Del. Mark Keam resigns for travel and tourism job under Biden | Govt-and-politics


Del. Mark Keam, D-Fairfax, has resigned his House of Delegates seat to take a job in the federal government as an political appointee by President Joe Biden, and the race already has begun to fill his Northern Virginia seat.

Keam, a native of South Korea who championed the interests of people of Asian and Pacific Island descent, had served 13 legislative sessions representing the 35th House District. It will become the 12th House District after elections next year under a political map the Virginia Supreme Court approved on Dec. 28.

Both the old and new districts are considered solidly Democratic, covering a portion of Fairfax County that includes Tysons Corner and the town of Vienna. A member of the county school board already has declared his candidacy.

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Karl Frisch, 44, was seeking a second term on the Fairfax County School Board, but changed course after learning that Keam had stepped down just before Labor Day weekend.

“I certainly want to be the best use I can to the people I represent,” Frisch said in an interview on Tuesday. “That had been my initial intention, but this news changes that, obviously.”

Keam said he informed House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, last week that he was resigning immediately, leaving the seat vacant when the General Assembly convenes on Wednesday for a special session scheduled to elect a new member of the State Corporation Commission. He informed his constituents in a newsletter on Tuesday morning.

The decision on when to hold a special election to choose a successor will fall to Gilbert if the assembly remains in session after the special session or to Gov. Glenn Youngkin if the legislature adjourns after completing its work.

Both Gilbert and Youngkin are Republicans, but House Minority Leader Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, said he expects Senate Democrats, who hold a 21-19 majority in the chamber, to have a say on whether the assembly adjourns, as well as who is chosen to serve on the three-member SCC.

“We’re going to count on the Senate Democrats to get it right,” Scott said.

He said the special election for the old 35th House District can’t be held at the same time as the general election in November for new congressional districts.

Frisch is the only declared candidate for the special election, but Scott said, “That’s Northern Virginia – I’d be surprised if nobody else is running.”

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Keam resigned from the House to become deputy assistant secretary for travel and tourism at the International Trade Administration within the U.S. Department of Commerce. His job will be to help rebuild tourism from foreign countries to the United States, which has fallen steeply since the COVID-19 pandemic began 30 months ago.

He said the job will fit well with his personal background –  as an immigrant, an attorney and a  legislator who has focused on economic development, technology and tax policy in an ethnically diverse district.

“Travel and tourism are very close to me personally and professionally,” Keam said in an interview on Tuesday.

Scott said he was most impressed when Keam, a telecommunications lawyer from urban Fairfax, was named legislator of the year by the Virginia Agribusiness Council in 2020.

“I knew he was able to communicate with everybody,” Scott said. “You don’t have be judged by anything but being effective.”

First elected in 2009, Keam served on three powerful House committees – Finance, Commerce and Energy, and Courts of Justice. He is a founding member of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus in the General Assembly.

“Mark Keam is a trailblazer and has played an integral role in passing historic legislation to make Virginia a more open, inclusive, and prosperous commonwealth,” former House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said Tuesday.

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Filler-Corn already has endorsed Frisch to fill the seat “and protect our progress from being rolled back” by Youngkin. The governor held a political rally last week in Annandale that focused more on the Fairfax School Board than the impending midterm congressional elections.

Frisch said his priorities are protecting public schools, maintaining women’s access to abortion services, curtailing gun violence, combating climate change and restoring Virginia’s standing as “best state for business” after the state fell from first to third this year.

Asked whether he could work with Youngkin, a critic of the Fairfax school system, he said, “I’m willing to do anything I can to protect our amazing schools in Fairfax County and I’m willing to work with anyone who is willing to do the same.”



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