Virginia Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, will return to Richmond in January to a city with an unfamiliar political landscape.
On Election Day, Democrats surged through legislative races, giving them a hold on the government from top to bottom.
Since he started his political career in Richmond, Gilbert had the power and luxury of having the weight of the majority behind him. He rose to become the second most powerful Republican in the House, behind Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights.
On Sunday, Gilbert emerged from a contested vote as the minority leader after Cox announced he would not seek a leadership role. Cox ran and survived one of the most expensive and tightly contested races in the state earlier this month.
On Monday, Gilbert was busy moving offices as his standing and title changed.
Although the top job was contested, Gilbert said everyone walked out of the meeting in a united front against a wave of progressive policies he said will lead voters to experience buyers' remorse in a couple of years.
“Our job is to shine a bright light on the majority party when they overreach,” Gilbert said. “It will be the progressive wing of the party pushing Democrats past promises they made on Election Day.”
The situation when the new legislators come to Richmond will be a learning experience for Gilbert as well as most of the other Republicans in the statehouse who have faced off against Democratic governors but have had an advantage in the House for decades.
“It’s a new world for all of us in Richmond,” Gilbert said. “I’ve never known anything but how to advance principles I believe in.”
Democrats came out of the gate promising sweeping reforms that have been voiced by liberal presidential candidates and attempted in recent years but failed under Republicans' watch.
Toward the top of the agenda is a move to increase the minimum wage in Virginia from $7.25 an hour to somewhere around $15 an hour. Debates about how fast to raise the wage will continue in the House but Gilbert opposed any such increase on the campaign trail, arguing it runs directly against part of what made Virginia the No. 1 state to do business in 2018, according to CNBC.
Gilbert said his goal as the minority leader during the next session is to highlight the good job Republicans did running the state for so long — citing the return to a business-friendly ranking and raising teacher pay without raising taxes as two examples.
Though he referred to the “progressive wing” of the Democratic Party as the foreboding shadow that looms over the Democratic agenda, Gilbert said he thinks there are some Democrats who are willing to work across the aisle. However, the increasingly partisan politics that has taken hold at the national level, Gilbert said, is working its way down to the states and there is a chance the next two years will be more confrontational than convivial.
“Nobody can control the political environment right now,” Gilbert said. “Two years is a lifetime in politics … we still have some big opportunities in two years to prove we are a better alternative.”