By Steve Haner
Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, came to the General Assembly in the 1991 election, as part of a large GOP class that included future Governor Bob McDonnell, future Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Bill Mims, future U.S. House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor and current State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment.
Those names probably produce a mix of reactions with readers, but if you take the job of legislator seriously there will be bumps in the road and controversy. People will cheer you sometimes and cuss you other times. Like the others listed above, Wagner has taken the job seriously. Nobody gets mad at the back-benchers, but years later people also strain to remember them.
Combine Wagner’s legislative success with his Navy career and his experience building a ship repair company, and Wagner is extremely well prepared to be Virginia’s next governor. If he gets there, I’m confident he will think long-term and value good policy. He will have my vote June 13 and I hope I get a chance to vote for him again in November.
A third of a century watching the doings in Richmond has taught me that governors do matter. When big things happen, good or bad, it is usually with the governor doing the pushing and the pulling.
But what governors propose the legislature must dispose. If Wagner does not get a chance to move into the mansion and pick his own brew for the kegerator, he will remain chair of a key Senate committee and a member of the budget conference committee. The next governor (if smart) will be calling Wagner as often or more than Wagner will be calling that new governor.
The power in Richmond abides with the Assembly. This was on my mind as I listened to a tribute Monday to retiring Speaker of the House Sen. Bill Howell, R-Stafford. I doubt he would trade his two decades as speaker for one term as governor, and few governors in my experience have had greater impact on the lives of Virginians than Howell has. And yes, some people have cussed a time or two.
The General Assembly takes its lumps on this blog, with one contributor in particular comparing it to the Ringling Brothers’ clown corps. Me, I always liked the clown acts. Emmett Kelly. Lou Jacobs. Reflecting on my own time inside the tent, holding safety ropes, scooping poop, hawking cotton candy, enjoying the view from ringside, it is the legislators I’ve known who come to mind. That Class of 1991 turned out extremely well. But as a rule, every legislator I’ve known had the ability to make a contribution, had some issue they understood well, had their own shot at the center ring. Most were and are remarkable in some way. Virginia has been better served than many realize.
Sure it’s a circus, and there are clowns, but look up there above the center ring. Now it’s Frank out there walking the high wire hoping for stardom and risking a big fall. t the other end of the wire is another performer who climbed up from the sawdust, Ralph Northam. That’s the show we all came to see.
Steve Haner is a lobbyist who is the principal of Black Walnut Strategies.