When future historians — or even just ordinary people — look back on 2019, they’ll have a lot to remember.
This was the year President Trump got impeached.
This was the year of too many mass shootings to list — from mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, to a municipal building in Virginia Beach to a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, to so many others.
This was the year carbon in the atmosphere hit 415 parts per million — the highest level in human history — and a teenage climate activist from Sweden commanded the world stage.
This was the year that a team doing so poorly it had just a 0.1% chance of winning the World Series in May came back and really did win it all — the previously hard-luck Washington Nationals.
This was the year the United States won the Women’s World Cup in soccer, continuing American dominance in the sport (four championships out of eight) at a time when the men’s team continues to struggle against international competition.
This was the year the New Horizons spacecraft, which previously had flown past previously-unexplored Pluto, flew past another, even more distant, body in the outer reaches of the solar system. This was also the year that astronomers were forced to rename that body from Ultima Thule to Arrokoth because the original name was hijacked by modern-day Nazis.
This was the year “Game of Thrones” ended its eight-year run, and in a way that left many fans disappointed, especially all those who had named their daughters Khaleesi.
Closer to home, 2019 will be remembered in other ways.
The year began with three back-to-back political scandals that rocked Virginia and made the state a punchline on “Saturday Night Live.” For parts of two days in February, we thought Gov. Ralph Northam might resign over his blackface scandal. He obviously didn’t. We thought then Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax might be in a position to do something no one else has done — serve out one term and then get elected in his own right. Instead, soon thereafter the General Assembly was talking about impeaching him over allegations of sexual assault. That didn’t happen, either. When Attorney General Mark Herring announced his own blackface scandal, that had the unexpected effect of mitigating the other two. All three stayed and voters either forgave or forgot.
In November, Democrats won a historic victory, taking control of both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time since 1995. Moreover this will be the first time since 1993 — when Doug Wilder was governor — that Democrats have controlled both the legislative and executive branches of government. The year 2019 marks the end of an era of Republican dominance of Virginia politics. Republicans have gone a decade without winning a statewide election but since the ’90s the General Assembly was always the rock they stood upon while occasional Democratic governors came and went. Now that’s gone. We’re moving into a new era of Virginia politics — the legislature elected in November is easily the most liberal ever. That makes 2019 a red-letter year — or, in the spirit of our color-coded politics — a blue-letter year.
Another big victory this year, one that could be celebrated in a more bipartisanship fashion: The University of Virginia men’s basketball team won the national championship. Journalists are subject to much criticism, but you can’t deny that we didn’t have our priorities in order here: The Virginia Press Association interrupted its annual awards banquet to show the game on a big screen — otherwise, attendees likely wouldn’t have been attendees.
Those were all big dramatic things. Other things happened this year that might someday prove to be big and dramatic. The General Assembly passed a dedicated revenue stream for upgrading Interstate 81. Torc Robotics in Blacksburg was acquired by Daimler and started testing autonomous trucks on Southwest Virginia Roads roads. Google started the nation’s first commercial delivery-by-drone to residences in Christiansburg. If someday self-driving trucks and drone deliveries become commonplace, we can all say they started here — in 2019.
This was also the year that Virginia started exploring whether to allow casinos, and whether to legalize marijuana, two things that once would have been unthinkable in the Old Dominion. This was the year that saw construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline both continue and get halted by various court rulings.
The reappraisal of Confederate symbols continued: Robert E. Lee High School became Staunton High School. Arlington changed the name of Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway. Richmond began the process of changing the names of four schools, not all of them with Confederate-themed names. The school boards in both Bedford County and Franklin County wrestled with whether to ban Confederate-themed clothing. Bedford’s controversy was sparked by a February incident in which several students at Jefferson Forest High posted photographs of themselves posing with Confederate flags they brought to school. Bedford adopted a new dress code that bans images that are “offensive” but didn’t explicitly include the Confederate flag, leaving open the question of whether a Confederate shirt is allowed or not. Franklin County, after much debate, delayed a decision.
The elevation of new heroes continued. Roanoke renamed its courthouse after Oliver Hill, the civil rights lawyer who grew up in the city before moving to Richmond, where he later took part in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that struck down segregation. Richmond elevated a new hero more literally — unveiling a new statue near Monument Avenue. Like the existing statues, it shows a man on a horseback. The difference is this is an African-American man in modern clothes. It’s not meant to depict any particular person. Artist Kehinde Wiley says it’s “about black men and their place in this society. ” At the State Capitol, seven new statues were introduced — all part of the Virginia Women’s Monument intended to recognize prominent women who previously were overlooked in our history books, and our statuary.
In what other ways will 2019 be remembered? We may not know for many more years yet. Fifty years ago, the first message was sent over the first network of computers. Today we call that email and the internet. At the time, though, it didn’t make the news at all. What happened this year that we don’t know about yet?