The State Capitol. Photo by Markus Schmidt.

State Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, on Friday squashed rumors that he was considering to retire his seat and join the administration of Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin, a Republican. “No, absolutely not, I can’t imagine they’d want me,” Edwards said when asked at the annual Senate Finance Committee meeting in Roanoke Friday.

Edwards, 78, has represented the 21st Senate District for 25 years. He chairs the Judiciary Committee and also serves on the Commerce and Labor, Education and Health, Finance and Appropriations, and Rules committees. Widely considered a moderate Democrat, he unseated a Republican incumbent when first elected in 1995, although his district has changed since then to become more Democratic.

Attempts at luring moderate lawmakers into serving in a new administration of the opposite party in order to tip the power balance in the state legislature aren’t uncommon, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington. “Anytime there is a one or two seat margin in the legislature, a new governor thinks about possible ways to take control of that chamber that is oh so close,” Farnsworth said. 

It happened before in 1997, when the newly elected Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore tapped three members of the House, where Democrats held a one-seat majority, to join his administration. Among them was a Democrat who opened up a seat the Republicans won in a subsequent special election. But before the new members were seated, Democrats used their short-lived majority to elect a speaker and set up the rules of the House.

While Republicans regained the majority in the House of Delegates earlier this month, Democrats still hold a slim 21-19 majority in the state Senate. It would take just one tempted Democrat in a competitive district to join Youngkin’s administration, and a special election could result in a Republican victory and a 20-20 stalemate in the Senate, where Lt. Gov.-elect Winsome Sears, the winning GOP candidate, could break the tie. 

While neither party doesn’t like to see one of its members leave the legislature to work for an administration run by the opposing party if this means depriving colleagues of majority status, “it’s an attractive bump in terms of the pension to go from modest salary status of the state legislature to a far better paid top position in the administration,” Farnsworth said.

Democratic lawmakers aren’t the only ones not immune to calls from the future Youngkin administration. State Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County, a co-chair of Youngkin’s transition team, has been rumored to resign and join the new governor’s cabinet as the secretary of education. However, a Newman departure would not change the power balance in the Senate, as his seat is considered safely Republican.

Newman, who endorsed Youngkin for governor before the latter won his party’s nomination, on Wednesday tried to put an end to the speculations. “It has come to my attention that there are some assumptions floating around about what my future plans are without verified knowledge of the truth,” Newman wrote in a post on his Facebook page. “I am not planning to join the administration in an official capacity … only serving as an advisor as we lay the groundwork for a successful 4-year term for the incoming governor.” Newman closed with saying that he looks forward to “rejoining my colleagues in the Senate of Virginia come January to continue serving the good people of the 23rd Senate District in my role as their state senator.”

Markus Schmidt

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