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Flurry of Virginia legislators announce retirements

Posted at 4:45 AM, Feb 28, 2023

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Over a dozen Virginia legislators, including the long-serving Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment, have recently ruled out seeking re-election this year under maps overhauled during the latest redistricting cycle.

Norment and legislative veterans Democratic Sen. John Edwards and Republican Del. Kathy Byron are among the General Assembly leaders and committee chairs who most recently have announced retirements timed to the Saturday close of the regular legislative session.

The combination of departures, coupled with incumbents who could be knocked out in upcoming primaries, may mean a turnover of 15%-20% of the General Assembly membership before the start of next year's session, said Bob Holsworth, a veteran political analyst.

"This redistricting has turned into backdoor term limits," he said.

Norment, who has served in the Senate since 1992, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch for a story published Sunday that he would not seek re-election.

"I came in quietly, and I want to leave quietly," Norment, of James City County, told the newspaper after opting out of giving a floor speech about his plans, as some other members have done.

The 76-year-old Norment, who previously served as majority leader when the GOP controlled the chamber, is known as a master of legislative procedure and strategy. He didn't return a call from The Associated Press seeking comment Monday. Under the new lines, he was paired with fellow Republican Sen. Ryan McDougle.

"Tommy Norment is a Senate legend, a worthy adversary & one of the most effective legislators I've ever known - I'm going to miss our battles, our negotiations, his wisdom & his love of the Senate and Virginia - we are losing so many titans this cycle," tweeted Democratic Sen. Scott Surovell.

Democratic Sen. John Edwards, of Roanoke, who has served in the upper chamber since 1996 and co-chairs the Judiciary Committee, announced Monday that he would also not seek re-election.

"I look forward to continuing my law practice and to spending time traveling and with my family," he said in a brief statement.

Byron, of Bedford County, a member of the House of Delegates since 1998, held an influential role as the chair of the Commerce and Energy Committee.

In an interview, she said the decision was a difficult one. She considered running in an open, GOP-friendly district that had some overlap with her current one, but decided ultimately it was time to move on.

Byron said she'd been proud to help shepherd some of this session's high-profile energy legislation and sponsor a measure intended to crack down on organized retail crime. She's also focused her legislative efforts in past years on broadband access and workforce development issues.

"It's just been a very rewarding 26 years to be able to serve," she said.

Her departure will bring the number of House GOP committee chairs who won't be returning to four. Also departing are Del. Margaret Bevans Ransone, who chaired the Privileges and Elections Committee and posted about her decision on social media Friday. Two others, Del. Roxann Robinson, chair of the Finance Committee, and Del. Rob Bell, chair of the House Courts of Justice Committee, announced plans to leave during floor speeches.

All 140 seats in the politically divided General Assembly are on the ballot this year. Candidates will be running for the first time under maps that were overhauled during the redistricting process that concluded in late 2021.

After a newly created bipartisan redistricting commission failed to agree on maps for either Congress or the General Assembly, two court-appointed special masters completed the task.

Their maps were drawn without regard to protecting incumbents, which led to overhauled districts, with legislators paired in many of them. General Assembly members must live in the district they represent, and additional retirement announcements are still expected.

Among the other members who have announced plans to depart in recent days are Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw and Democratic Del. Ken Plum, the House's longest-serving member.

Holsworth said the turnover will mean a loss of institutional knowledge and said it could lead to the lobbying community being able to exercise more influence at the Capitol. He said it's not unusual to have high turnover in redistricting years, but it's usually been along partisan lines, depending on which party controlled the process.

"This has impacted everyone," Holsworth said.

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This story has been updated to correct a district descriptor.

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