RICHMOND, Va. — Gov. Ralph Northam yesterday made the executive and strategic decision to leave Virginia's 38th State Senate District without representation during the General Assembly session that starts today and will adjourn Feb. 27.

Under §24.2-216 of the Code of Virginia, the governor is charged with setting the special election date when a vacancy occurs in the General Assembly absent of the General Assembly being in session.

The vacancy in the senate is the result of 60-year-old Republican Sen. A. Benton Chafin's untimely death Jan. 1, reportedly of COVID-19 complications.

Northam has set the special election for March 23, effectively guaranteeing that the 38th District will be wholly unrepresented in this assembly session and giving further precedence to state Democrats.

"Ralph Northam's decision to deny the 38th District of representation during session is as shameful as it is shady," Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Rich Anderson said yesterday evening. "As much as they want to, Democrats cannot continue to ignore rural Virginia. Every Virginian deserves a state senator, even if that senator does not share the governor's party affiliation."

The 38th District, the constituency of which voted Chafin in thrice by margins up to 98.3 percent in 2015, spans over much of Southwest Virginia, including all of Bland, Buchanan, Dickenson, Pulaski, Russell and Tazewell Counties and the cities of Norton and Radford, as well as parts of Montgomery, Smyth and Wise Counties.

"This misguided decision is just the latest in a long line of bumbling, stumbling mistakes that the Northam administration owns," Anderson said. "From masquerading as a virulently racist character, to letting Virginia drop to 49th in COVID-19 testing, to scandals with the Parole Board, to mishandling the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, Northam's legacy will be one of incompetence and petty political games."

Candidates may apply to appear on March 23's special election ballot through Jan. 22.

Republican sheriff's deputy Jony Baker, of Wise County, announced his bid for public office last week.

However, not all Virginia Republicans are against Northam's executive declaration for a special election in late March.

“I applaud the governor for going ahead and calling for the special election timely," Virginia Sen. Frank Ruff (R-15) told the Star-Tribune Wednesday afternoon. "It is important that every citizen of the commonwealth have a representative to speak to the issues that come before the Senate. Because of the untimely death of Sen. Chaffin, and the time frames needed to select candidates, it was impossible to have that representation during this session.”