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Column: Off to Do the People’s Work in Richmond

Our long-time state legislators—Delegate Ken Plum and State Senator Janet Howell—always begin the Reston new year with their (not really a) town hall get-together for constituents. They invite us to come and talk about the upcoming Virginia General Assembly session in Richmond when all 100 delegates and 40 senators convene for 45 or 60 days to consider thousands of new laws promoting the general welfare and a bright future for all Virginians.

This year 50 or 60 Restonians showed up, mostly moderate to liberal folks, to listen and to plead for common-sense legislation to solve problems. This year, people appealed for action to slow the spread of weapons of war and the killing they bring. They had good suggestions, such as banning assault weapons and closing the infamous gun show background check loophole. One person suggested that anyone purchasing a gun be held liable if it is used in a crime. Others argued for increased funding for the education of our youth. And one group of residents again appealed for support to continue the operation of Virginia’s shrinking training centers for severely intellectually handicapped people. These folks are a classic example of people with a just cause engaged in a David and Goliath struggle with a government which serves the wealthy and the powerful. But watch out for these folks, they are determined and organized.

Sen. Howell and Del. Plum sympathize but can offer little promise of success in a legislature pretty much controlled by the new breed Republicans and backed by a right wing governor and a real frothing-at-the-mouth attorney general running to be governor. Howell and Plum shrug their shoulders a lot, offering few suggestions for advancing positive laws until the legislature’s composition changes, i.e., until more Democrats are elected. What they don’t say is how little Democrats are doing to bring about change. Incumbents of both parties work first and foremost to retain their own seats. In the last election cycle, Democrats ran only 52 candidates for 100 House of Delegates seats and 27 for the 40 Senate seats. That is, the party ran candidates for just one of every four House seats not filled by a Democrat and for only seven of 20 Republican-held Senate seats. Until they get serious, Howell and Plum will have only bad news for constituents.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly will continue to waste time and taxpayer money on 3,000 or so bills, most of which are not even read by many of the peoples’ representatives. Worse, the assembly will pass hundreds of them to promote the general welfare by, for example: setting a limit on how youths may wear their pants; assuring that every Virginian can buy unlimited numbers of handguns or other firearms for export to New York; assuring that Virginians can carry loaded guns into bars to facilitate fellowship and dispute resolution; and, guaranteeing that pregnant women are subjected to ultra probes. Be assured that before the 2013 General Assembly session ends, Virginia will again be a national laughing stock for some law(s) the gang in Richmond is pondering.