RICHMOND, Va. - The incoming speaker of Virginia's House of Delegates on Thursday announced her picks to lead four key legislative committees, with choices that reflect the racial, gender and geographic diversity of the Democratic caucus that will take control of the chamber in January.
For the four committee chiefs, Speaker-designee Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, chose three African Americans, three women and two delegates who hail from regions outside affluent northern Virginia, which will now have the largest delegation in Richmond.
Some delegates voiced a need for greater geographic diversity in leadership after Filler-Corn and two other northern Virginians won the top three posts in caucus elections Saturday. Del. Charniele Herring of Alexandria will be the new majority leader, becoming the first woman and the first African American to serve in that post. Del. Rip Sullivan of Fairfax will be caucus chairman.
To lead the key committees, Filler-Corn turned to four veteran legislators - no surprise given the role seniority typically plays in the chamber, but something that could rankle newer, more progressive delegates who have bucked the notion that they should wait their turn before assuming leadership roles.
Filler-Corn appointed Del. Luke Torian, D-Prince William, chairman of powerful Appropriations Committee; Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, chairwoman of the Finance Committee; Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, chairwoman of the Commerce and Labor Committee; and Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Sussex, chairwoman of the Education Committee.
"These impressive leaders will be important allies as we shape our policy agenda for the Commonwealth in 2020 and beyond," Filler-Corn said in a written statement. "Each of these delegates brings a great deal of experience, both in and out of the legislature, which will contribute to our work to make our schools better, our communities stronger and our economy thriving and fair."
Filler-Corn announced the selections 10 days after Democrats flipped the House and state Senate in an election that gives the party - already in possession of the governor's mansion - full control of state government for the first time in a generation. Democrats picked up six seats in the House, giving them a 55-to-45 advantage. They flipped two seats in the Senate, resulting in a 21-to-19 edge.
On Saturday, the incoming Democratic caucus designated Filler-Corn to become speaker in a closed-door meeting. The choice will not not be official until the full House convenes and votes on it in January. Filler-Corn will be the first woman and first Jewish person to hold that post in the House's 400-year history.
It has been decades since an African American has led a House committee. Then-Del. William Robinson, D-Norfolk, chaired Transportation Committee in 1998 and was co-chairman of the panel in 1998, according to House Clerk Paul Nardo.
Republican House leaders previously appointed Torian to appropriations and made him chairman of a subcommittee. He was first elected in 2009.
Watts first served in the House from 1981 to 1986, leaving to become the state's transportation secretary from 1986 to 1990. She returned to the House after winning re-election in 1995. Ward was first elected in 2003 and Tyler in 2005.