HARRISONBURG — Although two delegate races are still contested, central Valley lawmakers are ready to begin the 2018 session with the members who can join them in the General Assembly.
The fate of those two races will affect control of the House of Delegates, including leadership roles and the makeup of committees.
In November, in which all 100 House of Delegates’ seats were up for election, Democrats flipped at least 15 seats to shrink the Republican majority to 51-49.
But in District 94, which represents part of Newport News, the race is still up in the air between Republican incumbent David Yancey and Democratic challenger Shelly Simonds.
After a recount in the close race, Simonds was declared the winner by one vote, but a three-judge recount court later declared the race a tie after agreeing with the Yancey campaign that a disputed ballot was a vote for him, according to The Associated Press.
Simonds has asked the court to reconsider, but it has yet to respond.
On Friday, the Virginia Board of Elections announced it will hold a name-drawing on Thursday — which it canceled last week — to determine the winner unless a court decides to intervene.
In District 28, which represents part of Stafford County, a recount determined that Republican Bob Thomas defeated Democrat Joshua Cole by 73 votes.
But Democrats are seeking a new election after more than 100 voters received the wrong ballot on Election Day, The Washington Post reported. Democrats are suing for a new election and a hearing on the case is scheduled for Friday, according to The Post.
All this uncertainty comes just days before the legislative session begins Jan. 10. If Democrats win both seats, they would hold the majority in the House; one flipped seat would leave the chamber with a 50-50 split, complicating leadership decisions.
House Majority Leader-designee Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, said those two races are consuming Republican leadership’s focus right now. He also does not believe the 94th District race will be decided by the first day of the session, blaming Democrats for the delay.
“That is unfortunate because I think we could have otherwise resolved the 94th House District by opening day,” Gilbert said, “but our leadership has been clear that the House intends to organize itself on opening day as we are required to do. We are planning for that eventuality as best as we can.”
But Alleyn Harned, chairman of the Harrisonburg Democratic Party, said the race was decided before Yancey contested the decision over a single ballot. That sentiment is shared by Katie Baker, spokeswoman for the House Democratic Caucus. Baker noted that House Republicans had conceded in a statement that Simonds won after the recount.
“The statement also conceded their majority and offered encouraging language about a power-sharing agreement,” Baker said in her statement. “But then the Yancey team realized they didn’t like the results, so they decided to manipulate the process in a desperate effort to change the outcome and steal the election.”
Harned said Republicans should be looking at their own party when blaming someone for the delay.
“The process came up with a winner, and it’s Mr. Gilbert’s party that is presenting these outside-of-norm legal actions,” he said. “Nobody is hurt by Virginia following the procedures put in place. In this case, the recount procedures — that should be what we expect out of democracy. I’m certainly willing to wait.”
If that race is decided after Jan. 10, regardless of who wins, the House will likely elect a new speaker of the house without that delegate’s vote, Gilbert said. The speaker will then appoint committee chairmen and organize committee membership.
“We are all dealing with this unique set of circumstances as best we can,” he said. “Our intention and hope is that we can set about doing the people’s business promptly and efficiently on opening day.”
Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave, is concerned whether he would remain on the appropriations and education committees should there be a 50-50 split in the House. He has served on the House Appropriations Committee at least the last 12 years, he said, serving as vice chairman the last four.
“I’m not going to write something in stone,” Landes said, “because you’ve got to be willing to adjust and make adjustments if things change.”
Even if there is a power-sharing agreement, Landes said, he believes both parties would consider seniority and experience when making committee assignments.
Del. Tony Wilt, R-Broadway, said he is not worried about the potential 50-50 split, saying House members will deal with a power-sharing agreement if it comes to that. At the end of the day, he said, Republicans and Democrats work well together on most pieces of legislation, which is not going to change.
Regardless of the uncertainty, Landes and Wilt are busy preparing for the 2018 session’s start.
“The rest of us will be there on the 10th and we’ll start moving forward one way or the other,” Landes said. “If that one seat’s not filled, that’s unfortunate and the people in that district will be disenfranchised as long as it’s not. But the rest of the House will have to do something.”