Virginia state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) is among those who are on the ballot in next week’s crucial General Assembly elections.
Roem, a former journalist, in 2017 defeated Bob Marshall, an anti-LGBTQ Republican who had represented the 13th District in the Virginia House of Delegates since 1992. Roem is the first openly trans person seated in any state legislature in the U.S.
Roem on Nov. 5 will face off against Republican Kelly McGinn, who has been criticized over her anti-LGBTQ positions and statements. Roem defended her record in Richmond when she spoke with the Washington Blade on Monday.
“I ran on Medicaid expansion,” said Roem while driving through her district. “We have now made Medicaid expansion available for 400,000 Virginians who were either uninsured or underinsured last year.”
Roem noted that more than 12,000 residents of Prince William County and 466 people who live in Manassas Park have enrolled in Medicaid since its expansion.
“That’s a huge deal,” she said.
Roem told the Blade she “got the job done” on raising teacher pay in Prince William County and Manassas Park by 5 percent. Roem also said she helped secure $20 million a year to help improve Route 28, an issue on which she campaigned in 2017.
“As a freshman member of a minority party, I passed more bills than my predecessor did in his 13th term with a two to one majority,” said Roem.
Roem also spoke about her race.
“It’s not just that I know my constituents, but that I deliver for my constituents,” said Roem.
Activists pin hopes on Democratic majority in Richmond
Republicans currently control the House of Delegates by a 51-48 vote margin and the Virginia Senate by a 20-19 vote margin. State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria), who is gay, told the Blade that Roem’s race is one of a few to watch as an indicator if Virginia is trending blue.
“Prince William will show if incumbents are holding well,” Ebbin said. “It is a bellwether county that turned over significantly in the last election with Democrats taking Republican-held seats, and we want to see if those gains have solidified there.”
He also pointed to the Virginia Beach and Richmond races as possible places to pick up two Senate seats and “win the majority.”
The Human Rights Campaign in August announced it would make a “six-figure” investment in Virginia to help Democrats regain control of the General Assembly. Both Roem and Ebbin agree a Democratic majority is vital to passing bills that would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing and public employment.
“Show me a Democratic majority and I will show you housing and employment nondiscrimination as well as the Virginia version of the Equality Act,” Roem told the Blade.
Roem’s comments are in contrast to statements from representatives of Equality Virginia, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, and the LGBTQ Victory Fund who said a leadership change in the House of Delegates may be adequate as previous Senate versions of the bills did receive bipartisan support.
“It’s my understanding if they [both bills] came up for a vote today, they would pass,” said Victory Fund Senior Political Director Sean Meloy. “But the House leadership is not letting that happen.”
However, Ebbin and Roem differed on whether a leadership change alone, while still maintaining a Republican majority, was enough to see these LGBTQ bills become law.
“The Senate version can pass the House,” Ebbin pointed out. “It’s about them being considered in committee, and that requires a Democratic majority since Republicans have shown over and over they won’t give their consideration to these measures.”
Roem pointed out her record of success garnering bipartisan support to pass other legislation important to her constituents while these bills were allowed to die in committee.
“There is no member of the Republican leadership who supports these measures. If they did, they would have allowed them to pass,” Roem said. “They will talk a good game on equality, but at the end of the day when we had two votes on the House floor … the entire Republican caucus, the last two years on record, rejected equality.”
Democrats lead Republicans by a 36-31 percent margin in the generic ballot for the state Senate and by a 38-30 percent margin in a generic House ballot, according to the August Roanoke College poll of potential voters. A Christopher Newport University poll conducted this month found likely voters favored Democrat over Republican General Assembly candidates by a 51-37 percent margin.