 classes this fall to educate students about the voting process and offer voter registration. 

“We have a traveling candidate town hall,” said Carah Ong Whaley, associate director of the Center for Civic Engagement. “We bring the candidates from all sides of the aisle to campus and they go to three different residence halls in one night to engage with students directly.”

Environmental issues weigh the heaviest in the minds of students, said Reilly Flynn, a sophomore studying English at JMU and political director for the JMU College Democrats. 

“The climate crisis is very real and will be catastrophic,” Flynn said.

JMU College Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.

Liberty University

SD 23: Republican incumbent Stephen Newman, running unopposed

HD 23: Democrat David Zilles; Republican Wendell Walker

With an undergraduate enrollment of 45,935, Liberty University has a College Republicans group and a College Libertarians group. The university is a Christian academic community. Its founder, Jerry Falwell, endorsed Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and Ted Cruz announced his presidential campaign at Liberty, in 2015.

College Libertarians President Aaron Sobczak said that in previous years he had seen get-out-the-vote efforts from the school but nothing this year. He cited a pro-life stance on abortion and gun rights as the most important issues to students, but College Republicans Chairman Nathan Hines said the biggest issue for his group was convincing students to vote. 

"It’s something we’ve always struggled with, especially with this generation being a little more liberal," Hines said. "We just keep informing our students and our members of the issues at hand and the importance of getting involved."

University of Mary Washington 

SD 17: Republican incumbent Bryce Reeves; Democrat Amy Laufer.

HD 28: Democrat Joshua Cole; Republican Paul Milde III (competitive)

The total enrollment at the university is over 4,700. District 28, which encompasses parts of Stafford County and Fredericksburg City (including UMW campus), is home to a particularly competitive race this election season between Democrat Cole and Republican Milde.

Farnsworth said most of the university’s students are keeping a close watch on the Cole-Milde race. 

“District 28 was home to one of the closest elections in the Commonwealth two years ago, and an influx of student voters may end up being decisive in that contest, settled in 2017 by less than 100 votes out of more than 23,000 cast,” Farnsworth said. “The vast majority of Mary Washington students who have registered in Fredericksburg as city residents will be voting in the Milde-Cole race.”

Get-out-the-vote efforts on Mary Washington’s campus have been particularly robust this year with registration drives helping to get more students signed up or aware of how to fill out an absentee ballot, he added.

“Students have organized ride-shares to take students to the polls in Fredericksburg city, and that will also help boost student turnout,” Farnsworth said.

Norfolk State University

SD 5: Democratic incumbent Lionell Spruill running unopposed

HD 89: Democratic incumbent Jerrauld Jones running unopposed

Over 5,000 students are enrolled at NSU, a historically black college. Old Dominion University, located a few miles away, shares the same House District. 

NSU is hosting actress Kerry Washington on Nov. 3 to discuss voting, activism and democracy. Norfolk State Young Democrats has also been campaigning for the competitive race in HD 81 between Republican incumbent Del. Barry Knight and Democratic challenger Lenard Myers, a CNU graduate. 

The group also took over the university’s Instagram account on National Voter Registration Day, to help pump student voter registration. The university’s College Republicans group has not been active on their Facebook page since 2013 and no Republican group is listed on the university website.

Old Dominion University

SD 6: Democratic incumbent Lynwood Lewis; Republican Elizabeth Lankford (competitive)

HD 89: Democratic incumbent Jerrauld Jones, running unopposed

The undergraduate enrollment at ODU is 19,372. Sydney Johnson, president of the ODU Democrats, said that for the past two weeks students canvassed across the campus to emphasize the importance of students voting, especially given the competitive Senate race between Lewis and Lankford.

“This year, we have a lot of students canvassing,” Johnson said. “We do our best to get everybody active. Everybody knows what their polling location is. We remind people to vote.”

According to Johnson, some of the key issues that matter to students are student debt, immigration and police brutality. Johnson said she feels frustrated when she hears students, especially African Americans, ask her why they should vote.

“You’re a black American and it matters,” Johnson said.

ODU Democrats also made sure that students who aren’t native to Norfolk register for absentee ballots.

“There’s a lot of students who do an absentee ballot,” Johnson said. “In fact, I know two of my best friends are voting absentee.”

Radford University 

SD 38: Republican incumbent A. Benton Chafin; Independent George McCall III

HD 12: Democratic incumbent Chris Hurst; Republican T. Forrest Hite (competitive)

Hurst is getting out the vote to Radford University's almost 8,000 undergraduate students and has registered around 1,000 students to vote between Radford and Virginia Tech universities, according to Geoffrey Preudhomme, former president of the Radford University Young Democrats. 

Hurst ran an effective campaign, reaching young voters at Virginia Tech and Radford. “He unlocked the student vote,” Preudhomme said. “That's the only reason he won was because of the surplus [of votes] from Radford and Virginia Tech put him over the edge.”

