Republicans start session leading Virginia House 51-49

(Photo courtesy of Jennifer McClellan)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- Republicans in Virginia’s House began the session Wednesday with a 51-49 majority after winning a two-month recount battle in one district and staving off legal actions from voters in another.

The House of Delegates seated two Republicans after a federal appeals court in Richmond refused to halt the swearing-in of Republican Bob Thomas, and Democrat Shelly Simonds conceded a hotly contested race against Republican incumbent David Yancey.

Simonds initially appeared to lose November’s election by 10 votes, then appeared to win a recount by one vote. A court declared a tie after an uncounted ballot was contested, and then she lost a drawing of names from a bowl.

She could have requested a second recount, but said on Twitter that she doesn’t “see any legal pathways forward and I want representation for the 94th district today.”

She said she “tried to make a personal phone call to (Yancey) and would like to ask him to vote for Medicaid expansion.”

Simons also says she intends to run again for the Newport News district.

“I’m going to start fundraising immediately and try to create a positive ending to the story,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s not over for me.”

Lawmakers then elected Republican Del. Kirk Cox as House speaker. The former government teacher from Colonial Heights replaces retiring Speaker William J. Howell.

Democrats had been outnumbered 66-34 in the House but picked up 15 seats in the November elections in a wave fueled by antipathy to President Donald Trump.

Later in the day, outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe will give his final State of the Commonwealth address.

Lawmakers will be tasked with passing the state budget and will also debate a host of other issues. Hundreds of bills have already been filed, covering issues including taxes, transportation, education and criminal justice reform.

Democratic Gov.-elect Ralph Northam will be sworn in Saturday. He has promised progress on progressive priorities like Medicaid expansion and gun control but also vowed to work across the aisle with Republicans.


Associated Press reporter Sarah Rankin contributed to this story from Richmond.

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