Todd Gilbert

RICHMOND — House Republicans on Sunday unanimously nominated Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, for the 57th Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates. Gilbert had declared his intention to run for the chamber’s top job less than two days after GOP candidates earlier this month swept the commonwealth by winning back all three statewide offices and a 52-48 majority in the House.

Republicans also named Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County, the new House Majority Leader. Kilgore, who represents the state’s westernmost district, had also vied for the speakership. But he eventually came to an understanding with Gilbert by endorsing him for the most powerful job in the chamber. In return, Gilbert vowed to back Kilgore as the new majority leader, averting a potential intra-party showdown at Sunday’s GOP caucus meeting in Richmond, which was closed to the public.  Republicans also named Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford County, as caucus chair and Del. Jay Leftwich, R-Chesapeake, as House Majority Whip.

Terry Kilgore

For Gilbert, 51, Sunday marked another milestone in his political career. He was first elected to represent the 5th House district in 2005 and ascended to become 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. 

“I am proud to serve with and lead a strong and united Republican majority as we look forward to the 2022 General Assembly session and beyond,” Gilbert said in a statement. “I am humbled by the vote of trust and confidence by my colleagues. When we were in the minority, no one believed that we could return where we are now. But we rallied together, worked together, and won together. I could not be more proud to be a member, let alone the leader of this caucus,” he said. 

Gilbert was born in Newton, Texas, but moved to Virginia as a child. He holds a bachelor’s degree in government from the University of Virginia and interned in the Capitol Hill Office of then-U.S. Rep. George Allen. After earning his law degree from Southern Methodist University School of Law in 1996, Gilbert worked at the office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney for the City of Lynchburg, where he was a member of the Violent Crime Prosecution Team, before returning to Shenandoah in the late 1990s, where he was a lead prosecutor.

Kilgore, 60, the future House Majority Leader, has represented House District 1 since 1994. His is a safe seat for Republicans, and he ran unopposed in this month’s election. Kilgore currently serves on the Commerce and Labor, Courts of Justice and Rules committees, and he was the House Republican campaign chair for the 2021 elections. 

“I am grateful to my colleagues for their support as Majority Leader and look forward to helping chart a policy agenda that works for all Virginians,” Kilgore said in a statement. “While we will debate our colleagues, on the other side of the aisle, we will also work with them when we can to ensure the best possible outcome for every Virginian. Reasoned debate and compromise should and will always have a place in the oldest continuing legislative body in the Western hemisphere.”  

Gilbert did not give any interviews Sunday. But in the Zoom chat with reporters where he announced his bid for Speaker of the House, he waved off questions about whether House Republicans 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. “We’re focused on things that we think were important to voters on (Election Day), making life more affordable, making our schools better, making our streets safer,” he 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.”

Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said that when introducing legislation, House Republican leadership will likely consider that there might be another House of Delegates election in 2022 based on the new districts that are currently being redrawn by the Supreme Court of Virginia after the bipartisan redistricting commission failed to agree on a set of new maps. “It’s possible that they’ll have to run again next November, so avoiding divisive controversies has to be high up their list of priorities,” Sabato said. “Virginia will eventually go back to Democrats; we just don’t know which year.” 

House Democrats also met Sunday to ponder the future of their caucus. Current House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, will continue to lead her party’s caucus as they will now be in the minority.

Sabato pointed out that the controversial bill requiring Virginia women to undergo an ultrasound procedure prior to having an abortion, which a Republican-controlled legislature sent to then-Gov. Bob McDonnell’s desk in 2012, motivated voters enough to back an all-Democratic slate for statewide offices in 2014. “If a party gets driven mainly by its absolutists and ideologues, it is asking for defeat,” Sabato said. “Abortion is not a winning issue for the GOP in Virginia. And if the Republicans want to stimulate a much higher minority turnout, they should go right ahead and make it tougher to vote.”

Markus Schmidt

Markus Schmidt is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach him at markus@cardinalnews.org.