Updated 10:54 p.m.
One day after Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, threw his hat in the ring to become the next Speaker of the House of Delegates, Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, followed suit and announced his bid for the chamber’s top job.
Gilbert, the current House Minority Leader, on Wednesday informed members of the Republican caucus of his intentions. In a Zoom call with reporters on Thursday he said that he will continue to make his case to House Republicans about “why I am the best person” to continue to lead the caucus forward.
“Those things are internal caucus issues and matters, and while I am happy to discuss what I can, that is a different election with a small constituency,” Gilbert said. “I have been making my case to our caucus just as I did two years ago, when we had kind of the same lineup of candidates.” Gilbert added that he feels confident that he has kept his promises “as to how I would lead our caucus forward, and obviously we were successful on Tuesday.”
Republican candidates swept the commonwealth by winning back all three statewide offices, ending an eight-year Democratic reign in Richmond. GOP candidates also flipped seven House seats so far, giving them the upper hand in the chamber with a 52-48 majority. Democrats continue to hold a narrow majority of 21-19 in the state Senate, where no seat was up for reelection this year.
While the counting of absentee ballots continues until Friday, Gilbert said that he is confident that the math will hold. “We certainly don’t see any movement that concerns us,” he said. “I know that (Democrats) are holding on to see if there is any chance of this changing, but we don’t see that there is a path there for these to change significantly enough to affect the outcome of the election.”
Gilbert was first elected to represent the 5th House district in 2005. He became House Majority Leader in 2018, when former Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, assumed the speakership. After the 2019 elections, when Democrats won the majority in the House, Gilbert became the minority leader.
Longtime political analyst Bob Holsworth said that both Gilbert and Kilgore are strong candidates, and unless their contest became too contentious, it would be unlikely for another aspirant to emerge.
“Gilbert has a more prosecutorial edge in carrying Republican ideas in an adversarial way. He is an effective public spokesperson for his positions,” Holsworth said. Kilgore has also been an effective leader of the party, “even if he is not always as vocal as sometimes Gilbert has been,” Holsworth said. “These two individuals represent to me the key leaders of Republicans going forward in the House. They are experienced, knowledgeable, and savvy.”
Gilbert waved off questions from reporters Thursday about whether House Republicans under his leadership would pursue highly partisan legislation like Georgia’s new election law passed by a GOP-controlled legislature in March which has stirred a nationwide debate over voting rights in the wake of the 2020 election, or if they would attempt to duplicate the new abortion law in Texas, which blocks abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
“When we were asked this during the campaign, people were trying to bring up the Texas law. I haven’t read the Texas law,” Gilbert said. “The only law I read in recent memory that was an extreme position on an issue like abortion was what Democrats tried to do two years ago, which was basically make the unfettered right to abortion legal right up until the moment of birth.”
Gilbert said that Virginia Republicans this year ran on issues “that the bulk of mainstream Virginians, especially places where we’ve had challenges in the past,” were dealing with on a daily basis. “We’re focused on things that we think were important to voters on Tuesday, making life more affordable, making our schools better, making our streets safer,” Gilbert said. “We realize we are in a divided government right now, and that a lot of the issues that people want to talk about, especially in the media, are important in trying to keep selling papers and selling ad space. But you’re not hearing that from us.”
Holsworth, the political analyst, said that Democrats in the Senate are likely to work with Republicans on more mainstream issues like economic development, or eliminating the food tax. “Another good opportunity to work together would be education, including community colleges, and workforce development, especially in the more rural areas of Southwest Virginia,” Holsworth said. “The Republican majority is not an urban majority. It is rural, and community colleges are a major part of rural fabric.”
This is a breaking news story. We will continue to update it.