The Virginia General Assembly unanimously elected Democrat Don Scott as the new House speaker, marking a watershed moment for the state. Del. Scott’s inauguration as the first Black speaker in the Virginia House of Delegates’ 400-year history was met with shouts and a standing ovation across the chambers.
Don Scott takes the podium
Del. Scott approached the stage amid cheers and conveyed his thanks and emotions, crying up as he acknowledged the support of his 88-year-old mother and wife who were watching from the gallery. “The historic nature of this moment is not lost on me,” he told the House, emphasizing the gravity of the event.
A nomination rooted in history
In his nomination speech, Del. Luke E. Torian reflected on the historical background, saying, “Over 400 years ago, people who looked like Delegate Scott gave their sweat, blood, and tears to build this Capitol.” The nomination stressed the symbolic significance of a person of color leading the House of Delegates centuries later.
From conviction to leadership: Scott’s atypical path
Don Scott’s journey to the statehouse is anything but typical. Scott, a Navy veteran and renowned trial lawyer, met difficulties in 1994 when he was convicted of a drug offense and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. His path from prison to politics demonstrated perseverance, determination, and the possibility of redemption.
Scott, who was born and raised in Texas, had a difficult childhood. Raised by a single mother struggling to make ends meet, he recalls eating mayonnaise sandwiches and spending many hours at the local library, which provided free childcare. Despite the obstacles, Scott’s passion for reading propelled his academic ambitions.
After serving in the Navy as a surface warfare officer, Scott went on to study law. However, in his final year of law school, a federal court found him guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute crack cocaine. Scott maintains that he had no intention of selling the drugs himself, and that he had been picking up cash for a dealer he knew.
Scott was released nearly eight years later and found work in Delaware as a case manager for a workforce program for public assistance recipients. Balancing a busy work with frequent travel was difficult for his family. Determined to change his situation, Scott used his law degree, passed the bar test, and landed a job at a law firm where he is still a partner today.
A platform rooted in personal experience
Scott’s success in the 2019 Virginia House race was based on an agenda of criminal justice reform, shaped by his unusual experiences on both sides of the legal system. His personal story, inspired by growing up in difficult circumstances and overcoming a felony conviction, resounded with voters.
Shifting tides at the Virginia Capitol
Scott encountered early problems in the General Assembly in 2020, when his criminal justice reform measures were rejected by his own Democratic party. However, the sad death of George Floyd in 2020 brought Scott’s suggested revisions to the forefront. Earned sentence credits and limited probation regulations, which had previously been rejected, gained traction following countrywide protests.
Confronting controversy and rising to leadership
Scott, who is known for his aggressive approach, challenged Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s policies during legislative sessions, particularly the “tipline” meant to be used anonymously to report educators for teaching “divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory. Scott’s boldness and sharp wit on the floor helped him advance through the Democratic caucus, eventually culminating to his appointment as House Minority Leader.
Embracing Black history
Don Scott, the first Black speaker, recognizes the significance of history. During a sendoff party in his district, he paid homage to those who paved the way, saying, “I see our ancestors who were in there, who were emptying people’s urine and emptying the spittoons, building the buildings, breaking their backs while people made decisions about whether they were human or not.”
Scott’s emergence as the first Black speaker is more than just a personal accomplishment; it is the continuation of a legacy. He embodies the spirit of those who struggled against oppression and inequity. His story is inspiring not just for its historical significance, but also for the resilience and determination shown in overcoming personal problems.