david kerr H&S

I can almost guarantee you don’t know about it, but a hotly contested election is going on, at this very moment, for Virginia’s 2nd District House of Delegates seat. Yes, we’re having a snap special election over the holidays and in the middle of a pandemic. Voting day is Tuesday, Jan. 5.

The 2nd District covers parts of northwestern Stafford and eastern Prince William counties all the way to Woodbridge. So, you may ask, why are we putting so many voters, election workers, party campaign workers and candidates at risk during a pandemic? Why are we spending so much public money to run this special election and why was it necessary? Those are good questions because it wasn’t necessary.

The seat belonged to Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Democrat elected in 2017 and reelected in 2019. I voted for her each time and worked the polls for her as well.

She’s impressive. The first time she ran she had just given birth to two children, but that didn’t slow her down. She commanded a diverse and committed following and she door-knocked with a passion. Her victory was impressive. She is an attorney and a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. She is a Democrat, proudly so, but has always managed a surprisingly good crossover vote from Republicans.

Thing is, after 1½ terms she decided to run for governor. Among others she is taking on in the June primary is former Gov. Terry McAuliffe. It’s a long shot, but like her delegate run, she has attracted a following and has raised over $700,000 – not bad for a first-time candidate few people had heard of. I was probably going to support her, but with one decision, to abruptly resign from the legislature, she lost my vote.

Though it’s impossible to say for sure, in terms of who knew about her decision before it was announced, it had the feel of a backroom deal. Carroll Foy said, among other things, she needed to devote more time to her race for governor, and the prohibition on legislators raising money while the General Assembly is in session put too much of a burden on her campaign. That was curious since the legislature is in session only for 30 days this year.

The process moved like lightning. It’s a special election, and with the session beginning Jan. 13, there wasn’t much time to waste. In mid-December, just before Christmas, the Democrats and Republicans had less than a week to choose their candidates, with election day a few days after New Year’s.

The vast majority of voters in the 2nd District will probably never even know there was a special election. So much for the democratic process. However, just like a regular election, polling places will be staffed, voters will vote, a lot in person, and counters will count. It’s a field day for the scourge of 2020, COVID virus. But apparently none of this factored into Carroll Foy’s decision. 

That’s disappointing. When I stood in the rain handing out her fliers, I considered her one of the best candidates the Democrats had run in years. Given her VMI background, I held her to a high standard of commitment to the pact she was making with the voters. I cast my vote expecting that no matter her future goals she would at least serve out her full term as a member of the House.

The 2nd District has tended to be a swing district. Given that this is now a special election, and Republicans tend to do better in special elections, it’s possible that the seat may go to the GOP. Their candidate, Heather Mitchell, Carroll Foy’s opponent in 2019, is doing a full-court press. I wonder how Carroll Foy, her friends and supporters in her race for governor will view her decision if it results in flipping this seat to the GOP.

I still admire former Del. Carroll Foy – she is a person of talent, passion and determination – but I thought she was above that kind of backroom politics. Alas, when it comes to the June primary, she once had my vote, but now she’s lost it.

David Kerr is an adjunct professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University and has worked on Capitol Hill and for various federal agencies for many years.

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