Radford University Young Democrats lobbied to move a polling location closer to campus and will give rides to the polls, Preudhomme said. Students are concerned with student debt, climate change, marijuana legalization, gun violence, and LGBTQ, racial and gender equality.

College Republicans at Radford University said they haven’t had as much traction, according to their president, Jeff Geisinger. 

“It's definitely been a struggle out here. So we haven't had the manpower to really participate in any door knocking or any registration, or anything for that matter,” Geisinger said. “We just have been trying to get people interested.”

According to Geisinger, the campus is very liberal. Conservative values such as the ability to openly carry firearms without government involvement, limited taxation and free market capitalism do not resonate with the student body, and Republicans on campus may not speak up, he said.

Regent University

SD 7: Democrat Del. Cheryl Turpin and Republican candidate Jen Kiggans (competitive)

HD 85: Democrat Alex Askew; Republican Rocky Holcomb (competitive)

Regent has an undergraduate enrollment of 4,646. Holcomb hopes to get his House seat back after losing it to Turpin in 2017. And Turpin hopes to secure the open Senate seat in District 7, which has voted blue since the 2016 presidential election when voters were split between Trump and Hillary Clinton. At Regent, student education is offered from a Christian perspective. According to Pew Research, in the 2018 midterms, most white evangelical Christians continued to support Republican candidates. The university provides voting registration information to students, along with the message: “Every vote counts!” Regent states on its website that it “neither supports nor opposes any candidate for public office.”

There is a Federalist Society on campus that hosts discussions surrounding national policy issues. The organization did not return a request for comment by time of publication. 

Findlay agreed that a strong student voter turnout from Regent could help Republican candidates and said it “could definitely help both SD 7 and HD 85.”

Virginia Commonwealth University 

SD 9: Democratic incumbent Jennifer McClellan; Libertarian Mark Lewis

SD 10: Republican incumbent Glen Sturtevant; Democrat Ghazala Hashmi (competitive)

HD 68: Democratic incumbent Dawn Adams; Republican Garrison Coward

HD 71: Democratic incumbent Jeff Bourne; Libertarian Pete Wells

VCU has an undergraduate student enrollment of 24,058 according to U.S. News. VCU Votes Coalition will provide assistance to college students on Election Day. The coalition is formed by students and faculty who aim to promote voter engagement on campus. There is a polling location on campus at the Student Commons.

"We will be focused on helping students with their polling location, providing nonpartisan sample ballots and voting guides, and making sure they get to the polls,” said Madeline Doane, student leader of the program. 

The coalition’s get-out-the-votes effort began months ago. VCU Votes said it has helped over 2,500 students register during the fall semester.

Doane said VCU Votes visited over 40 classes typically taken by freshmen to provide students with nonpartisan information about the elections. The coalition registered 100 new voters through this classroom initiative.

VCU Votes also organized forums and roundtables with local candidates to inform students, including a forum with Hashmi on Oct. 25.

The VCU Young Democrats worked to engage students through weekly meetings where they discussed the most pressing issues to the members and the general community, according to Kaylin Cecchini, vice president of the group.

“We’ve seen this has been successful; working jointly with other organizations, candidates, and officials we’ve seen a huge increase in student voter enthusiasm,” Cecchini said. “Voting is essential to having your voice heard and represented in government, so we work very hard to get as many students active in the political process as we possibly can.”

College Republicans of VCU could not respond to questions regarding student engagement and preparation for Election Day but offered the following comment through social media: “We value everyone's opinion and believe their voice should be heard in every election.” 

Sturtevant did not return a request for comment. The Young Republican Federation of Virginia also did not respond.

Virginia State University 

SD 16: Democrat Joseph Morrissey; Independent Waylin Ross 

HD 66: Republican incumbent Kirk Cox; Democrat Sheila Bynum-Coleman (competitive)

The combined student population at this historically black college is approximately 4,600, according to the university. NextGen America has worked on the VSU campus since September, encouraging voter registration and “talking to students about the issues they care about,” Wafa May Elamin, NextGen Virginia organizer said.

On National Voter Registration Day, NextGen partnered with the Student Liaison Outreach Team, according to Elamin. The organization has also canvassed neighborhoods. Bynum-Coleman, Democratic candidate for HD 66, also joined the team. 

Elamin said they have information tables at the student center and maintain visibility on campus to connect with students. 

A big concern from students on campus is racial equity, according to Elamin. Other important issues include access to health care, being a part of low-income communities, and receiving quality education at their university.

“Those are a lot of the conversations that we’re having and they’re still continuing,” Elamin said.

 The polling place for students is at Ettrick Elementary School, which is a “20-minute walk off campus,” according to Elamin. NextGen will shuttle students to the polling place and back to campus every 30 minutes.

