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Herring Becomes First African-American To Head Major Political Party In Virginia

The state that was home to the capital of the Confederacy and initially defied the inception of the Dr. Martin Luther King federal holiday in 1982 by simultaneously honoring Southern generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson took a major step forward with Saturday’s news that Charniele Herring has been elected chairwoman of the Virginia’s Democratic Party.

The three-term state delegate from Alexandria becomes the first African-American to ever head a major political party in The Commonwealth.

“I am humbled by the strength and diversity of Virginia Democrats,” Herring said in a released statement following her unanimous selection by the Democratic State Central Committee.

“I look forward to fighting every day to ensure we continue to elect Democrats here in this great commonwealth.”

Herring urged the party to sustain the momentum it had generated last month with the election of U.S. Senator-elect Tim Kaine and the re-election of President Barack Obama as the state prepares to choose a new governor in 2013. Republicans have typically bounced back strong in the state in voting off-years. In every gubernatorial election since 1977, Virginia has reversed its support for governor in the years following the presidential election.

“The one thing we can’t do is relax,” Herring said, according to the Washington Post. “We’ve got to start now to get voters engaged.”

A graduate of George Mason University and the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, Herring was first elected to the General Assembly in January 2009 in a special election to fill the vacated seat for the 46th House District.

A lawyer and longtime resident of Northern Virginia, she serves as the Democratic Whip in the House of Delegates and was chair of the Legislative Reproductive Health Caucus, where she was outspoken on the Republican legislation passed last session requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion.

Del. Brian Moran announced he wouldn’t seek another term as party chairman after his party won presidential and senatorial elections in November. He and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe endorsed Herring to be his successor. She had no challengers for the position.

The party’s likely nominee for governor, Terry McAuliffe, called Herring’s unanimous selection historic.

Herring was born in the Dominican Republic, where her father was stationed in the military. She has said that at the age of 16, she lived in a homeless shelter for a time after her single mother lost a job.

In 2013, Virginians will not only elect a governor, but also a new lieutenant governor and attorney general. All 100 seats in the House of Delegates also will be up for election.

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