by Stephen D. Haner
I was very flattered that the U.S. Navy arranged that parade of ships just to mark my departure from Newport News Shipbuilding last month.
I’m kidding, of course, because the recent demonstration of naval firepower out in the Pacific (pictured above) was arranged for Dear Leader Kim and his friends Vladimir and Xi. But it is such a magnificent image I had to share it. I don’t think enough Virginians know that all three of those nuke carriers were built right here in the Old Dominion, along with the other eight in the fleet. And many of the nuclear submarines submerged around that task force are also Virignia-built.
Virginia’s most famous product is not peanuts or tobacco.
Virginia builds naval supremacy.
Shipbuilders come and go from the shipyard every day – most with far more than my 12 years of service — and a lobbyist is far less important and far easier to replace than a nuclear-qualified welder. I stole that line from the CEO, who is fond of saying even his job is easier to fill than some of the specialty jobs on the waterfront.
When I started, they issued me a Blackberry, and I joked that it was a leash. “No,” the vice president dryly responded. “This is a nautical company. That’s a tether.” The tether later became a smartphone, but it has never been more than a few feet away in the past 12 years except for two trips overseas. It has been gone almost a month now and I still reach for it.
And it was a tether. My relationship with Bacon’s Rebellion started long before I got hired by the yard, but I quickly discovered that the yard was off limits for my commentary. As a former reporter and political communicator my lobbying style has always involved working with the media, and in my first session I had a routine discussion with a local reporter about a routine bill. When my quotes appeared in the Daily Press, the negative reaction was swift and instructive.
So I have never discussed the shipyard on Bacon’s Rebellion and rarely mentioned it. Now that I’m an ex-shipbuilder that may change a bit, at least with regard to its general operations and its products and its importance to the Virginia economy. Somebody else will be responsible for communicating its views to the General Assembly and the state executive branch. I may use this space from time to time to share with you some of the things I learned working in that marvelous place with so many dedicated people building the most complicated machines in the world.
Reports of my retirement are like the reports of Twain’s death – premature. I may handle a few more clients in the coming years. But the shipyard is fading from sight off the fantail.
Stephen D. Haner, principal of Black Walnut Strategies, is a Richmond-based lobbyist.