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Portsmouth delegate will lead Democrats in General Assembly’s lower chamber

Portsmouth Del. Don Scott was elected minority leader for the Democratic caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates. (Courtesy of Don Scott)
Portsmouth Del. Don Scott was elected minority leader for the Democratic caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates. (Courtesy of Don Scott)

Earlier this week, Portsmouth attorney and lawmaker Don Scott was elected as the minority leader of the Democratic caucus of the Virginia House of Delegates.

Scott was chosen after former Democratic Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn from Northern Virginia was removed from party leadership in April.

Now, Democrats in both chambers of the General Assembly answer to Portsmouth politicians. Sen. Louise Lucas presides over the Democrat-controlled state Senate.

WHRO talked to Scott about what his leadership means going forward for state Democrats, and what it will take to reclaim the majority from Republicans.

WHRO'S RYAN MURPHY: By all accounts, you were spearheading the effort to change caucus leadership in the House. Why did you feel like that was so important?

DEL. DON SCOTT: I just think that Democrats are united now and moving forward. The key for us right now is to make sure that everyday Virginians know that we're working hard for them. And we need to make sure that we stop talking about the past and talking about the future. I know a lot of people thought that we could talk about Trump a lot, and I think people were frustrated with former President Trump. But I think we have to talk about the future, that's what elections are about, elections are about the future. So this is an opportunity for us to talk about the future, not the past. We're very grateful for our past leadership and thankful to our former speaker, Eileen Filler-Corn, but I believe that we have an opportunity to speak to Virginians in a real way to make sure that we get back the majority.

WHRO: I think it's fair to say that as a delegate, you're known as a little bit more aggressive in your criticism of Republicans and that you lean a little bit more progressive than some previous party leaders. How does that influence the way that you're going to steer priorities for the party?

SCOTT: I don't like those labels. I just try to be a good Democrat focused on the issues that our Democrats share values around. And I think the majority of Virginians share our values. It's up to us to let them know where we are and talk about those kitchen table issues that affect all Virginians across the commonwealth. And I think there's room for everyone in our caucus, and in our party. And so we're just trying to make sure that we do everything to make folks feel welcome.

WHRO: Strategically, you think that there are things that the Democrats in the House have been doing or weren't doing before that need to change?

SCOTT: I think that Democrats are focused on doing everything that we can to get back the majority. We're still focused on making sure that we have our priorities in place. I believe the budget yesterday reflected a whole lot of the things that Ralph Northam had introduced during the pandemic. You know, the budget’s not perfect, it's not everything that we wanted. But for the first time ever, about a billion dollars will go to Virginia families through a one time tax rebate checks. They're going to eliminate part of the state share of the grocery tax. So we did a lot of good. But we have the opportunity to do even more if we can get the majority back.

WHRO: You beat out several Northern Virginia folks for the minority leader role that you're now in. And now both of the top Democratic lawmakers in either chamber are from Portsmouth. What should people make of that? Does that mean something?

SCOTT: I don't think it does. I don't think we have any geographic rivalry. I think all of us Democrats share the same values. I'm proud to represent the city of Portsmouth. We are an economic engine. And it only makes sense that, you know, eventually some folks from Portsmouth would come into leadership. I was elected by my colleagues, which the majority are from Northern Virginia in my caucus, and I was elected leader. And I'm grateful for that opportunity. I think that we have some rich opportunities ahead of us. I like our path back to the majority, and I think the path of the majority will come through Hampton Roads.

WHRO: I'd be remiss if I didn't note that you're the first Black man in history to hold this new position of yours. Does that change at all how you approached the job? And if it does, how?

SCOTT: It does not. I don't even think about (it). I have so many identities and everyone does, we all have stories. We all have things that shape and make us and cultural issues and cultural experiences that make us who we are. But at the root of all of it, I have been a person who has overcome adversity. I'm a resilient person. I have grit. I know how to fight. And that's what people want in a leader.

*This conversation was edited for length and clarity*

CORRECTION: This article was updated to reflect that Scott is the first Black man to lead the House Democratic Caucus. Delegate Charniele Herring became the first Black person to hold the position in 2019.

Ryan is WHRO’s business and growth reporter. He joined the newsroom in 2021 after eight years at local newspapers, the Daily Press and Virginian-Pilot. Ryan is a Chesapeake native and still tries to hold his breath every time he drives through the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel.

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