When Aaron Rouse walked into a briefing room at the state Capitol on Wednesday morning he was met with a loud applause from members of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
The night before the Virginia Beach City Council member and former NFL defensive back edged his Republican opponent, Kevin Adams, in a special election for a Senate seat anchored in Virginia Beach — providing a bolstered 22-18 Democratic majority in the chamber.
“Last night was a resounding rejection of the MAGA extremism that has slipped out across the commonwealth,” said House Minority Leader Don Scott Jr., D-Portsmouth.
His opponent, Adams, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, congratulated Rouse in a statement.
“Sheila and I both congratulate Senator-elect Aaron Rouse,” Adams wrote. “Despite the results, I will never stop serving Hampton Roads.”
It will be some time before Rouse is sworn into the Senate and election officials will still count provisional and mail-in ballots until this Friday, but his visit to the Capitol was well received by members of his party. When Rouse was introduced from the Senate gallery, Democratic senators gave him standing ovations as they applauded him.
In an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Rouse said that he is thankful to the people who voted for him and that he’s excited to get to work on representing the district, which includes six Norfolk precincts.
“It feels very good that you can represent your community or communities you grow up in at the state level,” he said.
Amid split-party control in the state’s legislature, Senate Democrats are the last line of defense on a number of bills, like possible abortion bans that several Republicans are pursuing.
He added that while he will look for bills that can achieve bipartisanship, “it won’t start when it comes to reproductive rights.”
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The issue featured prominently in his campaign, with two of his top three donors including the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.
On legislative priorities, Rouse said that he plans to support helping local school infrastructure and raising teachers’ salaries.
“We’ve got to make education a priority,” he said.
He said another of his priorities is “building an economy that works for everyone.”
“That means finding tax reliefs where we can for those Virginia families who are experiencing a hard time trying to recover from the pandemic, and just trying to make it as everyday Virginians,” he added.