The state Senate’s blue wall gained another brick Wednesday when Democrat Aaron Rouse was sworn in to replace Republican Jen Kiggans.
“That brick wall is looking good, isn’t it?” said Portsmouth Democrat Louise Lucas, laughing as she left Senate chambers.
Rouse, a former Virginia Beach city councilman, narrowly defeated Republican Kevin Adams last week in a special election for Virginia’s 7th Senate District seat. Kiggans, who had another year on her term, stepped down after winning a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Democrats now hold 22-18 advantage in the Senate.
Rouse told The Virginian-Pilot that his most pressing concern is fighting back against any effort to restrict abortion access.
“I think obviously my election sent a signal that we are going to protect women’s reproductive rights,” he said. “But I also want to find measures so we can support teachers pay and look at the budget and see how we can support Virginia’s families.”
With a Republican governor and GOP-held House of Delegates, Democrats largely depend on their Senate majority — which has dubbed itself the brick wall — to block Republican policies. But their majority is slim, meaning even a couple of defections could cause the wall to collapse.
After flipping Kiggans’ seat, Lucas said she now feels confident Senate Democrats will stand strong this session.
“It gives us just the little bit of cushion we need to make sure that we can beat back all those draconian bills that are going to be sent down by the governor and his party,” she told The Pilot.
Benjamin Melusky, assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said that extra buffer comes at a vital time. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election later this year.
Defections are more likely during election years, he explained, as legislators may be more inclined to buck the party’s agenda on specific issues if it appealed to their district’s voters.
In addition to fighting off abortion restrictions, Melusky said Democrats might also feel more empowered to push for policies they want, such as gun control.
“This basically just gives the Democrats more breathing room,” he said.
The Republican Party of Virginia did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Liam Watson, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Virginia, said he believes the GOP’s focus on restricting abortion ultimately cost them Kiggans’ seat. The debate over reproductive rights in the commonwealth heated up after Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer.
“They are the dog that caught the car, and now they’re going to have to bear the consequences,” Watson said.
Shortly after he was sworn in, Rouse took to Twitter to express gratitude to his Hampton Roads supporters.
“Thank you to the voters of Senate District 7 for your trust and faith in me,” he tweeted. “I look forward to working everyday to fight for you in Richmond.”
Katie King, email@example.com