How Dominion Energy, Fracked Gas Giant, Lost Big in Virginia Election
Virginia’s top corporate political contributor, Dominion Energy, had a rough night last night, as at least 14 candidates who pledged not to accept money from the monopoly utility won seats in a surprise wave election for Democrats.
Depending on official counts that may take days or weeks, Democrats will likely tie Republicans with a 50-50 split in Virginia’s House of Delegates, leading to a share of power, though they may still control the chamber outright depending on the results of recounts.
Democrats won all three statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. In addition to the 13 Delegate candidates who pledged not to accept money from Dominion, newly elected Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax ran a campaign that opposed Dominion’s fracked gas Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and refused contributions from the monopoly utility. 52 Democratic and Independent nominees who advanced to the general election signed the pledge, organized by the political action committee Activate Virginia, not to accept contributions from Dominion.
Virginia’s new governor, Ralph Northam, did not take an official position on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and he did accept money from Dominion, as did his opponent, Republican Ed Gillespie.
But several of the 13 House candidates who pledged not to accept Dominion money made their opposition to Dominion a central plank of their campaign, including Danica Roem, who won Virginia’s 13th House District. Roem became the first openly transgender lawmaker in the US, though in an interview with the Energy and Policy Institute on September 20, she said she was campaigning with voters more about her position on Dominion than on her effort to make history.
“Basically this [pledge] is the ushering in of a new type of politics where in Democratic circles, in the long term, it will no longer be okay for the party to be unduly influenced by campaign contributions from Dominion,” Roem told the Energy and Policy Institute in an interview in September. “That’s really important for the Democratic party to get back to being the party of working people, not of the elites but of everyday Virginians.”
Democratic leadership in Virginia will have to cope an increasingly hostile wing of their party that opposes Dominion. Lee Carter, a Democrat who won in Virginia’s 50th District, ran an insurgent themed campaign against Dominion’s planned gas pipeline and planned high-voltage transmission lines. He also called for a ban on corporate campaign contributions, positions which created tensions with the state Democratic party. Carter defeated Republican Jackson Miller, the House Majority Whip, despite tepid support from the Democratic party.
At least one quarter of Democrats in the House will have refused to accept campaign contributions from Dominion. The other candidates who signed the pledge and won, or are amid recounts, are:
|Jennifer Foy (D)||2||Win|
|Wendy Gooditis (D)||10||Win|
|Sam Rasoul (I)||11||Win (I)|
|Danica Roem (D)||13||Win|
|Kelly Fowler (D)||21||Win|
|Elizabeth Guzman (D)||31||Win|
|Kathy Tran (D)||42||Win|
|Lee Carter (D)||50||Win|
|Hala Ayala (D)||51||Win|
|Dawn Adams (D)||68||Win|
|Schuyler VanValkenburg (D)||72||Win|
|Debra Rodman (D)||73||Win|
|Cheryl Turpin (D)||85||Win|
|Justin Fairfax (D)||Lieutenant Governor||Win|
It’s hard to isolate the influence of the candidates’ rejection of Dominion contributions from the broader Democratic wave which swept Virginia, but their success does represent a clear sea change in Richmond, where Dominion has ruled with an iron grip for a decade. Some of the delegates defeated, including Del. Timothy Hugo (R, 40th) and Manoli Loupassi (R, 68), were members of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, which has jurisdiction over energy legislation that affects Dominion.
The increasing anti-Dominion sentiment threatens the monopoly’s ability to maintain its lucrative 2015 “rate-freeze” legislation, which has become controversial for allowing Dominion to avoid refunding over $100 million to customers, according to a report from regulators. Other threats may loom as well: State Sen. Chap Petersen is preparing to reintroduce legislation to ban contributions from state-regulated monopolies, which would include Dominion.
And if Democrats take or split power in the Virginia House, Dominion employees might end up regretting the 35 checks they delivered to Del. Kirk Cox, for a total of $25,400 (plus another $5,000 from the Dominion PAC), on one day in July. Cox had been the presumed to be the next Speaker if Republicans held the House.
The election results may also throw up barriers to Dominion’s ability to fast-track its permitting of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Northam requested that the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality perform a more systematic permitting of the project, a question on which the current DEQ vacillated.
By David Pomerantz, crossposted from Energy and Policy Institute
Main image: Protesters rallying against Dominion’s proposed Atlantic Coast pipeline. Credit: Chesapeake Climate Action Network, used with permission