On Tuesday, Major League Baseball pauses for its mid-season All-Star Game. In that same spirit, let’s recognize the political all-stars in Virginia who have had notable performances so far this year. Just as both the Yankees and Red Sox have players in Tuesday’s game, we also include politicians who have been on opposite sides on the same issue, but still played starring roles.
Today’s line-up consists of state legislators. It’s a list dominated by Republicans, because our legislative delegation is mostly Republican. On Tuesday, we’ll field a squad of all-star non-legislators.
1. State Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County. Stanley emerged as a champion for renovating or replacing outdated schools, taking up an issue that neither party really wants to talk about. Stanley’s signature proposal — a $3 billion bond issue —was quickly defeated in the General Assembly, but the issue won’t go away. Stanley did manage to get through a different bill that allows schools to partner with solar energy companies to turn schools into solar-energy producers, which might offset some construction costs. It’s a model that’s worked in North Carolina, and stands as an interesting example of a Republican advocating green energy. Stanley also was behind a successful bill that bans Virginia from suspending driver’s licenses simply because of unpaid fines; he argued that made it harder for people to pay off those fines if they couldn’t drive to work.
2. Del. Terry Austin, R-Buchanan. He played a starring role in one of this year’s most significant legislative accomplishment – creating a dedicated funding stream for Interstate 81. He originally co-sponsored a bill calling for tolls. When it became clear that wouldn’t pass, he worked with the governor’s office for an alternative version that raised gas taxes along the I-81 corridor. None of these solutions are perfect, but there were no perfect alternatives, either. Bottom line: People have talked about I-81 for years; Austin helped make something happen.
3. Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge County. The freshman legislator did something most of the Republicans along I-81 didn’t do: He voted for the plan. Voting against it was an easy vote for some; they knew the plan would pass, so they’d be able to preserve their anti-tax credentials while still getting the road improvements. Campbell took the harder route. So did some other I-81 Republicans, but they are all retiring. Campbell will have to face voters again, which makes his vote a profile in courage —and worthy of all-star status.
4. State Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County. Suetterlein has made a name for himself in at least two ways. First, he’s become the Republican version of Henry Howell, the legendary critic of the state’s utilities. He may be Dominion Energy’s least favorite legislator. He’s also the only member of the state Senate who has never accepted any contributions from Dominion. An analysis by the Virginia Public Access Project also found Suetterlein to be the second-most contrarian legislator in Richmond, based on the number of times he was the only vote against something. Or, as some might put the vote, “39 to Suetterlein.” The most contrarian: State Sen. Bill Carico, R-Grayson County, who is retiring.
5. Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington County. O’Quinn doesn’t make many headlines, but this year he made some pretty important policy: He sponsored a very technical bill that allows the state’s utilities to carry lines for broadband internet. That’s important because both Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power are about to start re-wiring their grids, and have an easy opportunity to include broadband lines. The real importance, though, is that this bill makes it a lot easier to extend broadband into hard-to-reach parts of rural Virginia.
6. State Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell County. Rural Virginia facing both economic and demographic challenges: The population is declining and becoming much older, which only accelerates the population decline. The region also lags behind in educational attainment, a key metric in the new economy. To make matters worse, it’s become hard for localities to recruit people in certain fields — science teachers and doctors, for instance. The state’s tobacco commission recently took up a proposal to pay off the debt for people in those fields who agree to move to rural Virginia. Some rural legislators were strangely skeptical, but Chafin spoke up for the proposal — a clutch play worthy of All-Star status.
7. Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott County. Kilgore leads a delegation of coalfield Republicans who have spent a lot of time brainstorming about how to build a new economy in that part of the state. Chafin and O’Quinn have already made the list. If we had a bigger roster, we’d name Dels. Todd Pillion, R-Washington County, and Will Morefield, R-Tazewell County, as well. Kilgore makes the list for being the main mover (along with Chafin) behind a bill to create the Southwest Virginia Energy Research and Development Authority. The goal: To use the authority to make the coalfields the center for next-generation energy research. Coalfield legislators still spend a lot of time talking up coal, but they’re also thinking about what happens after coal. If the authority works, that’s not just All-Star worthy, that’s a Hall of Fame performance.
8. Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg. Hurst has become the most vocal legislative critic of the Mountain Valley Pipeline. He’s called on the Department of Environmental Quality to issue a “stop-work” order. That hasn’t happened, and likely won’t. Hurst’s position might be good politics for a Democrat representing a district that the pipeline crosses, but doesn’t negate the fact that he’s spoken out more critically than almost any other legislator. Sometimes good policy can be good politics, too.
9. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke. The other big pipeline critic in the legislature is Rasoul. His star burns bright in “progressive” circles of the Democratic Party. He’s been the main advocate for a state version of the so-called “Green New Deal,” sponsoring an unsuccessful bill that would have placed a moratorium on state approvals for almost all new energy infrastructure related to fossil fuels beginning in 2020. He also sponsored — again, unsuccessfully — a proposed constitutional amendment to lower the voting age to 16. You need not agree with these measures; they easily fit our definition of stand-out performances.
Coming Tuesday: The non-legislative team.