Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41st) will be the first female House of Delegates speaker in Virginia history when the new General Assembly convenes in January.
The New York-born delegate has served Virginia’s 41st House District, which encompasses a swath of Fairfax County from the Mantua area of Route 50 down to Fairfax County Parkway in Burke, since 2010.
This is not the first time Filler-Corn has made Virginia history. She became the first woman to head a caucus when the House Democratic Caucus appointed her as the chamber’s minority leader on Jan. 1.
Virginia’s Democratic delegates and delegates-elect nominated Filler-Corn speaker of the House at a caucus meeting on Nov. 9 four days after the party won a 55-45 seat majority in the chamber as well as a 21-19 seat majority in the State Senate.
Filler-Corn will also be the first Jewish speaker in Virginia history and the first Fairfax County representative chosen for the position.
“I am humbled and honored to have been chosen by my colleagues to be the first woman Speaker-designee of the Virginia House of Delegates,” Filler-Corn said in a statement. “I do not take the support of my colleagues nor this responsibility lightly…I will be ready to work with all of my colleagues toward a better Commonwealth.”
Virginia House Democrats voted for Filler-Corn as speaker over Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-63rd), Luke Torian (D-52nd), and Kenneth Plum (D-36th), all of whom also campaigned for the position.
If chosen, either Torian or Aird would have been the first black speaker, and Aird would have taken the first female speaker distinction instead of Filler-Corn.
The last time the Virginia House speaker represented one of the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., was 1901 when the post belonged to John Ryan from Loudoun County, according to WTOP.
In addition to selecting Filler-Corn, Virginia’s Democratic delegates and delegates-elect voted for Del. Charniele Herring (D-46th) as their new majority leader, making her the first female and black delegate to serve in that capacity.
Herring, who represents portions of Fairfax County and the City of Alexandria, served as the House Democratic Caucus chair until the Nov. 9 meeting, when Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th) was chosen as the new caucus chair.
The caucus touted the diversity of its newly chosen leadership slate as a true representation of Virginia after a critical Election Day gave Democrats control of both the General Assembly and the Virginia governor’s office for the first time since 1993.
“We have the most diverse House Caucus in our history, which includes cultural, gender and geographic diversity,” Filler-Corn said. “It also means a diversity of experience and perspectives on issues that affect Virginians, in all regions.”
Democratic Party of Virginia Chairwoman Susan Swecker congratulated Filler-Corn on her historic selection as speaker after it was announced and expressed hope that she will help Democrats fulfill the party’s policy goals on equal rights, health care, gun safety, and other issues.
Virginia House Republicans took a largely cordial stance on Filler-Corn’s nomination, which will be officially confirmed by the full House of Delegates on the first day of the 2020 legislative session.
“Serving as Speaker is a tremendous honor and awesome responsibility,” Del. Kirk Cox (R-66th) said. “I will do everything I can to assist Speaker-designee Filler-Corn with the transition, and wish her success in her new position.”
Cox has represented the 66th House District since 1990 and became House speaker in January 2018 after serving as House majority leader since December 2010.
He won reelection on Nov. 5 by 1,303 votes over challenger Sheila Bynum-Coleman but must relinquish his speaker position after the GOP lost its two-seat majority in the chamber.
House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-15th) congratulated Filler-Corn, Herring, and Sullivan on their elections to House leadership but also raised concerns in his statement about all three delegates coming from Northern Virginia.
“The House of Delegates represents our entire Commonwealth,” Gilbert said. “The varying and often conflicting interests of Northern Virginia, metro Richmond, Hampton Roads, and rural Virginia deserve a fair hearing in our legislative process to meet their unique needs and challenges.”
When the General Assembly convenes in 2020, Democrats will seek to enact policies that struggled to gain traction under the GOP-controlled legislature.
Gun reform appears to be a top priority after Republicans ended a July 9 special session on the subject after 90 minutes without debating any of the proposals put forward by Gov. Ralph Northam, who called for the special session after a mass shooting killed 12 people in Virginia Beach on May 31.
The legislation instead went to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further review. The agency was scheduled to meet on Nov. 12 to present possible recommendations, but Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-26th), who chairs the commission, announced on Nov. 8 that the meeting was canceled.
The commission released a report on mass killings and gun violence on Nov. 12 that offered no recommendations after “staff determined that inconclusive evidence exists” to provide guidance based on existing research, which the report says is “often insufficient, mixed, contradictory, or based on limited methodology.”
While gun violence prevention legislation remains at the top of Northam’s list of priorities for the 2020 session, the governor also supports passing the Equal Rights Amendment to make Virginia the 38th and last state needed to ratify the measure explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in the U.S. Constitution, according to the Associated Press.
Other priorities include defending the rights of minority communities, investing in clean energy and other actions to combat climate change, and expanding access to education and health care, Northam said in a statement following the House Democratic leadership elections.
“I am grateful to all the leadership candidates who outlined bold visions for this new era in Virginia,” Northam said. “I look forward to working with everyone in the General Assembly to deliver the progress Virginians have demanded.”