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Merricks set to step aside
Delegate won’t miss ‘political side of politics’
Outgoing Del. Don Merricks, front, is shown in 2007 with the man he succeeded in the Virginia House of Delegates, now 5th District U.S. Rep Robert Hurt. (Bulletin photo)
Sunday, December 22, 2013
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Del. Don Merricks said he has tried hard to represent everyone living in the 16th District, not just his fellow Republicans or people who share his opinions.
Nearing the end of his sixth and final year in the state House, Merricks said he never expected everyone to agree with all of his viewpoints. For that reason, he always tried to justify his positions on issues, he said.
Merricks, of Pittsylvania County, chose not to seek re-election in November so he could devote more attention to his business.
He expects to miss helping his constituents resolve personal issues tied to state government and, to some degree, associating with other lawmakers.
But “I’m not going to miss the political side of politics,” such as lawmakers who cooperate only with members of their own parties, Merricks said.
The way politics has become in recent years, one party will put forth an agenda that is “going to be stonewalled” by the other party, he observed.
It amounts to “acting like a bunch of third-graders,” said Merricks. In that sense, “we’re beginning to see Washington trickle down a bit” to the state level.
Despite his disdain for the politics of politics, Merricks said Republican versus Democrat squabbles are not the biggest hindrance to Southside in getting what it needs from state government, but rather rural versus urban battles for resources.
Legislators look out for the interests of their constituencies, and the number of legislative seats an area is allocated is based on population. So urban areas with larger populations receive more seats in the legislature than less populous rural areas, according to Merricks.
He gave this example: Pittsylvania County, the largest county by area in Virginia, has a population of about 63,500, census figures show. Fairfax County, which is near Washington, D.C., is roughly half the size of Pittsylvania but has about 1.1 million people. Fairfax is represented by 17 delegates; Pittsylvania is represented by two.
“Rural representation is diminishing,” Merricks said, which makes it important for lawmakers from rural areas to “work across the aisle” so members of both major parties understand needs of rural areas and will work to fund them.
Merricks, 61, has served three two-year terms. His House district includes Martinsville and parts of Henry and Pittsylvania counties.
He succeeded Robert Hurt, who was elected to the state Senate and now represents Virginia’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Merricks and his wife, Patti, own J.W. Squire Co., a Danville firm that sells building products.
Having to frequently travel around the district and to Richmond, it has been hard for him to manage the business, he admitted.
“I’ve felt like the guy in the circus who’s keeping the plates spinning,” he said, adding that the plates are starting to get wobbly.
Merricks said he grew up in a “lower middle income” family and never envisioned entering politics, which he perceived was mainly the domain of wealthier people, such as attorneys.
But when Hurt ran for the Senate, Merricks said Hurt, former state Sen. Charles Hawkins and Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, encouraged him to run for Hurt’s seat in the House.
Merricks decided to run because he wanted to bring a businessman’s perspective to state government, he said.
Of utmost importance to him, he indicated, has been getting laws passed that will encourage businesses to locate in Virginia, particularly Southside, and/or create jobs and otherwise be successful. (See related story.)
“Everyone’s impatient” in wanting the region to attract more businesses, Merricks said. “I’m impatient, too.”
But to get companies, the infrastructure they need — such as workforce training programs — must be put into place, he said.
The New College Institute, Patrick Henry Community College and other area post-secondary schools need all the resources they can get to provide more training opportunities, according to Merricks.
In recent years, there has been an emphasis on people earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees to get high-paying jobs, he said.
But “there are plenty of jobs out there” that require some level of training beyond high school, but not a degree from a four-year college, and pay well, he said — if people can be trained to do those jobs.
Merricks said he thinks his successor, Chatham lawyer Les Adams, will do a good job representing Southside if, in working for constituents, “he’ll just be Les, not what everybody wants you to be.”
Adams is “very conscientious and gives things (such as political issues) a lot of thought,” Merricks said.
Merricks added that he has no plans to re-enter politics.
“Never say never,” he said, “but right now it’s not on my radar screen.”