Virginia’s Jennifer McClellan reacts to historic election, plans to tackle climate change in Congress

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“It blows my mind we’re still having firsts. But, it’s a tremendous honor and responsibility,” Jennifer McClellan of Virginia’s 4th Congressional District told theGrio.

This week, Jennifer McClellan made history when she became the first Black woman to be elected to Virginia’s 4th Congressional District.

On Tuesday, she defeated her Republican challenger, Leon Benjamin, during a special election for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

McClellan told theGrio, “It blows my mind we’re still having firsts. But, it’s a tremendous honor and responsibility to ensure that I am continuing to support and bring up the next generation of Black women leaders.”

She added, “I think about not only where my family has been, but also, that I am the first Black woman from Virginia which was the birthplace of American democracy – but was also the birthplace of American slavery.”

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Hanover, speaks at the Call for Action on Gun Safety at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Friday, Jan. 13, 2023, in Richmond, Va. Voters in a Richmond-based Virginia congressional district will settle a special election Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, for the open seat previously held by the late Democratic U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, who died in November shortly after being elected to a fourth term. Democratic nominee McClellan faces GOP opponent, pastor Leon Benjamin. (AP Photo/John C. Clark, File)

McClellan, who served in Virginia’s state Senate before being elected to her federal position, will finish out the rest of Democratic Rep. Donald McEachin’s fourth term. McEachin represented Virginia’s 4th Congressional District from 2017 until Nov. 2022 when he passed away at the age of 61.

McClellan told theGrio that carrying out McEachin’s term is “bittersweet.”

“It was a huge loss, losing a friend, colleague and mentor, but I partnered with him on a lot of issues over the years. I’m ready to build on his legacy in a way that I know he would be proud of,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Don McEachin D-4th. waves during a rally for Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe in Richmond, Va., Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Voters in a Richmond-based Virginia congressional district will settle a special election Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2023, for the open seat previously held by the late Rep. McEachin, who died in November shortly after being elected to a fourth term. Democratic nominee Jennifer McClellan faces GOP opponent, pastor Leon Benjamin. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

In the past, McClellan has advocated for voting rights and healthcare, however, during her time in Congress she plans to switch gears and tackle “climate change and the transition to clean renewable energy.”

Quentin James, president of The Collective PAC – a political group that aims to elect Black candidates to public office – told theGrio that Congressman McEachin was known for his “work around environmental justice” and believes that McClellan will continue his efforts.

“I think that’s one area where Jennifer will lead in. Making sure folks are employed in some of these energy jobs, [so] that our communities – typically Black communities – don’t bear the brunt of climate change and the challenges of energy regulation in our country,” he said.

McClellan told theGrio that she became interested in a career in politics when she was 11.

She recalled “listening to my parents tell their stories of what their life was like growing up during the [Great] Depression and during Jim Crow…They saw the best of government in the New Deal and the worst of government through Jim Crow.”

“I thought, wow, I really want to be a part of government being a force for change and force for helping people and, of course, for solving problems. But I didn’t know what that meant at 11,” she continued.

ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – MAY 02: Senator Jennifer McClellan attends Virginia SB 493 Cyberflashing Passage Event with Bumble on May 02, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Bumble)
ALEXANDRIA, VIRGINIA – MAY 02: Senator Jennifer McClellan attends Virginia SB 493 Cyberflashing Passage Event with Bumble on May 02, 2022 in Alexandria, Virginia. (Photo by Shannon Finney/Getty Images for Bumble)

McClellan said one of her biggest accomplishments is being able to juggle motherhood and her career.

“A lot of people think, oh, how do you balance being a mom with being a public servant? To me, it’s all part of the same mission. I am a public servant not only to help people, but to make this world a better place for my children and so that they don’t have to fight a lot of these fights,” she told theGrio.

As it pertains to future plans, McClellan said she is prepared for “whatever comes her way.”

The U.S. Capitol Building is seen on January 19, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
The U.S. Capitol Building is seen on January 19, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“I’m very focused on representing the 4th district as best I can and helping people solve problems and the future will take care of itself,” she said.

James believes McClellan has a bright future in politics and that she could one day be a member of a presidential administration.

“Her talent is a little limitless in my opinion and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her,” he said. According to the Associated Press, a special election will be held next month to replace McClellan’s vacant Virginia Senate seat.

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