WINCHESTER — The Virginia Senate passed a bill Tuesday to do away with Lee-Jackson Day and make Election Day a state holiday.
The bill, introduced by 18th District Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, makes Election Day — the Tuesday after the first Monday in November — a state holiday and eliminates Lee-Jackson Day. The bill passed the Senate 22-18, largely along party lines, and now goes to the House of Delegates.
Sen. Jill Vogel, who represents the 27th District, which includes Winchester and the counties of Clarke and Frederick, was one of the Republican senators who voted against the bill. She was unable to be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Earlier this month, Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, endorsed the legislation in a press release.
“Voting is a fundamental right,” Northam said. “But in a state that once put up tremendous barriers to voting, too many people are still unable to participate meaningfully in our democracy. By making it easier — not harder — to vote, these proposals will ensure we are building a government that is truly representative of the people we serve.”
Lee-Jackson Day, held the Friday preceding the third Monday in January, honors Confederate Gens. Robert Edward Lee (1807-1870) and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (1824-1863). It was established in 1889 to celebrate Lee’s birthday on Jan. 19. Jackson’s name was added to the holiday in 1904.
Northam told CBS earlier this month that Virginia needs to “move forward” from Lee-Jackson Day, saying, “I don’t think there’s any secret that it’s in honor of two individuals who fought to prolong slavery, which is not a proud aspect of Virginia’s history.”
Last year, Northam came under fire when a racist photo in his medical school yearbook surfaced showing a person in blackface and another dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member. The photo was on a page devoted to Northam in the yearbook. A four-month investigation, however, was unable to determine if Northam was in the picture.
Confederate monuments and holidays have come under fire since nine African Americans were shot to death by a white supremacist at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015. Numerous Confederate monuments have been removed because some people view them as glorifying slavery, white supremacy and a treasonous government.
Del. Joseph Lindsey, D-Norfolk, introduced the House version of the bill.
Despite being a state holiday, several Virginia cities — including Winchester — choose not to observe Lee-Jackson Day. Frederick and Clarke counties currently observe the holiday.
Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, who represents the 33rd District, which includes parts of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties, told The Star in a phone interview that he would not support the legislation. He said he believes more Democrats work in the public sector than Republicans and that Democrats would likely benefit at the polls from having Election Day off. He said he believes the bill is an attempt by Democrats to mobilize their base and get them to vote in higher numbers. He also disliked the removal of Lee-Jackson Day, saying it was an attempt to “erase a part of history.”
Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, and Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, were unable to be reached for comment.