In office since 1989, Cox is in a competitive race against Bynum-Coleman. Fundraising in 2019 was neck-and-neck, with Bynum-Coleman raising over $1.4 million and Cox raising over $1.3 million. Redistricting shifted by 32 percentage points in favor of Democrats, according to VPAP. Morrissey is already considered the projected winner of SD 16, though he faces Independent Waylin Ross on the ballot. 

Democratic leadership, including former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, have recently supported Morrissey.

Virginia Tech

SD 21: Democratic incumbent John Edwards; Independent Steve Nelson

HD 7: Republican incumbent Larry Rush; Democrat Rhonda Seltz

HD 12: Democratic incumbent Chris Hurst; T. Forrest Hite (competitive)

The undergraduate enrollment is almost 28,000. Virginia Tech’s campus is home to multiple political organizations including the Young Democrats, College Republicans, Green Party and Young Americans for Liberty.

The Young Democrats at Virginia Tech are usually “the ones that are typically standing outside and yelling at people to make sure people are registered,” said Virginia Tech political science student Annika Klingen. 

The College Republicans at Virginia Tech host get-out-the-vote call nights and attend town hall meetings. 

Klingen mentioned a couple important issues to students. 

“Climate change is the No. 1 biggest one on this campus,” she said. 

She also said that in the aftermath of protests over Virginia Tech’s handling of a Title IX case in April that women’s issues have become a prevalent topic on campus as well. 

Most on-campus students vote at Squires Student Center, while the military segment of the student population, the Corps of Cadets, and off-campus students vote at Luther Memorial Lutheran Church.

Hurst has campus organizers at Virginia Tech to help register voters and knock on doors. According to his campaign manager, Michelle Moffit, Hurst represents more students than anyone in the Virginia General Assembly. Moffit said they are “hyper-aware” of the student vote and that it is crucial to their district. 

Hurst’s opponent, Forrest Hite, did not respond to a request for comment.

College of William & Mary 

SD 1: Democratic incumbent T. Monty Mason, running unopposed

HD 93: Democratic incumbent Michael Mullin; Republican Heather Cordasco (competitive)

The college has an undergraduate enrollment of 6,377. Due to redistricting, the HD 93 race between Mullin and Cordasco is more competitive than in previous election cycles. Both the William and Mary Young Democrats and College Republicans have engaged in outreach events throughout campus.

The College Republicans have hosted monthly pizza socials and held meetings with candidates from nearby House districts. Per their Facebook page, the group has met with 91st District candidate Colleen Holcomb and 96th District candidate Amanda Batten this semester.

The Young Democrats recently held a tailgate event, which was attended by McAuliffe, Mason and Mullin. The group canvassed on weekends throughout the semester.

Mullin said that student outreach has been a major focus of his campaign’s get-out-the-vote effort.

“Lots of the issues we vote on in the General Assembly impact students’ lives,” Mullin said. “With so many important issues on the ballot, we feel confident they’ll turn out and vote next Tuesday.”

Mullin’s opponent, Cordasco, did not respond to a request for comment.

University of Virginia

SD 25: Democratic incumbent Creigh Deeds; Independent Elliot Harding

HD 57: Democrat Sally Hudson, running unopposed

There are 16,777 undergraduate students and 7,862 graduate students at U.Va, for a total of 24,639 on the grounds, according to the university. Both the University Democrats at UVA and College Republicans at UVA have been active in outreach to the student body. Both groups have also been vocal about the political impact of holding exams on Election Day, according to the university paper.

Though there is no competitive race in the district, groups have canvassed for other districts and emphasized the importance of voting. 

The College Republicans recently canvassed for Cox, Kiggans and Stolle. 

Along with stressing the importance of voter turnout, College Democrats said on Facebook that flipping the House and Senate blue will give Democrats “the ability to make real tangible change in Richmond and push for policy that we are passionate about, such as gun control, the ERA and LGBTQ rights, to name a couple things.”

Why is this election different?

This is the first state legislative election since the election of Trump, who lost Virginia to Clinton, and the beginning of increased Democratic resistance movements at all levels of government. 

“He has dominated the news cycle nearly every day of his presidency, and that intense media and public focus on politics has more people than ever paying attention to his actions,” Farnsworth said. 

This election, 85 of the 140 seats are contested by a major party compared to 49 seats contested by a major party in 2015. 

Historic fundraising totals also reflect the momentum Democrats are trying to gain in the legislature. House and Senate Democrats raised a combined $62 million during the current election cycle (2016-2019) while Republicans raised just shy of $48 million, according to VPAP. And Democrats have spent almost $24 million more to secure the House, compared to 2015.

Farnsworth said this year’s election is pivotal because Republicans hold a narrow majority in both chambers of the legislature. Republicans lead in the House 51-48, with one seat vacant. They lead in the Senate 20-19, with one seat vacant.

