Some of us recognize the significance of the title,
“Noon on the Second Wednesday in January.” To many people, the words
would mean nothing extraordinary. However, for those with interest in
state government in Virginia, this phrase signifies the annual beginning
of the Virginia General Assembly.
Beginning at noon the second Wednesday of January
each year, 140 legislators and others will begin some of the most intense,
work-filled days of their lives. I know because I have been there.
Before coming to work for the electric cooperatives I
had the pleasure to serve as a member of the Virginia Senate for seven
years. It was truly a pleasure, but it was time consuming, often intense,
frustrating and rewarding. From this date in January for the next two
months, my life was almost totally consumed by the work and activities of
the legislature. While my family and home were five hours away, I lived in
Richmond for at least five days every week.
I was able to be home most weekends, but much of that
time was spent catching-up on my full-time job, first a lawyer and then a
banker. Often constituents would want to meet with me while I was in my
Those two months were packed. I was in my legislative
office in Richmond every morning by at least 7:30 (if I didn’t have a
breakfast to attend) and often I did not return to my hotel room until 9
or 10 that night. During that time, we considered and debated over 3,000
bills and met with hundreds of constituents, lobbyists, reporters, state
staff and others. It was intense, but almost always productive.
My point in telling you about this period of my life
is to remind all of us of two very important truths.
First, these activities that begin this month are
very important to all of us as citizens and businesses in Virginia. The
laws and resulting regulations that will be changed or added in this
session will impact us in how we conduct our lives and our businesses.
They should reflect our values and our beliefs.
Discerning those values and beliefs can be very
difficult and often contentious. We all share many common values, but we
also have many different opinions about the specifics of those beliefs and
how they should be reflected in our laws. The debate over those
differences is important and it is what makes our state and country the
free land that it is today. All of us, from the floors of the Senate and
House to the armchairs in our living rooms, need to be aware of these
debates and should take the opportunity to express our beliefs and
We can do this by writing letters to newspapers, to
our representatives in Richmond, by talking with them and their staffs
about our ideas, and by our voting each November. And as part of a
member-owned, democratic business, you can also participate through your
local electric cooperative. Your co-op and 12 others across Virginia own
and operate an association that vigorously looks out for the interests of
co-op members as the General Assembly considers passing new laws or
amending existing ones. Through Cooperative Living magazine and other
communications from your co-op, you can keep up with issues, and get
involved as and to the degree you see fit.
Together, we can have a very strong voice. Separately
as individuals, we may hardly be noticed. Today, unity is more important
than ever. There are fewer and fewer legislators who live in small
communities like the majority of our cooperative members. That requires us
to join each other and similar organizations to become a strong and
noticed voice for rural areas and growing suburban areas.
My second point is that, just like I was 14 years ago
when I was sworn in as a member of the Virginia Senate, all of our
legislators are citizens just like you and me. They are husbands, wives,
parents, homeowners, housewives, professionals, employers and employees.
The majority of them are also working a full-time job while trying to make
important decisions for the Commonwealth.
This reminds us that we need to be aware of their
time constraints. They generally want to hear from all of their
constituents, but not necessarily at the same time, and perhaps not at
dinnertime on their few weekends at home.
More importantly, it reminds us that our 140
legislators are ordinary citizens. That means that almost any of us could
be elected to state office. As employers, are we willing to let an
employee have the time from work necessary to participate in the process
of government? It is truly a sacrifice of time for the employee as well as
the employer. But it is an important gift of time.
And, it is a gift to the future of our great
there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different
view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending
comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org,
or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded
to the author.