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Va. General Assembly will include new faces, more women, greater diversity

Discontented voters let their frustrations be known in November and helped to shift the makeup of the Virginia General Assembly.

RICHMOND, Va. (WVEC) -- Anyone who looked out over the Virginia General Assembly in recent years likely noticed a fairly solid sea of middle-aged white men.

In 2018, the view will be different after a wave of angry voters in November 2017 carried Democrats to victory at the top of the ticket and affected significant changes down the ballot.

When the General Assembly convenes for its session this month, the House of Delegates will have more women in it: 60 percent compared to 50 percent in the previous session. The median age of House members will be around 40 compared to 55. Only 60 percent of delegates will be white versus 80 percent in the 2017 legislative session.

Virginia has the first transgender member of a state legislature in the United States.

Delegate Jay Jones of Norfolk will be the youngest member of the House of Delegates. Like many of his new colleagues, he will enter the capitol with no prior political experience.

"As young people, we might have a little bit more energy and a little less gray hair, but that doesn't mean that we're not gonna work any less hard," said Jones. "In the divided environment that we're in, where we are basically 50-50 on both sides, we don't have a choice but to work with each other, and I think that's a good thing."

"I do believe there's going to be some pressure on them to introduce legislation they promised to during the campaigns," said 13News Now Political Analyst Quentin Kidd of Christopher Newport University.

Kidd noted legislative accomplishments still might be difficult for Democrats who will lack a majority in both the House and Senate. Despite that, Kidd said we might see Democrats introduce gun control legislation and try to raise the minimum wage. There also could be an effort to encourage further legalization of medical marijuana, or even the use of recreational marijuana.

"I also think we'll see some basic bread-and-butter issues. We'll likely see some legislation to bring some tolling relief. The tolling controversy that is the Midtown and Downtown tunnels which continues to be controversial for people in Norfolk and Portsmouth," stated Kidd.

Tidewater Community College Business and Economics Professor Peter Shaw said, "I think Virginia has sent the signal that we have become very diverse as exemplified by the election and we want to become more so."

Shaw told 13News Now the success of a new-look General Assembly might not be measured in legislative accomplishments alone. Shaw said diversity in government sends a strong signal that 21st Century high-tech companies take notice of.

The bottom line: good-paying jobs for Virginia.

"The advanced technology industry has a very diverse labor pool," explained Shaw. "They won't come to your area or your state or your region if they don't see diversity in your representation and government your open-mindedness and your progressiveness of 21st-Century environments."

Democrats not only have made the House more diverse, but arguably are moving ever so close to control. The General Assembly elected in 2019 will tackle redistricting in 2021.

Across the country, Virginia is seen as a slightly Democratic-leaning state right now. The 2016 presidential election really made that point to the nation when the rest of the South voted for Donald Trump and Virginia voted for Hillary Clinton.

"It got a lot of people's attention because it made people realize there is a Democratic electorate in Virginia that is sustainable, that's going to turn out and vote in elections. Even when the rest of the southern region goes one way, Virginia goes the other way," Kidd said.

Kidd told 13News Now Virginians will want to pay attention to discussions about Medicaid expansion in the General Assembly. It might pass, and incoming governor Ralph Northam said he will sign the legislation if it does. The Trump Administration, however, may not want to grant a waiver request that would increase the number of people on Medicaid.

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