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by Brandon Jarvis

Democrats have made huge gains in Virginia during the last four years — but an election in an off-off year while they hold the White House, blue seats that have been won by comfortable margins in recent years are now giving incumbents anxiety.

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg D-Henrico is seeking reelection to his third term in the House of Delegates this November. He currently represents the 72 district and is facing a challenge from Republican Christopher Holmes. VanValkenburg won by 7 points in 2019.

Since taking the majority two years ago, the Democrats in the General Assembly have passed hundreds of pieces of progressive legislation ranging from gun control to healthcare access to increasing voting access. 

VanValkenburg talks about that time in the House with a smile on his face. “It has really been quite a four years,” VanValkenburg said during an interview with Virginia Scope. “To see some of the impactful things that we have been able to do has truly been a blessing.” 

Now Democrats are running on that record as they try and convince voters in a different environment to come out and help them stay in the majority. With Trump’s loss last year, there has been a noticeable shift in enthusiasm from Democrats to Republicans. 

“It would be crazy to say that the Republicans aren’t motivated. They are out of power at the state level, they are out of power at the federal level,” VanValkenburg said. He noted, however, that people still seem eager to vote when he is out talking with members of the community.

“Pretty frequently I will door-knock and someone will say to me ‘you know, I only used to vote in the major elections, if there is anything that the last couple of years has taught me is that you have to vote every single time.’” VanValkenburg said. 

He trusts that voters want to ensure that Virginia doesn’t start considering conservative policies again, like the recent law in Texas banning abortions once a heartbeat is detected, giving them a reason to vote.  

“It wasn’t that long ago that Virginia was the state putting in the Texas-style abortion bills,” he said referencing the transvaginal ultrasound bill from 2012. “When you look at the things we have done, you look at the places we can go, but more importantly you look at the places we were, people have this understanding in this moment that voting matters.” 

VanValkenburg is a public school teacher in Henrico County and he supports requiring teachers and school staff to be vaccinated COVID-19 — as well as eventually adding it to the regiment necessary for students to attend school. He talked about how the initial efforts worked but the vaccination percentages have stalled out. “We have got to continue that effort to get people vaccinated because it is the only way we are going to make sure our economy stays strong and it is the only way we are going to keep kids in the classroom at the end of the day.”

Governor Ralph Northam announced Tuesday that 81% of eligible Virginians have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

VanValkenburg’s opponent tweeted skepticism of the COVID-19 vaccine over the summer. “Please do not shut me down defenders of free speech? I have a few questions,” Holmes tweeted on July 30. “I heard the White House say, vaccinated people still spread the virus. New cases are people not vaccinated. And the vaccine does not prevent your catching the virus. Why does everyone need vaccination?” 

The Holmes campaign did not respond to requests for comment in this article. 

The Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin strongly encourages Virginians to get the vaccine but he also stands firm in his opposition to any sort of requirements. The Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe has come out in strong support of requiring vaccines across the commonwealth. 

VanValkenburg also stressed the importance of kids going to school for in-person learning and how he really believes that the only way that will be able to happen successfully is if everyone is vaccinated. “I knew I missed school and I knew I desperately wanted to be back in the classroom, but I’ll tell you these last four weeks have been amazing,” he said. “Being back in a classroom, being able to teach kids, being able to see what they are learning, what they are not learning and being able to help them,” VanValkenburg said. “We have got to be in a world where they can stay in classrooms safely and at the end of the day that is vaccines.” 

Getting kids back in schools is one accomplishment that VanValkenburg can tout as he cosponsored the legislation earlier this year that required school districts to offer in-person learning options this fall. Republican state Senator Siobhan Dunnavant R-Henrico originally introduced the legislation requiring schools to offer in-person options last year. After VanValkenburg got involved the date was moved back and specified that districts must follow CDC guidelines. 

Republicans recently attacked VanValkenburg for taking credit for students returning to school, saying it wasn’t fast enough. “Schuyler VanValkenburg can’t rewrite history,” said Garren Shipley, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus. “When Republicans tried to get schools open in the spring, he did everything possible to stop it, leading the opposition. Why? He could never give a good reason, other than ‘laws start in July.’ Our students deserve better.” 

VanValkenburg pointed out that he was in schools teaching students in person during the spring of last school year. “​​Schools were in the process of opening. Our legislation was meant to ensure that they stayed open come the fall and that when they open they open safely, not knowing where Covid would be in September.”

There are less than four weeks until election day and VanValkenburg is enjoying a hefty fundraising advantage of more than half a million dollars. While a seven-point victory in 2019 seems like a comfortable cushion for the two-term delegate, it is also hard to forget that Joe Biden won by ten points in 2020 and the latest polling on this year’s gubernatorial race is showing a one-point difference. 

Election day is Nov. 2. 

Listen to Virginia Scope’s full interview with Del. VanValkenburg below:

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By vascope