If you want a sneak preview of how the 2018 election is shaping up for Democrats, you should pay attention to people like Schuyler VanValkenburg.
The 35-year-old VanValkenburg is a high school civics teacher at a public school in Henrico County, Virginia. As part of his civics duties, he coaches his team in a statewide “We the People” constitutional competition, in which students are grilled, Senate-hearing-style, by a panel of judges about America’s system of governance.
“I’m teaching this really idealistic and really sophisticated program, and the kids are working at a really high level—really taking in the Constitution and working with it—and meanwhile they’re seeing this election going more and more into the gutter,” he says. So not long after President Donald Trump won, with prodding from another teacher and support from a new progressive political outfit called Run for Something, which helps first-time millennial candidates do exactly that, he decided to run for the House of Delegates in the state’s 72nd district.
Even in an off-year, elections have consequences. On November 7 voters will go to the polls to pick mayors in New York, Atlanta, Detroit, and Birmingham. New Jersey will get a new governor, and a state Senate election in Washington state could give Democrats full control of the state government. But the elections in swingy Virginia, where all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for grabs (along with the offices of governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general), could be the clearest demonstration yet of Democratic political power in the age of Trump—and a barometer for the party’s strength heading into next year’s midterm election. Republicans hold a narrow majority in the Virginia Senate but a 2-to-1 supermajority in the House of Delegates, and have used their numbers to block term-limited Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe from expanding Medicaid in the state. Taking back the House of Delegates is a long shot, but candidates like VanValkenburg demonstrate how they’ll try.
VanValkenburg’s platform is what you’d expect from a suburban Democrat running against intransigence—he’s pledging more money for public schools, passage of Medicaid expansion, and a rejection of the conservative culture war. What’s different is that it’s happening in Henrico. The 72nd, which comprises the northwest suburbs of Richmond, is Republican by habit. […]
Virginia will be the best test yet for whether Democratic enthusiasm translates into votes. So far, the idea is a thesis in need of more data. Special elections for US House seats have gotten the most attention, and Democrats have yet to gain any seats there. But they’ve run up a string of successes in state-level races. The party has held every blue seat in state legislative special elections while flipping eight Republican ones (including two last week). In those races, Democrats have improved on Clinton’s performance by an average of 12 percent. […]
VanValkenburg, for his part, believes he’s running not just for his seat, but to rebuild the party in a place it’s been allowed to wither. “People just assumed that it was a Republican area because for so long Republicans were winning and that becomes kind of a vicious circle,” he says. “It becomes one of those things where because Democrats never run, Democrats never run. One of the big reasons I got in was because I think Democrats can win here but more importantly Democrats need to organize here. We can win the delegate race, but we can also help the statewide [candidates], we can also help in 2018, the congressional races, if we organize.”
Read the rest of the article from Mother Jones HERE.