At the end of his first term as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, Del. David Englin (D-45) can point to eight bills that he successfully shepherded through the sausage-making factory of legislation in Richmond. Considering that the House is under Republican control, former Del. Marian Van Landingham said that Englin’s record as a freshman legislator is one that voters in the 45th District can be proud of.
"I would say that eight bills is an impressive accomplishment for a freshman legislator in the minority," said Van Landingham, who represented the 45th District from 1982 to 2006. "And his voting record is right in line for what you would expect from a representative from Alexandria."
The eight bills with Englin’s name as the chief patron include a wide array of policy changes and new proposals:
— allowing patients to receive visits from individuals regardless of marital status or gender
— giving elderly citizens a way to avoid being kicked out of rental housing during a condo conversion
— requiring local governments to inform residents when federal floodplain maps change
— authorizing local governments to participate in a prescription drug discount program
— increasing campaign-finance disclosure requirements
— closing a loophole that allowed employers to pay less than the minimum wage to seniors
— improving Virginia’s statewide brain and spinal cord registry
— allowing Arlington County powers to increase County Board salaries.
"If you take a shotgun approach to legislating, something will stick," said Republican City Committee Chairman Chris Marston, adding that Englin was able to pass only eight of 30 bills with his name listed as chief patron. "There was only one bill he passed that had any controversy associated with it. The rest were all unanimous often technical corrections and not substantive."
ENGLIN’S BILL TO authorize local governments to participate in a drug-discount program offered by the National Association of Counties was a narrow victory in the House, where it passed 51 to 47 even though it later had unanimous support in the Senate. Marston questioned the effectiveness of the plan and wondered if it would make any impact in the complicated world of health-care reform. He admitted that many of Englin’s other measures were worthwhile efforts although criticized them as "not setting the world on fire."
Furthermore, Marston added, a recent review of all Richmond legislators by a business coalition known as Virginia Free rated Englin’s effectiveness at 36 percent — the lowest rating given by the organization to any member of the House of Delegates. According to an explanation of the methodology used by Virginia Free 2007 evaluation, Englin’s 36-percent effectiveness rating was tallied from a group of "government-affairs professionals" who are asked to complete a confidential survey evaluating "how effective each legislator is in accomplishing his or her legislative objections — without regard to the legislator’s position on business issues."
"It’s a survey of an unknown number of unnamed lobbyists using questionable methodology to produce murky results at best," said Shayna Englin, wife of the candidate and campaign manager of what supporters call Team Englin. "In the face of a highly effective first term, this is the Republican response? I don’t think we have a lot to worry about."
DEMOCRATS SAY they have little to worry about in the 45th District, where Democratic voters form a clear majority. The last Republican to hold the seat was David Speck — and he later became a Democrat. Englin said that his strategy for the upcoming fall campaign will be to remind voters of the eight bills he was able to pass during his freshman term. Taking a break from campaigning one recent afternoon, Englin took issue with Mark Allen’s criticism that the freshman was "out of the mainstream" on issues like gay marriage. Englin received a fair amount of press on the issue when he delivered an impassioned floor speech in the opening hours of the 2006 session, and opposition to discrimination against gays has become a signature issue for him after he vocally opposed an amendment to Virginia’s Constitution that would prevent recognition of gay marriages from other states.
"Alexandria’s voters deserve to be heard on issues that are important to them," said Englin, noting that a majority of the voters he’s spoken with support gay rights. "To say that I’m out of step is dismissive and frankly disrespectful to a majority of voters whose interests I’m representing in Richmond."
If reelected, Englin said, he would have a full agenda for the next term. He said his future legislative goals include making housing more affordable, strengthening public education, lowering the cost of health care and protecting the environment. One of his objectives for the upcoming session is to support allowing all Virginians to watch the House of Delegates live on the General Assembly’s Web site — a technology currently being used in the Senate but not the House. Speaker William Howell killed Englin’s bill in the Rules Committee by refusing to allow legislators to even consider the measure.
"This is a democracy, and our government derives its rights from the consent of the governed," said Englin. "How else can people make choices if they don’t know what’s going on in Richmond?"