It turns out that some of the same lessons learned in kindergarten – be polite, say “thank you,” ask for help when you need it – also are among the cornerstones for a successful career in the Virginia General Assembly. Especially when your party is not the one in power.
“When you’re in the minority, you’re just not going to get a bill passed if it’s just a minority[-party] bill – it’s not going to happen,” Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) acknowledged at Leadership Arlington’s fifth annual legislative breakfast, held April 8 at Army Navy Country Club.
An effective legislator, Hope said, is one who can “bring different parties together to solve problems.”
Five of Arlington’s seven-member legislative delegation were on hand to give a wrap-up of the 59-day legislative session, but more importantly, discuss what attributes help ensure success in Richmond.
One tip they imparted: Build alliances wherever possible, and work to find common ground.
“Listening is the most important thing,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th). “Walk around in someone’s shoes for a while, understand what their perspective is.”
“Never give up, and keep talking to everybody,” said Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th), who related the story of one of his bills, which focused on procedures of the boards of directors of non-profit organizations.
The measure was killed, 14-8, in the House Committee on Commerce and Labor, which usually would be the end of the story. But Sullivan made his case to the committee chairman, Del. Terry Kilgore (R-Gate City), who agreed to bring it back up with several tweaks. Ultimately, the measure passed 96-0 in the House of Delegates and 40-0 in the state Senate, and was signed into law by Gov. McAuliffe.
In the Senate, where the political balance of power is not as lopsided, it still pays to make friends.
“I like to pick out ‘unlikely allies,’” said state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th).
His efforts paid off this year on legislation requiring the Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation to provide those who work with asbestos information on safety procedures.
The measure had won passage four years running in the Senate, only to be dispatched to oblivion each time in the House of Delegates. This year, with the support of some Republicans, it passed the Senate 27-12 and the House 75-25, and was signed by the governor.
Lopez pointed to bipartisan support for his successful effort to provide more revenue for the Virginia Affordable Housing Trust Fund as part of the commonwealth’s biennial budget.
“That means more kids will have a roof over their heads,” he said. “I’m incredibly proud of that.”
For the Arlington delegation’s newest member, another truism – one championed in decades past by Ronald Reagan – was important.
“If you don’t need to get credit for something, you can get a lot done,” chuckled Del. Mark Levine (D-45th), the delegation’s lone freshman.
Levine, who politically is well to the left of the ruling class in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, acknowledged a rocky year for his legislative priorities, with most killed in committee or subcommittee.
Going into the January-to-March session, “I knew the likely fate of them,” Levine said. “I’m the new kid in town; I am 96th in seniority.”
In an effort to reach out and build bridges, Levine worked with state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Midlothian) to found the Legislative Transparency Caucus. It has grown to 14 members, one-tenth of the total legislature.
Sullivan offered praise of House Speaker William Howell (R-Fredericksburg), for being less autocratic and more fair to those in the minority than some of his predecessors.
Howell “does a terrific job” in managing the lower house of the legislature, Sullivan said, because “he lets the other 99 members do their jobs.”
Hope said the 2016 session was a positive one, even if legislators did spar on issues ranging from health care to the Virginia Supreme Court.
“They’re all very different,” Hope said of the vibe of annual legislative sessions. “Each day, in fact, is different.”
The Leadership Arlington forum drew praise for the focus on substance over partisanship.
“I very much appreciate the tenor of the discussions,” said Cecilia Cassidy, retired executive director of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District, who is serving as interim head of the Columbia Pike Revitalization Organization and is a regular attendee of the annual program.
The Leadership Arlington event was sponsored by Verizon. State Sens. Barbara Favola (D-31st) and Janet Howell (D-32nd) were unable to attend because of commitments outside the area.