Bye, Bye, GAB

by Steve Haner

Okay, I admit that particular sign was not in that particular frame until I got creative.

Today was the big flea market/yard sale of stuff in the General Assembly Building. Senate Room B is a location of many pleasant and painful memories for me over four decades (heading toward session #34) so I bought the agenda frame from beside the door for five bucks, figuring to make it a picture frame or put my own sign in it for the vanity wall.

Then I superimposed it over other signs around the building reminding people to not just walk off with their prints, lamps, nameplates, direction signs, chairs and desks.

Am I implying that things have been for sale all along in Senate Finance or Senate Commerce and Labor? Heaven forbid. Not my intention at all. Am I implying that the decisions in that room cost people real money? That, I will admit.

I guess I first walked into the GAB to cover State Board of Social Services meetings for the Roanoke Times in the early ’80s. I had covered the Robb inauguration in 1982 but I don’t remember going into the GAB that weekend. It really became the center of my working life in January 1985 when I started covering the session start to finish.

The biggest yard sale in Richmond.

The affection so many of us have for that building, with all its flaws, is akin to the affection that sailors and shipbuilders have for the hunks of steel that ride the waves. Lifeless? Don’t believe it. Ships have personalities, souls even, and the GAB has been a part of the legislative process. No bodies are really buried there, but thousands of dreams, careers and grand illusions have expired there.

It will not be the same in the temporary quarters in the Pocahontas Building, and the new building will need to create its own aura. The play matters but so does the stage. A new stage will change the play.

All of us will have to learn once again where the quieter bathrooms are, what back staircase leads to which corner of the building, what exit a legislator might use to avoid a lurking lobbyist, who rates a locker in the wide hallway and who gets relegated to the basement. Which offices always have cookies. Where to have a quiet word unobserved or where to go if you want to be seen with somebody to start the gossip. Long forgotten (but once crucial):  where to find a pay phone or even a free phone where you can plug in a mojo wire (see: Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing at Ninth and Broad”).

So many of you on the blog love to disparage the Assembly and the process, but you’re wrong. It is very human, with all that means, and I accept no whining from people who have not actually worked it for a while. It was nice to see so many lined up to buy some stuff to keep the memories alive. Sales tax was applied.

Steven Haner, a lobbyist, is the principal of Black Walnut Strategies. 

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6 responses to “Bye, Bye, GAB

  1. so… a real cynic .. maybe like DJ – will say…” nothing to see here, move along… just more of the same folks who picked Bernie Madoff’s nostalgic bones… 😉

    nothing is sacred anymore… 😉

  2. “I accept no whining from people who have not actually worked it for a while.”

    Of course you don’t. You’re a lobbyist. It’s your job to be a shill for the political status quo. Lifetime politicians are like bacteria. Lobbyists are like the mucous bacteria exude in an effort to isolate themselves from the ravaging white blood cells coming to defend the body from the harm of a dangerous infection. Your logic is effectively “unless you’re a bacterium (or the mucous created by bacteria) you shouldn’t comment on bacteria”. Fortunately for us simple people there were two Virginians who lived far from the Gomorrah of liberty known as Richmond. The first was George Mason who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The second was James Madison who ensured that the philosophy behind Mason’s declaration made it into the US Constitution. They both had the brilliance to foresee tyrannical, anti-Democratic organizations like the Virginia General Assembly. And they both knew that minions of those tyrants would try to stifle free expression and the ability of the people to petition government for redress of grievances. They were effectively penicillin. I guess it’s no wonder why the City of Richmond lines its street with statues of the failed icons of attempted tyranny (Virginians from outside Richmond) rather than the successful definers of liberty (also Virginians from outside Richmond). I mean – would our General Assembly rather gaze on Robert E. Lee gallantry riding off to unconditional surrender or James Madison casting a perpetual warning glare toward the Pocahontas Building? Tyrants love tyrants and losers love losers so Lee gets the nod.

    Also, I love the name of the new building – the Pocahontas Building. How did Amanoute (the name she was actually called) come into contact with the very Christian founders of the First Families of Virginia? She was kidnapped as a 17 year old girl and held for ransom. Ah, a building named after a girl kidnapped by Virginia officials standing in the shadow of statues of soldiers who fought to defend the institution of slavery. How quaint. Once enslaved, what happened to Pocahontas (I guess I’ll use her slave name from now on, because that’s effectively what she was)? At 18 (a year after her enslavement) she was married off to 29-year-old John Rolfe and given yet another slave name – Rebecca. She had a son and was taken to England to be paraded around as a curiosity so the London nobility could revel in the cleverness of the Virginia nobility. She died in England at age 21 of “unknown causes”. This time, no doubt, from the effects of actual bacteria from which the Native American daughter of a Chief had no immunity. I guess it’s only fitting to name the new governmental building after one of the earlier victims of that very government. Well done.

  3. Don’t tell my momma I’m a lobbyist. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.

    Jeez, Rippert, what a riff that was. Last time I checked Mason and Madison were neck deep in the General Assembly at points in their lives and I hope they wouldn’t have disappointed you by compromising or looking out for other planters or mingling with the likes of me (Remember, Ben Franklin was….a lobbyist!) I think you will find Madison’s bust inside the Capitol Rotunda and Mason is outside the Capitol on the Washington Memorial. Right there in the heart of darkness.

    • Gotta admit it to myself, that was one of my most colorful rants since I started commenting and writing for this blog over 10 years ago. I knew I should have taken my meds before I started typing. “But Momma, that’s where the fun is” as The Boss once wrote.

      Virginia was doing great … for a while. But then the “outsiders” (Madison, Mason, Jefferson, Washington, Monroe) left for national office and the state became “Richmondized”. Less about the good people of River City and more about an insiders cabal rather than the best and brightest from around the state. From one of the two top colonies / original states in the 1770s to a place on a downward slide starting about 1820. From an historical perspective that truly is “15 minutes of fame”.

      As for Franklin – what didn’t he do? Guess the guy just couldn’t hold a job. Kind of explains that attempted suicide with the kite and the lightning storm.

      So, Lobbyist Haner – you must know this in your biz – where might one procure some Pappy van Winkle at less that usurious prices? Inquiring minds want to know. I hear you guys hand out bottles of that stuff like they bottles of warm Mountain Dew.

  4. My taste buds couldn’t differentiate it from Jim Beam or Wild Turkey (when I’m feeling flush).

  5. Thanks for Haner’s piece. It’s a (needed) reminder that our reps are real people — not the clowns they so often appear to be — doing hard work.

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