Ken Plum: A different approach
A former Virginia legislator who was removed as a member of the Appropriations Committee by the Speaker of the House because of disagreements they had over budget issues was quoted as saying, “he can take away where I sit, but he cannot take away where I stand.”
While the legislative process is supposed to be about compromise for the common good, it has become less of that at all levels of government in recent years. Of course, legislators have personal values that dictate the way they think and act. At the same time there are strong pressures from political parties and party caucuses and by highly organized and well-funded interest groups seeking ideological purity that determine political outcomes. All these factors make it increasingly difficult for an individual legislator to be successful in getting significant legislation passed. There is a limit to how much a single legislator can trade, persuade or cajole other legislators into doing.
My successful effort on major legislative initiatives has been to take a different approach. From the beginning of my representation of the greater Reston and western Fairfax area it was obvious to me that an adequate transportation system for the region would be one of our greatest challenges. I voted for significant funding increases in 1986 and 2013 that were successful and for other funding enhancements that were not successful. I became convinced early on that the long-term solutions would be in mass transit and not simply roads. The challenge became selling a multi-billion dollar mega-transit system that became known first as rail in the Dulles Corridor and now the Silver Line. I knew that I could not do the task alone. I turned to the community at large and the business community by organizing the Dulles Corridor Rail Association (DCRA) nearly twenty years ago. I was alone as a public official lobbying for Dulles Rail in the beginning, but with the successful work done in advocacy the first phase of the project will open by the end of the year, and almost all public officials heartily endorse it. I had to organize my own pressure group.
When it was clear that Gov. McDonnell was not going to support the expansion of Medicaid in Virginia because of his opposition to the Affordable Care Act, I knew that I could not singularly convince him. I joined with advocacy groups, including interfaith groups, to increase pressure on legislators to approve the Medicaid expansion without the Governor. Workshops were held throughout the state and I participated in a couple of them. I used my extensive file of email addresses to encourage about 2500 individuals to call or write the Governor and key legislators to express their support. Some legislators got as many as 1400 emails on a single weekend. Working outside the legislature to bring community pressure worked in bringing about the desired outcome.
As I look at the challenging issue of gun violence I realize it too will require a different approach. That’s why I have joined with organized citizen groups in demonstrating on the National Mall and at NRA headquarters supporting universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons. I encourage others to join in this approach as well–to write, phone, and demonstrate to ensure that there is a satisfactory response to this most important issue. There are many different organizations lobbying for sensible gun control.
I will continue to work hard to effectively represent my constituents. When the task is too great for a single legislator, I will not hesitate to organize persons in the community and to participate with others who are working on behalf of causes I believe my constituents support. It is a different but effective approach.
Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.