David Cox | Richmond is for lovers?
You could almost feel the love. It was Valentine’s Day at the General Assembly Building in Richmond: Never let it be said that our legislature is invariably behind the times, for it was celebrating two days ahead of everyone else. Doors were decorated. Candy sat on tables outside nearly every office. Sweetness, if not light, abounded.
Such was my good fortune to hang around our Capitol. A class of Virginia political junkies that somehow included me was reuning that day while seeing how our government really works. I gleaned new insights.
It doesn’t just run on chocolate, though that helps. Relationships, on the other hand, matter; and if they’re sweetened by a few Hershey’s Kisses, so much the better.
For one thing, it’s as though you can see just about anyone there. I rounded the corner of the assembly’s office building to visit with Emmett Hanger’s aide, and lo and behold, there was a delegation from our local school system waiting to see the senator himself. A bit later, a friend and I were waiting for an elevator in the capitol: doors opened, and out strode the Governor of Virginia. Just being there makes sometimes more difference than one would ever expect.
For another, you really can talk with these people. They may not agree, but at least most will listen. When Gov. Kaine asked why I was there, I rattled off what concerned me, and in one case he said what he hoped would happen. Aides to legislators dutifully recorded my thoughts. I met with some officials in a state department about some local matters involving the state; not only could I get in to see them, they comprehended what the problem was and had already begun to address one situation.
For all the maligning of “bureaucrats” and “politicians” — in which I confess to sharing, especially when frustrated by some boneheaded act — one gets the impression that these are people who truly do care about the welfare of the Commonwealth. Many, indeed, could earn far higher salaries other than at the public trough. And thus, they want to do a good job, and they recognize that hearing from the public contributes to that good job they want to do.
Sure, there are enough of their ilk to perpetuate the negative stereotypes; and I’ve seen my fill of them, too. But those who deal with the public have probably seen enough of the other side: the complainers, the whiners, the rudeniks, the threateners, those who expect miracles, those who demand nothing less than instant and total agreement.
In the end, actually talking with the people who make up our government can really advance a cause. It helps if the position is well-considered or the problem a legitimate one. As well, virtues like patience, civility, kindness, a bit of understanding of what the other person faces, and just plain courtesy can go far in resolving what difficulties we face.
Always? No. Some things for reasons good or bad cannot be done, and on some issues, people honestly disagree, and the disagreements can get heated.
But if the discourse is civil and respectful, surprising things can emerge. Like bipartisanship. Creativity. Problem-solving. A sense of trust in government.
So do you have a concern? First, calm down; think it through; compose your thoughts. Then go to Richmond, in person, by letter, e-mail, or phone. Share the issue, clearly, forthrightly, but understanding there may be more sides to the story. And if things don’t work out as you wish, remember that neither Rome nor Richmond was built in a day: be persistent and, if all else fails, remember there’s always an election coming up.
But as your mamma always said, be nice
You don’t even have to bring chocolate.
– Column by David Cox