Taking a wider view, Democrats haven’t held both the General Assembly and the executive branch in a generation, according to political analyst  Bob Holsworth. Democrats last held the majority in the House in 1999 and Democrats had control of the Senate in 2007, but also briefly controlled the Senate after the 2013 elections and following special elections with a 20-20 split, Holsworth explained. Ralph Northam was lieutenant governor at the time, but control didn’t last after a Democratic senator resigned and they lost the special election, he said.

Republicans have not lost hope for holding the majority despite the gap in fundraising. 

“Money doesn't vote, the constituents do, and our polls show us that I am still ahead," said Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, in a previous CNS interview.

The National Rifle Association said they aren’t concerned by the cash injection on the other side of the gun lobby from Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown donated almost $1.5 million to Democrats this year, compared to the NRA’s $350,269 to Republicans. 

“I’ve been at this for nearly 30 years and I’ve seen time and again our voters swing key elections,” said Glen Caroline, head of the NRA’s Grassroots Programs and Campaign Field Operations Division, in a previous CNS interview. “I am aware of all the money our opponents are spending, but I’m not intimidated.”

The party with the majority will yield influence when the General Assembly takes up redistricting in 2021. Virginia usually redistricts every 10 years around the Census but in 2018, 25 House Districts in the central and southeastern part of the state were redistricted following a court order.

Students around Virginia have made it clear they plan to show up on Election Day.

“Young people tell pollsters they are more likely to vote Democratic than Republican by about a 60-40 margin, an engaged student population is more likely to help Democratic candidates,” Farnsworth said.

Election Day is Tuesday, and the polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. The newly elected legislators will assume office the second Wednesday in January following the election.

CNS staff Aliviah Jones, Christopher Brown, Imani Thaniel, Jason Boleman, Jeffrey Raines, Jimmy O’Keefe, Mario Sequeira Quesada, Morgan Edwards, Rodney Robinson, and Susan Shibut contributed to this report.

Dominion To Fund Electric School Buses in Virginia

By Susan Shibut and Jason Boleman, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- A greener commute could soon be in store for some students across Virginia.  

Richmond-based Dominion Energy is now accepting applications from public school districts interested in receiving electric school buses in a program aimed to reduce carbon emissions, lower transportation costs and strengthen Dominion’s electric grid. The program’s goal is to replace the existing 13,000 diesel school buses with electric models by 2030.

Upfront costs are about $120,000 higher than a comparable diesel bus, according to a report filed in July with the House Select Committee. Dominion will pay the cost difference for electric buses as well as the cost of new charging stations and infrastructure for selected schools.

The bus batteries can be tapped as an energy source and provide grid stability in times of high energy needs. During a power outage or emergency, for example, the buses could serve as mobile power stations. Schools will be selected for the program based on the locational benefit of their local power grid. 

According to Dominion, 1,050 buses would provide enough energy to power more than 10,000 homes. 

The new buses operate much more quietly than the current fleet, which could help facilitate communication between drivers and students. Each bus also is equipped with a seat belt for every student.

“Customers will benefit from the battery technology and vehicle-to-grid technology built into the bus system, which will enhance reliability and support renewable energy development,” said Dominion spokesperson Samantha Moore.

Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras said that the school district is “incredibly excited” about the possibility of the initiative coming to Richmond. 

“We believe we’re the perfect school division to launch this initiative as we’ve already demonstrated a commitment to making RPS ‘greener,’” said Kamras.

Electric school buses would be another in a series of environmental initiatives for Richmond Public Schools. Solar panels installed in 10 schools are on track to be operative in late October and into November, and another recent initiative replaced styrofoam cafeteria trays with recyclable alternatives. 

Air quality inside the buses is six times better than in non-electric models, according to Dominion, and one bus would reduce carbon emissions by 54,000 pounds each year. Dominion estimates that a switch to electric buses will reduce operation and maintenance costs for schools by 60%. 

“They have other benefits too you know, they clean the air, they’re quieter, they’re easier to maintain because they have fewer parts -- moving parts -- that need to be replaced than an internal combustion engine,” said Wendy Fewster, a LEED-certified RPS sustainability associate. 

The initiative was praised by environmental advocacy organization Environment Virginia, who encouraged school districts to apply for the initiative.

“Dominion’s announcement is an important part of addressing climate change and protecting the health of thousands of school children across the commonwealth,” said Elly Boehmer, director of Environment Virginia.

Dominion aims to have 50 electric school buses fully operational by the end of 2020. The company also wants to grow the program by 200 buses per year for the next five years, pending state approval. The costs for the initial 50 buses will be covered by Dominion’s base rate, with full program implementation expecting to cost less than $1 per month for the average Dominion Energy customer.

Applications for the program close Oct. 5.

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