Dick Saslaw

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Dick Saslaw
Sen. Saslaw 2018.jpg
Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Assuming office
January 8, 2020
SucceedingTommy Norment
In office
January 28, 2014 – June 12, 2014
Preceded byTommy Norment
Succeeded byTommy Norment
In office
January 2008 – January 12, 2012
Preceded byWalter Stosch
Succeeded byTommy Norment
Minority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Assumed office
June 12, 2014
Preceded byTommy Norment
Succeeded byTommy Norment (Designate)
In office
January 12, 2012 – January 28, 2014
Preceded byTommy Norment
Succeeded byTommy Norment
In office
January 1998 – January 2008
Preceded by???
Succeeded byTommy Norment
Member of the Virginia Senate
from the 35th district
Assumed office
January 9, 1980
Preceded byOmer L. Hirst
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates
from the 19th district
In office
January 14, 1976 – January 9, 1980
Preceded byJames Tate
Succeeded byJim Dillard
Personal details
Richard Lawrence Saslaw

(1940-02-05) February 5, 1940 (age 79)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
EducationUniversity of Maryland, College Park (BA)
WebsiteOfficial website
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1958–1960

Richard Lawrence Saslaw (born February 5, 1940) is an American politician. A Democrat, he served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1976–80, then was elected to the Senate of Virginia. He currently represents the 35th district, made up of the city of Falls Church and portions of Fairfax County and the city of Alexandria.[1]

Saslaw has been the leader of the Virginia Senate Democrats since 1998, serving as Majority Leader from 2008–2012, 2014 – June 12, 2014, and Minority Leader 1998–2008, 2012–2014.[1] He ran for Congress in Virginia's 8th congressional district in 1984. He was defeated by then-Congressman Stanford Parris.

Personal life[edit]

Saslaw was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in the suburbs. He served in the United States Army (1958–60), before receiving a B.S. degree in economics from the University of Maryland. After that, he went into the gasoline service station business.[1][2]

Saslaw and his wife Eleanor, a retired guidance director and member of the Virginia State Board of Education, settled in northern Virginia in 1968. Their daughter, Jennifer, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia.[2] and her law degree from Stanford Law School. They live in Springfield, Virginia.

Minority leader[edit]

Saslaw was first elected as Virginia State Senate Floor Leader by his peers in 1996, under a power-sharing agreement that took place when the Senate was evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. In 1998, he was elected to Senate Minority Leader, and was continuously re-elected until becoming Senate Majority Leader when the Democrats assumed control of the chamber in 2008. He continued as Majority Leader until 2012, when the Democrats lost control. He has served as Minority Leader since 2012, except for the first half of 2014, when he served as Majority Leader.

He is the ranking Democrat of the Senate's Commerce and Labor Committee, Courts of Justice Committee, and Education and Health Committee, and is the Chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee.

Political positions[edit]

Medicaid expansion in Virginia[edit]

Senator Saslaw is credited with saving the Democratic push for Medicaid expansion in Virginia by thwarting an attempted procedural move by Republican Senator Tommy Norment to kill the bill in committee. Norment attempted to have the bill to expand Medicaid in Virginia killed in committee a second time, which would have made the bill ineligible for presentation to the full senate. Saslaw caught the move and thwarted it, thus allowing the bill to proceed and eventually become law in Virginia in 2018. Medicaid expansion brought health insurance coverage to over 400,000 Virginians.[3][4]

Gun violence prevention[edit]

In February 2011, Saslaw was one of eight senators on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee who "passed by indefinitely" House Bill 1573, defeating the bill by an 8 to 4 margin. The bill, also known as Castle Doctrine, would have allowed "a lawful occupant use of physical force, including deadly force, against an intruder in his dwelling who has committed an overt act against him, without civil liability."[5] Senator Saslaw is rated F by the NRA and has been a strong supporter of stricter gun regulations. In the 2019 legislative session, he proposed legislation to raise the age for which a person is allowed to buy a gun in Virginia from 18 to 21, and he proposed a ban on so called "bump stocks." Republicans did not allow either of those bills to pass out of committee.[6] In 2019, Senator Saslaw was endorsed for re-election by the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Brady Campaign.[7]

