FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat, announced Monday she won’t seek reelection in her competitive district in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington after learning she has a severe form of Parkinson’s disease.
Wexton announced in April that she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and that she planned to continue her work in Congress. On Monday, she said she received a modified diagnosis of progressive supra-nuclear palsy, which she described as “a kind of ‘Parkinson’s on steroids.”
“I want to be honest with you now – this new diagnosis is a tough one,” Wexton said in her statement, “There is no ‘getting better’ with PSP. I’ll continue treatment options to manage my symptoms, but they don’t work as well.”
Wexton said she received the new diagnosis after feeling like she wasn’t responding well to treatment and noticing that the women in her Parkinson’s support group were having a different experience.
She plans to continue serving the rest of her term, which runs through 2024.
“I’m heartbroken to have to give up something I have loved after so many years of serving my community,” she said.
An open seat in the district — which became slightly more conservative in the last redistricting process, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project — could set up a competitive race with implications for party control of the U.S. House in 2024.
Wexton was a prosecutor and state legislator before she was elected to Congress in 2018. She defeated Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock with 56% of the vote in a year when the GOP faced a backlash from suburban voters disappointed with then-President Donald Trump.
She won with 53% of the vote in 2022.
Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, where Wexton serves, is centered in Loudoun County, an outer suburb of the nation’s capital. Loudoun tilts slightly Democratic but has a long history of switching support between political parties. In recent years, the county has been a flashpoint in confrontations over education issues, from school closures and in-person learning during the pandemic to questions over the treatment of transgender students and library books.
Wexton’s announcement means Virginia Democrats could be losing incumbents in the two most closely contested districts they hold. In the 7th District, between Washington and Richmond, speculation is strong that Abigail Spanberger will not seek reelection next year and will instead run for governor in 2025.
Spanberger was also elected in 2018 and has always won narrowly, with anywhere from from 50% to 52% of the vote.
Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness and difficulty with balance and coordination. The symptoms and rate of progression differ among individuals. Early symptoms of this disease are subtle and occur gradually, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Progressive supranuclear palsy is a form of atypical parkinsonian syndrome, also known as a Parkinson-plus disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Wexton’s colleagues reacted to the news with sadness and words of support. Fellow northerm Virginia House Democrat Don Beyer said in a statement, “When Jennifer joined the House five years ago her future seemed limitless. Now she has been robbed of much of that future with medical news that is tragic and deeply unfair.”
The state party’s chairwoman, Susan Swecker, said Wexton’s “years of dedicated public service and tireless advancement of LGBTQ civil rights, gun safety reform, labor rights, and affordable healthcare have immeasurably improved the lives of all Virginians.”
Associated Press writer Sarah Rankin contributed to this report from Richmond, Virginia.