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20 Years and $2 Million Somehow Isn’t Enough for Senator Mamie Locke to Become the Majority Leader for the Virginia Senate
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Vote on Senate Majority Leader in the Virginia Senate Runs Along Lines of Race, Region and Virginia's Past
LOCKED OUT. Though she has served for 20 years in the Virginia Senate and raised $2 million for Virginia Democrats this year, State Senator Mamie Locke was unsuccessful in her bid to become the Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate.
As Senate Republicans elected their Caucus Chair, Sen. Ryan McDougle, Minority Leader for 2024, after the retirement of former Majority Leader and Minority Leader Sen. Tommy Norment, Democrats followed a different precedent regarding Locke. Locke serves as the Caucus Chair for Senate Democrats.
The vote for the Majority Leader position among Virginia’s Senate Democrats went along racial and regional lines. It also went along the historic lines of southern politics in Virginia and beyond.
Had Locke been elected Majority Leader she would have been the first woman in the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia to hold the position and the first African American. The vote featured at least one defection from Virginia’s Black Caucus set to have seven of its members serving in the Virginia Senate in 2024, a historic high representing one third of the Democratic Caucus in the Senate. Whether the seven Black Senators can work together as a block to improve the outcomes of Black Virginians is a question soon to be answered.
Virginia’s Legislative Black Caucus and the Virginia NAACP both issued statements in support of Locke prior to yesterday’s vote.
Over half a century, since 1972, eight white men have held the position of Majority Leader or Minority Leader of the Virginia Senate. The Majority Leader sets the floor agenda, directs PAC money, choses vendors the party will employ pollsters and consultants and performs as the public face of Democrats in the Senate. In all of Virginia’s history that face has been the same even after the abortion issue specifically centering women was the deciding factor for victory in a majority of General Assembly races decided on Nov. 7, 2023.
Even after Black women have emerged as the number one voting block for Democrats in terms of loyalty at the polls — which is over 94 percent — Democrats fail to give a Black woman the opportunity to hold the top position of power in the Virginia Senate. The ninth man serving as Majority Leader will be State Senator Scott Surovell. Then Delegate Surovell filled the seat of State Senator Toddy Puller in 2016 after Puller retired and Delegate and First Mount Zion (of Dumfries, Va.) Pastor Dr. Luke Torian was passed by for Puller’s seat.
Isaiah 55:11. But in 2024, Torian will again serve in one of the most powerful positions in the Virginia General Assembly as Chairman of Appropriations in the Virginia House for another two years.
After being elected Mayor of Hampton, Va. in 2000, Senator Locke began her time in the Senate in 2004. At once the moment of her losing for Majority Leader position yesterday reflects progress from woman and Black electeds and the resilience of a historic glass ceiling in the Virginia Senate and in the South in general for those same groups. Virginia remains behind regarding historic benchmarks as compared to other southern states with regard to Blacks and women reaching the top rungs of power.
This year Virginia finally elected the first Black woman to serve in Congress, U.S. Rep. Jennifer McClellan, which finally matched the history already completed by Texas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina years ago. Virginia’s neighboring state of North Carolina currently features a Black Minority Leader in the North Carolina State Senate, Dan Blue. Blue came to power in that position in 2014 but had already served as Speaker of the North Carolina House from 1991 until 1994. Notably, Blue had to work with Republicans after his Democratic colleagues failed to support him as Speaker in 1999.
The moment of Senator Locke’s loss for Virginia Majority Leader reverified that Black politicians have never had reliable allies — at times even within their own ranks. The early 1970s statement by the founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus that, Black people have no permanent friends, no permanent enemies… just permanent interests, remains true. Particularly against a backdrop of growing fascism and racism from MAGA Republicans who have launched a destabilizing political backlash after only one Black man of 43 white male Presidents was elected in 2008, touching off a new era of white grievance led by Donald Trump. The 2020 MAGA talking points were repeated again after only one Black woman preceded by 108 white men was selected to served on the U.S. Supreme Court for the first time in its 233 year history.
Similarly, the most microscopic moments of historic change are often met with resistance over Virginia’s 404 year old history built on racial repression, from slavery to massive resistance. The not-so-invisible hand of that legacy connects to a Virginia Senate so long controlled by the racist constructs of the Byrd Organization.
Meanwhile, the Virginia House has had two historic leaders in a row. Democrats elevated their House Minority Leader, Eileen Filler-Corn, to become the first woman House Speaker in Virginia’s history as well as the first Jewish Speaker in the Commonwealth’s history in 2020. Democrats have now also elevated Minority Leader Don Scott, a Black male, to be Speaker in 2024. Filler-Corn and Scott follow four centuries of 91 white male Speakers of the House who served from 1619 forward in Virginia.
With historic demographic changes coming in Virginia’s General Assembly in 2024 the question will soon become: What are the Black constituents Democrats depend on for votes getting out of the deal? How long will they continue to see few tangible differences in their communities before a level of voter apathy becomes irreversible?
Black Virginia News interviewed State Senator Mamie Locke earlier this month for podcast episode 26:
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