Reproductive rights[edit]

Senator Saslaw has voted against attempts to limit abortions in Virginia.[8] He has been endorsed by NARAL Virginia and by Planned Parenthood of the Greater Metropolitan Washington Area.[9]

Environment and renewables[edit]

Saslaw has been described as a reliable ally of Dominion Energy, Virginia's largest electrical utility which is also notable for its influence on Virginia politics.[10][11] In 2018, the Associated Press reported that Dominion had been Saslaw's largest source of campaign funds, contributing approximately $350,000 over a 15-year period.[10] Saslaw helped push Dominion-backed legislation that would allow the firm to charge customers rates that regulators considered to be excessive.[10] When Virginia Democratic Party criticized a Republican state senator for being too cozy with Dominion Energy, Dominion sent an email to Saslaw to complain. Saslaw responded by apologizing to Dominion and criticized his own party for failing to do its "homework" on "how generous Dominion has been to me" and the party.[10]

Saslaw was the co-patron of the Grid Transformation and Security Act of 2018, which ended the rate freeze and allowed the State Corporation Commission—Virginia's regulatory agency that oversees public utilities—to return to regularly reviewing utility rates, and for $200 million in credits to be refunded to ratepayers. The bill also declared 5,000mw of new solar energy projects to be "in the public interest," making it easier for such projects to be approved by the SCC.[12][13]


Education has been one of his top legislative priorities throughout his tenure. He is the ranking member of the Senate Education and Health Committee, and Chair of the Higher Education Subcommittee. In 2006, the Virginia Association of School Boards named him Legislator of the Year.[14] In 2013, the Virginia Education Association named him Legislator of the Year for his work in commissioning a study of school funding in Virginia by JLARC (Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission).[15] One result of Virginia expanding Medicaid in 2018 was that additional money was made available in the budget for a 3% teacher pay raise.[16] That initial 3% was then increased to 5% in the 2019 legislative session, along with $25 million for at-risk students and $12 million for additional school counselors.[17][18] Senator Saslaw has been endorsed for re-election in 2019 by the Virginia Education Association.[19]

Transportation and Metro funding[edit]

Senator Saslaw was chief patron of a bill to resolve the battle over a dedicated revenue source for the DC-area Metro improvements and operations. The bill states that Virginia will contribute $154 million a year to Metro, with Maryland and Washington, DC contributing the remainder needed to reach $500 million annually. This bill was considered a breakthrough, since any such inter-state deal has typically stalled on the Virginia side, due to the Republican control of the General Assembly.[20]


In February 2019, Saslaw made headlines as the only Democratic elected official in Virginia to initially defend Virginia Governor Ralph Northam when photos on the latter's medical school yearbook page surfaced showing two men, one of whom was in blackface and one of whom was in robes resembling those of the Ku Klux Klan.[21] Saslaw later clarified in an official statement that the pictures could only be described "as racist, as unacceptable, and as painful," and along with the Senate Democratic Caucus, issued a statement calling for Northam's resignation.[22][23]

2019 Democratic primary[edit]

In September 2018, Yasmine Taeb, an attorney at the Center for Victims of Torture, announced that she would challenge Senator Saslaw for the Democratic nomination for the 35th district in the state senate. She moved to the district "within the past year to be closer to the immigrant communities with whom she works,[24]" moving from nearby Arlington County, where she previously ran for a House of Delegates seat in 2014, finishing in last place.[25] Karen Torrent, an environmental lawyer and long-time resident of the district, also challenged Senator Saslaw in the June 11 primary.[26] Saslaw successfully fended off the challenges from Taeb and Torrent and won renomination during the June 11 primary [27]

Election history[edit]

