Port City Politics: Herring hopes to whip it good in Richmond

Port City Politics: Herring hopes to whip it good in Richmond
Del. Charnielle Herring (D-46)

Del. Charniele Herring (D-46) will have more on her mind than constituent concerns and her legislative agenda when the Virginia General Assembly convenes. As minority whip, she’s tasked with keeping fellow party members in line during the impending General Assembly session.

Minority Leader David Toscano tapped Herring, who joined the House of Delegates in 2009, for the Democratic caucus’s whip position in December. Newly elected state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) held the post previously.

The appointment came as Democrats girded themselves for another year in the Richmond woods. Republicans expanded their hold on the House and brought the state Senate to an even 20-20 split with big gains in the November election.

“We are in the minority position, but luckily we still have the ability to stand up and speak,” Herring said. “Our numbers are small, but what is even more important is that we stand up and make sure our message gets across.”

Herring can expect to help coordinate floor activity, strategy and work with House committee whips, but being the party whip also is about maintaining and enforcing party discipline, said Geoffrey Skelley, a political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Given the Democrats’ circumstances in the House — Republicans hold a supermajority — it’s a symbolic position, he said. Herring’s key role will be ensuring Democrats show solidarity in opposing legislation.

It’s a role that will take some persuading, some deal making and, at times, arm-twisting.

“I wouldn’t say there’s a single definition [for a good whip], but I would imagine you would want someone who is well respected, someone that can cajole, but perhaps do it in a way that’s not going to cause people to hate you,” Skelley said. “I guess you have to have someone well respected and liked, but feared.”

There also are opportunities for gains, said Toni-Michelle Travis, professor of government at George Mason University. Holding the line is in many ways a tougher task — perhaps unexpectedly — for the majority whip.

“I think you can get more [party] cohesion as a member of the minority,” she said. “I think you know you’re outnumbered and therefore you stick together and then you look for people you might be able to persuade from the other party… moderates in the other party.”

Herring plans to lean more on her powers of persuasion to ensure fellow Democratic delegates hold together and the occasionally Republican crosses party lines. It’s going to be less about enforcing party discipline and more about keeping Democrats focused, she said.

“I’m more of a bringing people together person and making sure we have full participation,” she said. “I see it as bringing people together and being very strong and making sure that everybody is prepared.”