Democratic women running for General Assembly gather for EMILYs List training

July 24, 2017

Richmond Times-Dispatch: Democratic women running for General Assembly gather for EMILY's List training

by Patrick Wilson

Emily’s List, the group that trains Democratic women who support pro-abortion rights to run for office, hosted a seminar in Richmond on Monday for state House candidates. Organizers said the training is especially energetic this year because so many women, in Virginia and nationally, were motivated to run by the surprise election of Donald Trump to the White House.

Virginia’s 100-member House of Delegates is up for election in November, along with the statewide offices of governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. The off-year election is putting increased national focus on the state.

Groups such as Emily’s List are angling for gains in the 2018 midterm elections in Congress. But before then, there’s the commonwealth.

“We have got to change our legislature here in Virginia,” Stephanie Schriock of Alexandria, the president of Emily’s List, told a group of female candidates and staffers assembled at Reynolds Community College’s downtown campus for a day of training on how to raise money, hire the right people and put together a winning message. “We’ve got to push like hell to get this done, and that’s what we’re doing here today.”

Fifty-one women filed to run for state House this year as Democrats, and the party now has a record 43 female nominees, according to the Democratic Party of Virginia.

More than 80 percent of Virginia’s 140 state lawmakers are men.

Among the Democratic candidates at Monday’s training were Kelly Fowler, a real estate agent from Virginia Beach, and Debra Rodman, a professor and the director of women’s studies at Randolph-Macon College from Henrico County.

“Trainings like this show that we’re changing the face of what leadership looks like,” said Rodman, who is challenging Del. John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico, a member of the legislature for more than 16 years, in House District 73. (Map)

Rodman won the Democratic nomination by beating three other candidates at a party caucus in April.

Fowler is running against Del. Ronald A. Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach, in House District 21, which includes parts of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. (Map)She won the June Democratic primary for the seat against Tom Brock, who had come under pressure from the party because of past social media posts about women that he acknowledged were “totally inappropriate and offensive,” and previous racial jokes on social media.

Fowler said she decided to run after attending the Women’s March on Washington with her daughter in January.

“I came to the conclusion that I had to run,” Fowler said. “I had a responsibility.”

She said she finds Villanueva unresponsive, especially on one controversial issue taken up this year by the GOP-controlled House: A symbolic resolution encouraging people to lower flags to half-staff on Jan. 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion, for a “Day of Tears.” The House passed the resolution 57-36, with Villanueva among the yes votes.

Villanueva beat female candidates in 2011, 2013 and 2015. He said he’s noticed Trump has inspired many candidates to run — but he’s not Trump.

“I grew up in this district and I’ve been re-elected several times. I’m pretty visible. I go to virtually everything I’m invited to, so to say I’m unresponsive is incorrect,” he said. “This district is used to seeing competition, and it’s up to the people to make sure they vote for whoever they want.”

Schriock said the energy around Democratic women running for office is unprecedented this year. Since the November presidential election, she said, 16,000 women have contacted Emily’s List about possibly running for office. That compares with 920 over two years in the last election cycle, she said.

With the GOP in control of the White House and the energy created by the women’s march, Schriock said, she expects this year and next year’s congressional elections to bode well for Democrats.