Jennifer McClellan makes history as Virginia’s first Black woman elected to Congress

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  • Published on February 22, 2023
  • Last Updated May 15, 2023
  • In News

Meet the Virginia state senator who has made history in the state.

Democrat Jennifer McClellan has made history. McClellan, who is a state senator, beat out Republican opponent Leon Benjamin in Tuesday’s special election in the 4th Congressional District. Her win makes her the first Black woman elected to represent Virginia in Congress. McClellan’s election comes after the death of Democratic representative Donald McEachin, who died of cancer after he won re-election in November.

McClellan’s election makes her the 30th Black woman in the House of Representatives, while there are currently no Black women in the Senate.

“It still blows my mind that we’re having firsts in 2023,” McClellan said. “My ancestors fought really hard to have a seat at that table, and now not only will I have a seat at the table in Congress; I’ll be able to bring that policymaking table into communities that never really had a voice before.”

Prior to her election, she served 11 years in the House of Delegates and has been a member of Virginia’s senate since 2017. She also ran for governor in 2017, but lost in the primaries to Terry McAuliffe. Her campaign focuses included protecting voting rights and protecting workers rights, issues that hit close to home. According to NBC News, McClellan’s passion for both comes from hearing of her family’s experiences.

Her grand-father’s struggles to vote due to his efforts as a leader in the Black community has informed her decision to co-sponsor Virginia’s voting rights law in 2021. McClellan also helped to pass the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights and she plans to advocate for something similar in Congress. Family members including her mother were domestic workers, something she spoke about during her campaign.

“I realize that in a lot of ways, I am fighting the same fight that my mom and my grandmother and my great-grandmother fought, and rather than getting despondent over that or giving up, I dig deeper,” she said. “I’ve got to keep fighting those fights so my daughter doesn’t have to.”

According to CNN, McClellan plans to work on these issues, as well as education and access to health care. Despite pushback she may receive from the Republican-majority House of Representatives and the GOP blocking prior voting rights measures, McClellan won’t let that stop her from advocating for those she represents.

“I was in the minority party for 14 years here,” McClellan said of her time in Richmond. “I learned two things. One, you really need to listen and understand why people believe what they believe, where they are coming from. And when you do that, sometimes you’ll find common ground,” she said. “So, start from that and then see how far you can go. If you can’t find common ground, then persist until you succeed, and I’ve had success doing both at the state level.”

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