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Virginia Review

Delegate, Senator Look Back on First Session

Del. David Poisson (D-32) compared his first session in the House of Delegates to graduate school.

"I learned a lot more than I imagined," Poisson said.

On the campaign trail and in his professional career, Poisson focused on issues he is passionate about, such as education.

"When I got to the General Assembly, I learned about so many different issues," he said.

Poisson summed up his first session in the House of Delegates as a humbling one.

For Sen. Mark Herring (D-33), the most surprising thing about joining the state senate weeks before its session ended was how collegial the General Assembly was.

"There was not a lot of heavy partisanship," Herring said. "I was surprised at how helpful everyone was, showing me how to do things. I expected to be on my own a lot more."

Both Herring and Poisson are members of the freshman class in their respective houses and both men had to balance getting oriented with getting things done.

POISSON SERVED on the Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources, and the Militia, Police and Public Safety committees.

During his campaign, Poisson focused on education and transportation.

"Even though I wasn’t assigned to the education committee, I wasn’t disappointed. Not in the least," he said.

Serving on the agriculture and militia committees gave Poisson an opportunity to brush up on a few issues, including the harvesting of menhaden, a herring-like fish, from the Chesapeake Bay.

"It’s a classic environment versus economy case," Poisson said. "You think you have an idea, but you don’t until you’re in the middle of a debate. The reality is each side has a strong case."

To prepare for such debates, Poisson read everything given to him, attended committee hearings and private briefings. He also spoke to delegates familiar with the issues on and off the committees.

Herring was assigned to the General Laws and Technology, the Local Government, and the Rehabilitation and Social Services committees, but his main goal was following through on what he promised the voters.

"I campaigned on the fact that I would spend time on issues that are important to people's every day lives," he said. Herring introduced bills and resolutions that dealt with aiding people during times of natural disasters, notification of assessments and improving retention in the volunteer fire and rescue system.

Having arrived at the Senate Feb. 2 after winning his seat in a special election, Herring missed the deadline for filing bills. Any bills or resolutions he wanted to introduce had to receive unanimous consent or be introduced as a request, so he had to work very quickly.

Although not all of the four pieces of legislation he introduced were passed, he said he was glad that he was able to begin fulfilling his campaign promises immediately.

IN THE House of Delegates, freshmen like Poisson are assigned class mentors.

Poisson looked to Fairfax County delegate Steve Shannon (D-35) as his class mentor.

Second-term delegate Shannon answered Poisson's "how to" questions and served on the agriculture committee, as well.

Reston representative Del. Ken Plum (D-36) provided Poisson with perspective. Plum, in his 13th term, served as Poisson's whip, the delegate he would go to before he voted on anything.

"He is extremely knowledgeable and well-informed on all of the issues," Poisson said.

Herring's arrival in the Senate came after a whirlwind special-election campaign following the resignation of Sen. Bill Mims (R-33). His campaign began Jan. 3 and he was elected four weeks later. He was sworn in Feb. 2, at 10:30 a.m., and began voting on the Senate floor at noon, Sen. Mamie Locke (D-2), who represents the Hampton area, is Herring's desk mate and had to give Herring a crash course in the mechanics of voting.

"I had very little time to tell him, 'OK, this is how you vote,'" she said. "He was thrown into the fray and had to get up to speed on a lot of things really quickly."

Locke said that Herring was a quick study and caught up on things a lot faster than she would have in his position, but Herring gave a lot of the credit to Locke.

"Sen. Locke really took me under her wing," he said. "She told me which button to push and showed me how to vote."

As part of the 'hazing' for first-time members, one of Herring's first bills was struck down by a vote of 1-39, something done to every new senator, Locke said. Locke added that she was really glad to have Herring as a member of the state Senate.

"I told him when he sat down, 'I am so glad you got elected because now somebody else has to make the motion to make 1,000 copies of the governor's [work],'" she said, referring the to duty of the newest senator. "I had been doing it for three and a half years."

BOTH HERRING and Poisson worked with fellow Loudoun County representative Del. Joe T. May (R-33) and May was more than happy to help the legislators get situated in Richmond.

"I would keep Del. Poisson and Sen. Herring apprised of what was going on," May said. "Whenever something was happening that I thought they should know about, I would have my aide call them."

May said he always tries to reach out to new legislators and found both Poisson and Herring very receptive to his overtures.

More than just with legislative issues, May reached out to Herring and Poisson in other ways, he said.

"My aides helped their aides settle into their offices," he said. "Telling them where to find things, like where the copiers are and how to get someone from IT down to work on your computers."

Although both Herring and Poisson are Democrats and May is a Republican, May said that there was never an issue with their affiliation.

"Yes, we sit on opposite sides of the isle, but we sort of ignore that," May said. "I'm not going to change parties, but that doesn't mean we can't be Virginia gentlemen."