We’ve long had concerns about how well the voices of citizens in Henry and Patrick counties were being heard in Richmond – and Washington, too, for that matter – and now those voices might require a shout that winds up simply being an echo.
That the region is represented in the General Assembly entirely by four Republicans who don’t live in either county is the foundation for our concern, because in our view residence means commitment when it comes to arguing issues of local importance.
That none of the delegation was “one of us” has been mitigated somewhat because our representatives in the Senate and House had the power. Republicans controlled the majority of both, and thus their views and tactics carried the day. We had purchase in the discussion, even if the ultimate decisions didn’t always equate to what was best for the public.
But as of Tuesday that’s no longer the case. Our four – Senator Bill Stanley and Delegates Les Adams, Danny Marshall and Charles Poindexter – are among the minority. Democrats took control, and now, working with Gov. Ralph Northam, the priority and approach to issues will change swiftly. And our group could wind up speechless.
You will see quickly adjustments for funding priorities – if they help schools and roads and infrastructure needs, that’s good – and philosophical emphasis will shift. Northam has already had a meeting to develop his punch list.
One of the first things you will see is a revisiting of that special session on gun control that Northam had called following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach. He wanted action from a group that did not exactly do much more than talk after an even worse rampage at Virginia Tech more than a decade ago.
But Republicans last summer, having all the power, circumvented the special session, ordering a study of the issue and gaveling the session to reconvene after the election. That’s where we are, and laws about controlling the processes of licensing weapons, among other things, will get immediate review. And you can bet that will wait until after the new legislature is seated.
All four members of our delegation had been staunchly opposed to strengthening background checks and instituting red-flag laws and other mechanisms to try to avoid putting lethal weapons in the wrong hands. We don’t understand that reluctance, given how many people tend to die when one of these shooters takes aim at schools or concerts or a bar.
Heck, even Florida managed some stricter rules after the killing of 17 at Parkland, Fla., on Valentine’s Day 2018. Why would any lawmaker – no matter how many guns he or she owns – not want to take a look at reasonable adjustments? Now our group will be forced to stand up on this issue but have little to no voice on how those issues are defined. Will they represent your interests?
Those legislative agendas passed by our local government officials – especially encouraging changes in rules on the “reversion” process that the city of Martinsville is evaluating – are just pieces of paper now. Your group can’t take any of those ideas and accomplish anything unless Democrats want them to do so.
Ironically, one of the set-aside concepts that will re-emerge is legislative redistricting. Before these races are run again, a census will be conducted, and new district lines reviewed and drawn. Perhaps a new process even will be in place that makes such drawings nonpartisan.
Then perhaps we can find a way to limit the “attachment” of voters in Henry and Patrick counties to those in so many surrounding counties. (And don’t even get us started on U.S. Rep. Denver Riggleman’s Idaho-shaped 5th District, which includes a slice of Henry County.)
Maybe our counties can be the dominant area in a district. Maybe we can have a neighbor will seek a role.
After all, the bottom line is that our residents’ voices should be heard. That’s now a little more difficult.