In 2019, Virginia Democrats took full control of the statehouse for the first time in more than two decades. Once-GOP-friendly suburbs in the Old Dominion have become solidly blue.
“I’m here to officially declare today, November 5, 2019, that Virginia is officially blue,” Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam told a crowd of supporters in Richmond. Since then, Democrat leaders have advanced gun control, abortion, LGBTQ protections, and approved the Equal Rights Amendment. A Republican presidential candidate has not won the Commonwealth since 2004.
Mark Earley Jr., who is running for the 68th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates, seeks to change that narrative. Though Earley has politics in the blood — his father Mark Sr. served in the Virginia State Senate and was then elected Attorney General of Virginia (1998 to 2001) — he faces an uphill battle. He is challenging Dawn Marie Adams, a nurse practitioner and the first openly lesbian member of Virginia’s General Assembly with whose represents exactly what Democrats envision as the future of the Commonwealth.
“I’m running because I love Virginia and love my neighbors,” Earley told me in a recent interview. He added:
Being a foster parent and defense attorney, I’ve been given a window into the everyday, on-the-ground struggles of regular Virginians. While the left has long had a monopoly on the rhetoric of being for the vulnerable or underprivileged, I look around and see that the results of their policies often harm the most vulnerable among us — whether extended school shutdowns and opposing school choice, economic burdens that hurt small businesses and employment opportunities, or an approach to public safety that’s led us to the highest crime in two decades. All of these things end up crushing folks, especially those in already struggling communities.
Earley believes Republicans need to retake the narrative of seeking the good of their communities, especially the most vulnerable. This means making the case that they are for working families and vulnerable communities.
In the case of central Virginia, that means focusing on schools, jobs, and public safety. Earley highlights the extended school closures that have devastated many Virginia families, the effects of which Earley describes as “catastrophic.” Part of the answer to that is a robust parent-driven choice in education that rejects the “one-size-fits-all” model.
As for jobs, Earley wants to minimize burdens on small businesses and policies that counteract the effects of rising inflation. Both Mark and his wife work in small businesses and understand the effects the pandemic lockdown has had on everyday Virginians. He also believes that some of the solutions proposed by Virginia Democrats — like casinos in several parts of the Commonwealth, including Richmond — only results in addiction, increased crime, and wealth extracted from already vulnerable communities.
Earley also wants to the 20-year high in crime and murder in Virginia, especially in Richmond where there were eight deaths in eight days in April. “We need smart, tough, and effective ideas to beat this crime back.”
This also includes rejecting the “defund the police” movement and rebuilding trust between law enforcement and communities. Says Earley: “Being a criminal defense attorney and having worked on re-entry issues, we need to craft our criminal justice system that of course prioritizes public safety, but also doesn’t over-criminalize.” His belief in the need to prioritize opportunities for redemption for criminals is also motivated by his father, who served as president of Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship from 2002 to 2011.
Another part of revitalizing the Virginia GOP is to cast a better vision and tell better stories, says Earley. This includes focusing on working families and proving how conservative ideals lead to flourishing communities. “We need to re-assert, reaffirm, and re-establish that freedom and opportunity are the birthrights of every Virginian.” Earley’s “love our neighbors” campaign has meant a lot of time on the campaign trail, with blisters on his feet and a shrinking waist from walking neighborhoods and knocking on doors.
No one can deny that Earley is practicing what he preaches, having served as a foster parent for several years. “As a foster parent, you get a real appreciation for the struggles that a lot of folks go through – whether it’s lack of housing, no employment, mental health struggles, addiction issues, generational family breakdown, or just a lot of bad decisions.” Witnessing this has further illuminated the importance of strong families and strong communities: “As a foster parent, I’d love to be a champion for foster kids in the legislature,” including increasing reunification and permanency.
Earley’s father was a long-time public servant in the Old Dominion with an impressive record of laboring on behalf of all Virginians. “He’s taught me a lot about love, service, and sacrifice,” says Earley Jr. His ambitious son has already followed in his father’s familial and legal footsteps. Whether or not he can also realize Earley Sr.’s political successes will be an important indicator in determining the future of the Virginia GOP. Conservatives in purple localities should take note.