Virginia Democratic leader David Toscano steps down

Virginia House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) is stepping down from his leadership post following elections last week that saw Democrats gain little ground against a large Republican majority.

Minority whip Charniele Herring, who represents the heavily Democratic 46th House district, is expected to succeed Toscano.

In an email to his Democratic colleagues Thursday night, Toscano said he will leave the leadership position once his successor is chosen. 

"I no longer have the time and energy to commit to the job in a way necessary to perform it," Toscano wrote. "My family and my work have often been forced to take a back seat over the last four years, and I want to spend more time with Nancy and Matthew, the loves of my life." 

Toscano's decision gives Democrats in the House of Delegates an opportunity to select a new leader as they head into the crucial 2016 legislative session.

Herring chief of staff Zach Rickard confirmed Friday that she will seek the minority leadership in a vote that is expected to take place Saturday. Several Democratic delegates noted that Herring was busily contacting fellow lawmakers Friday morning. 

"Del. Herring has been contacting her colleagues," Rickard told AMI Newswire. "She does intend to throw her hat in the ring." 

Herring represents an overwhelmingly blue district in Alexandria. Last week she won a commanding re-election victory over Republican challenger Sean T. Lenehan and Libertarian Andrew "Andy" Bakker, racking up 67 percent of the vote. 

"I have every confidence that the person who succeeds me will continue to work with them and others toward building a Democratic majority in the House," Toscano said in his announcement. 

Toscano made national news last year when his wife, Nancy Tramontin, was attacked in their home by Claire Ogilvie, a former high school teacher who tutored the couple's son for a brief time. Ogilvie, a Yale alumna and one-time contestant on ABC's Jeopardy!, pled guilty in January to charges of breaking and entering, malicious wounding and abduction. 

Toscano ran unopposed for re-election to the House this year and has served as minority leader since 2011. He previously served on the Charlottesville City Council from 1990 to 2002 and was the city's mayor from 1994 to 1996. He was first elected to the House in 2005, replacing Democrat Mitch Van Yehres.

Privately, Democratic sources told AMI Newswire that Toscano's resignation may have been the result of restlessness within his own caucus. Democrats may want a more combative floor leader who can motivate the party base. Toscano was generally seen as more accommodating to Republicans, a stance that did not sit well with less senior members of the caucus.

House Democrats gained one net seat in the 2015 General Assembly election, picking up two seats in northern Virginia while losing a third. Republicans still control the chamber 66 to 34.

The 2016 General Assembly session is key for Democrats and Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The governor will submit his first budget to the House and Senate, giving McAuliffe the opportunity to put his stamp on Virginia's spending priorities over the next two years. Virginia governors may not serve consecutive terms.  

Though House Democrats do not have the votes to block Republican changes to McAuliffe's proposals, their victories in northern Virginia were just enough to end the GOP's veto-proof majority.