CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Virginia's Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin and a leader of the Democratic-controlled state Senate announced an agreement Tuesday to hold a special election in January to fill the seat of GOP state Sen. Jen Kiggans, who was elected to Congress this month.
The agreement averts a possible legal fight over who could set the election for the Virginia Beach-based 7th District, the outcome of which won't affect party control of the narrowly divided chamber.
The question of authority arose after the GOP-controlled House insisted in September that it was no longer in session but the Democratic-controlled Senate said it was.
State law says that if a legislative vacancy occurs while the part-time General Assembly is recessed, the governor calls the special election to fill it. If the General Assembly is in session, legislative leaders — the president pro tempore in the case of a Senate vacancy — “may immediately issue the writ to call the election," the law says.
Sen. Louise Lucas, the president pro tempore, tweeted earlier this month that she would determine the timeline to fill Kiggans' vacancy.
“I am consulting with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and will make an announcement once I have made a decision,” she said.
Youngkin’s office, meanwhile, ignored questions for weeks from The Associated Press about its view of the situation.
Lucas and Youngkin issued a brief joint news release Tuesday saying they had agreed to set the special election for Jan. 10.
Kiggans, who defeated Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria in the race to represent the 2nd Congressional District, officially resigned Tuesday. The last day to file as a candidate for the state Senate seat is Nov. 21, the news release said. It did not elaborate on how an agreement was reached.
The timing of the special election means a new senator can be chosen before the start of the 2023 legislative session.
Democrats currently hold a 21-19 majority in the chamber, meaning that if a single Democrat joins with Republicans on a particular bill, Republican Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears gets the tie-breaking vote. If Democrats were to flip the seat, it would give their caucus more cushion on close votes.
The matter is particularly resonant for the issue of abortion. One Democratic senator, Joe Morrissey, personally opposes abortion and has indicated a willingness vote for measures that would curtail abortion access.
Youngkin has said he will push for a 15-week ban.