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Don Scott, sworn in as first Black speaker of Virginia's House of Delegates, was once a federal prison inmate

First Black Speaker makes history in Virginia
Virginia's first Black Speaker of the House sworn in 04:40

Virginia Del. Don Scott Jr. made history Wednesday when he was sworn in as the state's first Black speaker of the House of Delegates.

The Portsmouth Democrat, who was first elected to the chamber in 2019 and unanimously chosen by his party for the speakership in November, was sworn in in Richmond on Wednesday, becoming the first Black speaker in the state's history.

"With the 2024 session now underway, I'm grateful for the trust that my colleagues have placed in me. Let's meet this historic moment, and set our sights on moving Virginia forward," Scott posted on X on Wednesday after the swearing-in. 

For Virginia's legislature, which is often referred to as "the oldest continuing lawmaking body in the New World" and is steeped in tradition, the new speaker's path to the chamber is anything but traditional. 

Virginia Legislature
New Virginia House of Delegates speaker, Del. Don Scott, D-Portsmouth, left, is sworn in by Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernard Goodwyn, right, during the opening of the 2024 session of the Virginia General Assembly at the Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2024, in Richmond, Va.  Steve Helber / AP

After serving as an officer in the Navy and while in his third year of law school, Scott spent nearly eight years in federal prison after pleading guilty in a drug conspiracy case.

"I made the dreadful mistake of going to pick up some money, some drug money," said Scott, who noted that he had never been in any trouble before.

Scott MacFarlane interivews Don Scott.  CBS News

"I remember my mother in the courtroom. I can hear the little yelp that she made when a judge said 10 years. I still hear that sometimes," Scott added. 

After being released from prison, Scott went on to finish his law degree and open a law practice before being elected to the Virginia legislature, where he saw a meteoric rise – serving as minority leader since 2022, before gaining his party's backing for the chamber's top post.

"Damaged goods sometimes can turn out to be OK," Scott said. "We are a lot more interesting than the people that followed all the rules and did everything perfect."

Now, as he gears up to helm the chamber, the 58-year-old faces a serious challenge. A fierce critic of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, Scott must maneuver his slim majority in the House amid divided government, after Democrats defied expectations in November by flipping the House of Delegates and holding on to control of the Senate in November, when the GOP governor had hoped to secure a Republican trifecta. And Scott has a long list of priorities he plans to target, some of which are divisive in the Old Dominion State, like abortion and gun control. 

The historic swearing in took place in Richmond, once the capital of the confederacy and the city that just two years ago removed its last city-owned confederate statue. Scott became the state's first Black speaker of the House in its 400-year history. 

"We're only a few miles from where the first slaves came into this country in 1619," Scott said. "Now 405 years later, you have your first Black speaker. So I'm very cognizant of the shoulders that I stand on. I take it very seriously. And I'm humbled and I'm, I'm grateful for the opportunity."

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