It usually doesn’t take long before someone new to Reston runs into or sees Del. Ken Plum (D-36). Whether it’s a charity walk, the Reston Festival, a Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce event, or an environmental cleanup, Plum is likely to be there.
“I just love this community,” said Plum, who has lived in Reston for 33 years.
For a quarter of a century, Plum has represented the people of Reston in the House of Delegates.
In this year’s race, Plum faces Libertarian challenger Donny Ferguson, who moved to Reston this past January.
Despite many differences between the two in experience and on policy, Plum has concentrated his message on his record.
“I think people know me as a strong advocate for public education,” said Plum, who added that the state pumped $1 billion back into public education last year.
In the last four years during legislative sessions down in Richmond, Plum has made it his job to help build bridges. Working with a Republican House and Senate, Plum has helped create bipartisan alliances to help pass Gov. Mark Warner’s agenda.
“The apex of that was the 2004 budget,” said Plum, adding that the budget helped raise more money for public education and reformed the tax structure.
It was many of the policies passed in the last few years that helped Virginia receive this year’s highest governance rating from Governing Magazine, said Plum.
DURING HIS YEARS of service, Plum has also focused on constituent services and being available to residents. His campaign phone number is also his home number.
For Reston’s other state representative, state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32), who started in politics as Plum’s legislative aid in 1989, Plum’s service to constituents has always been a priority.
“On one of my first days, I asked [Plum], ‘how should I screen your calls?’” said Howell, telling a story from her time working for Plum. “He told me: ‘You don’t. If I’m here, I’ll take the call.’” She said the same was true if someone stopped by his office and wanted to see him.
“He taught me a lot of valuable lessons, and maybe the most important is to be accountable to your constituents,” said Howell. “I’m really proud that I was his protégé.”
Howell, who was elected to the Virginia Senate in 1991, also said that Plum has been “fearless” fighting for issues he believes in. “Right now, the House is a very right-wing legislative body, but [Plum’s] someone the opposition listens to and respects.”
She said Plum has proven many times over that he is able to find consensus among many groups, which is “a rare quality down in Richmond,” according to Howell.
OTHERS IN THE COMMUNITY have witnessed Plum’s service to Reston.
In the 12 years that Robert E. Simon, Reston’s founder, has gotten to know Plum, he said it’s Plum’s integrity that stands out. “He has such enthusiasm for his causes and has such a willingness to listen to the concerns of the community,” said Simon.
Former chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and now president of the Greater Reston Arts Center, Kate Hanley, has known Plum for about 30 years.
“Over the years, he’s been such a champion of public education, which is so important,” said Hanley. “It’s always a lesson for me to watch how well he connects with the community.”
Hanley said Plum not only knows the community, but has become a part of it. She cited his support of Metro rail to Reston and on to Dulles as just one of the recent examples of Plum supporting “future solutions” to community needs.
Stuart Gibson, school board member for the Hunter Mill district, said he often looked to Plum for guidance on issues. “Ken has been my mentor on public policy since I’ve known him,” said Gibson. “When I go to him for advice, I know I’m getting the unvarnished truth.”
Gibson added that Plum has been an “invaluable resource” to Reston. “To be able to have someone who knows how Richmond works is tremendous asset to this community,” said Gibson.
IN THE NEXT few days, Reston residents will receive a Virginia citizen’s handbook courtesy of Plum. The book explains state services, from absentee ballots to worker’s safety.
Every two years, Plum has sent these handbooks out to residents so they can be better informed about services that the state offers. He considers it part of his responsibility to the community. Two years down the road, he hopes to be sending them out again.