Throughout the early years of the 20th century, Virginia was viewed as a Republican state. Citizens in the Commonwealth had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1964. In 2000, the GOP had just won the governor’s race, held both U.S. Senate seats, and had majorities in both the House of Delegates and the State Senate. By 2020, all of that had been reversed. During that period, Democrats won four of five governors contests, elected two US senators, and voted for Democratic presidential candidates in every year since 2008. In 2019, the House of Delegates, where Republicans maintained a 68-32 supermajority in 2011, flipped to Democratic control. With it, the state became a Democratic trifecta, where the party controlled all of the state’s levers of power. Bellwether tells the story of how this happened from someone who was “in the room at the time.” David Toscano began his service in the House in 2006 and became the Democratic Leader of the body in 2011. He examines the special nature of Virginia politics, the demographic changes that underpin much of its shifting political fortunes, and the policies and personalities at the center of the state’s dynamics for the last two decades.
David J. Toscano is an attorney who served seven terms in the Virginia House of Delegates until his retirement in 2020 and was the Democratic Leader in that body from 2011 until 2019.
List of Illustrations
Foreword by U.S. Senator Tim Kaine
Introduction: Harbinger of Change
Chapter 1: The Cardinal Rule
Chapter 2: Virginia Exceptionalism
Chapter 3: Race Matters
Chapter 4: Reckoning with “The Virginia Way”
Chapter 5: Disruption and Continuity
Chapter 6: Pay to Play?
Chapter 7: Governors Come and Go
Chapter 8: Power in the Legislature
Chapter 9: Advocates
Chapter 10: Hot Buttons
Chapter 11: Because We Can
Chapter 12: The Power of Forty-Nine
Chapter 13: Trifecta
Conclusion: Reimagining the Virginia Way
About the Author
Leader Toscano offers his unique perspective on years of great change in our Commonwealth, as income, educational achievement, and new Virginians surged. The two parties continued to change, growing farther apart, ever more separated by geography, race, and class. David's book provides a fascinating base from which to assess all the changes coming, and the uncertain futures of which facts we believe, who gets to vote, and whether our democracy thrives or wilts.
Many think Virginia's transformation from a ruby red state to a reliably blue one started with the 2017 wave following the 2016 election of Donald Trump. The transformation took much longer. Elected to the House of Delegates together in 2005, David and I had a front row seat. Bellwether captures how changing demographics, national politics, advocacy and organization, and new generations of leadership converged to transform Virginia.
Bellwether is a must read for people who want to understand Virginia government over the last several decades. His analysis of change in the culture and its impact on the political and policymaking climate of the state and the nation, provides unique strategic insights from a person who was witness to many of them as Mayor of Charlottsville and during 14 years in the Virginia House of Delegates. His perspectives and policies, while different from mine, are thoroughly researched, respectful of others, and clearly expressed. Those interested in what makes Virginia, the cradle of democracy, an exceptional place for innovation and debate, and those who relish a deep dive into the challenges we face ahead as a democracy, will be greatly enriched by reading this account from a thoughtful, civil state leader.
The transformation of Virginia politics over the last two decades is an amazing story. And David Toscano was in the middle of it. While I was Governor, David worked with me to improve Virginia's economic climate and make the Commonwealth a welcoming place for those pursuing the American dream. Bellwether tells the story of this transformation, and students of politics would learn much from its insights.
Both eyewitness and history maker, David Toscano opens a rare and valuable window into the workings of Virginia's 400-year-old legislature. His fascinating vignettes and keen insights give readers an indispensable inside look at his party's dramatic ascent during the polarizing presidency of Donald Trump.
During his career in Charlottesville local government and the Virginia House of Delegates, David Toscano was “in the room where it happened.” In Bellwether, David opens a door to that room for the reader to see and hear what went on. He reveals not only what happened in government in the Commonwealth for more than a century, but more importantly and most interestingly, why it happened. A must read for anyone interested in the Virginia General Assembly or Virginia politics.
Regardless of one’s political leanings, Bellwether is a valuable book for anyone interested in the public affairs of the Commonwealth. It provides a pragmatic view of the legislative process along with an insider’s perspective on many of the recent policy fights.