There’s still the not-inconsequential matter of a statewide election to get through, but members of the Arlington delegation to the General Assembly have begun polishing their policy proposals and planning for the trek to Richmond in January.
“It’s not just the 60 days [in session] – a lot of our work is our planning,” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th), who on Oct. 17 joined a panel discussion about the upcoming session sponsored by the Leadership Center for Excellence.
The town-hall event, now in its second year, is designed to be the political equivalent of speed-dating: After brief introductory remarks, the legislators dispersed to different parts of the room, where attendees could pick which ones to interact with over the course of three 9-minute sessions. Every time the gong sounded, it was time to mix, mingle and pick a new partner.
State Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd), the longest-serving among the legislators with districts that include Arlington, said the format was a good one.
“It’s very rare that I have an opportunity to listen to what you care about – I can’t wait to be on the hot seat,” Howell told participants at the start of the event.
As for what the 2018 might bring? “We can’t predict,” Howell said, noting that not only was the identity of the next governor still unknown, but so was the next lieutenant governor, who presides over a nearly evenly divided state Senate.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th), who represents portions of Arlington and McLean, said he remains in a wait-and-see mode.
“It’s a little difficult,” Sullivan said of prognosticating the vibe of the 2018 session. “We don’t know who all the players are.”
“No matter who the governor is . . . we’ll have a productive session,” said Sullivan, who noted that about 2,000 bills win approval each legislative year, and compared the sprint in Richmond to the standstill on Capitol Hill.
Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) said he expected legislators in 2018 to try and keep up with changes in what has grown to be called the nation’s opioid crisis, both in terms of prescription medications and those purchased illegally.
“Heroin is a much cheaper drug, and it’s much more accessible,” Hope said of a major change in Virginia. “It’s growing so rapidly . . . a lot of it is in urban areas.”
Issues brought up during the give-and-take sessions were varied, from legislative redistricting and economic development to paid family leave and the future of the Metro system.
“It was a fascinating conversation,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th), who spoke with participants on immigration, energy and other matters.
Lopez is the only member of the Arlington delegation to face a political challenge this year; he is competing against Republican Adam Roosevelt in the Nov. 7 election. Arlington’s other three delegates are unopposed, and state senators do not face the voters until 2019.
Assuming he wins a new term, Lopez said one of his missions in 2018 will be to educate downstate lawmakers about issues of concern in his ethnically diverse district. As he phrased it: “Explaining the rich tapestry of what Virginia’s becoming to people who don’t see it, or don’t want to see it.”
Also on hand were state Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st) and Del. Mark Levine (D-45th).
Governors come and go at regular four-year intervals, but major issues are tackled regardless of who occupies the post, Favola said.
“Education will be an initiative [in 2018] no matter who wins,” she said.
As for other agenda items, “part of it will depend on the gubernatorial election,” acknowledged Favola, who served on the Arlington County Board before winning election to the state Senate in 2011. She is the only member of the delegation to have held local office prior to service in Richmond.
With Democrats heavily outgunned in the House of Delegates, local legislators need to be willing to take half a loaf and find partnerships where they can, Levine said. He pointed to work he had done with state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Midlothian) as co-chairs of the legislative transparency caucus, which aims to bring more openness in the public process.
“We don’t agree on much, but we do agree – strongly – that you have a right to know what’s going on,” Levine said.
Among those in attendance was Jim Presswood, chairman of the Arlington County Republican Committee, who enjoyed some back-and-forth with the all-Democratic delegation.
“The most important issues in the 2018 session will be jobs and economic growth,” Presswood said. “Virginia’s outdated tax code makes it difficult for Arlington to recruit businesses to our area that can replace the federal-contracting jobs we’ve lost.”
Reforming the tax code in ways proposed by the Republican statewide ticket would prove “a lot cheaper than bribing companies to move here,” Presswood said, referring to economic incentives.
The legislative town hall was sponsored by Washington Gas and Chain Bridge Bank. Scott McGeary of Washington Gas, who attended, said it “provided lively and valuable insights into the thinking of the delegation as we approach Election Day and the next legislative term.”
“The event focused very well on key issues important to Arlington, the region and the commonwealth,” McGeary said.