Year Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
8th Congressional District of Virginia
1984 Richard L. Saslaw Democratic 97,250 43.3 Stanford Parris Republican 125,015 55.7
35th Virginia Senate District
1999 Richard L. Saslaw Democratic 19,257 57.6 Robert H. Neitz Republican 13,554 40.5
2003 Richard L. Saslaw Democratic 17,735 82.48 Charles W. Levy Independent 3,537 16.45
2007 Richard L. Saslaw Democratic 16,856 77.94 Mario T. Palmiotto Independent Green 4,532 20.95
2011 Richard L. Saslaw Democratic 15,905 61.7 Robert C. Sarvis Republican 9,272 35.9
2015 Richard L. Saslaw Democratic 18,754 74.4 Terrence W. Modglin Independent Green 6,055 24.0


  1. ^ a b c Senate of Virginia bio
  2. ^ a b "Meet Senator Saslaw". Saslaw!. Archived from the original on May 19, 2008. Retrieved 2009-01-27.
  3. ^ "PressReader.com - Your favorite newspapers and magazines". www.pressreader.com. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  4. ^ Angela Woolsey. The ins and outs of Virginia’s new Medicaid expansion. Fairfax County Times, 15 Jun 2018
  5. ^ National Rifle Association, February 15, 2011
  6. ^ Dave Ress. Virginia gun control bills die again in committees. The Virginian-Pilot, 18 Jan 2019
  7. ^ "The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Fully Endorses Virginia Senator Dick Saslaw for Re-Election". The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. Jan 17, 2019. Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  8. ^ Saslaw's Voting Records on Issues at votesmart.org
  9. ^ Dick Saslaw's Ratings and Endorsements at votesmart.org
  10. ^ a b c d Suderman, Alan (2018-01-29). "Facing new scrutiny, powerful utility turns to old friends". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2019-02-02.
  11. ^ Marans, Daniel (2018-02-12). "What A Battle Over Virginia's Most Powerful Monopoly Can Teach Democrats Everywhere". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2019-02-02.
  12. ^ "Dominion Energy Files 1st Plan under Grid Transformation & Security Act". renewableenergyworld.com. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  13. ^ Times-Dispatch, ROBERT ZULLO Richmond. "Governor signs sweeping utility overhaul affecting 3 million Virginia ratepayers". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  14. ^ "House History". history.house.virginia.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  15. ^ "VEA - VEA News & Advocacy". www.veanea.org. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  16. ^ "Gov. Northam signs Virginia budget, Medicaid expansion bill". WTKR.com. 2018-06-07. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  17. ^ "Senate Passes Bipartisan Budget Increasing Teacher Pay, Affordable Housing, & Environmental Quality - Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus". vasenatedems.com. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  18. ^ "Virginia: Senate Democrats applaud bipartisan budget". Augusta Free Press. 2019-02-24. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  19. ^ "Virginia Educators Endorse Saslaw for Re-election | Senator Dick Saslaw". dicksaslaw.com. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  20. ^ "Breakthrough in Virginia on Metro Funding". Washington Post. 10 March 2018.
  21. ^ "Dick Saslaw was the lone VA Democrat to rush to Northam's defense. It could cost him re-election". Retrieved May 30, 2019.
  22. ^ Saslaw, Senate Dem Leader Dick (2019-02-01). "pic.twitter.com/R79RWKWccM". @DickSaslaw. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  23. ^ Saslaw, Senate Dem Leader Dick (2019-02-01). "After a conversation with my colleagues, the Virginia Senate Caucus calls on Governor Northam to resign". @DickSaslaw. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  24. ^ "Democratic Leader in VA Senate Faces Challenge From His Left". Washington Post. September 20, 2018.
  25. ^ Writer, SCOTT McCAFFREY, Staff. "Sullivan emerges winner in 48th District Democratic caucus". INSIDENOVA.COM. Retrieved 2019-02-23.
  26. ^ "Elections: State Senate District 35". vpap.org. Retrieved 2019-03-25.
  27. ^ https://results.elections.virginia.gov/vaelections/2019%20June%20Democratic%20Primary/Site/GeneralAssembly.html

External links[edit]

Senate of Virginia
Preceded by
Minority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Succeeded by
Tommy Norment
Preceded by
Walter Stosch
Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Preceded by
Tommy Norment
Minority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Minority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Succeeded by
Tommy Norment
Majority Leader of the Virginia Senate
Taking office 2020