HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — It’s said in politics, to the victor goes the spoils. This year in Virginia, republicans are controlling the House of Delegates and the Senate. There are some 3,000 bills submitted for action this session, and many of them affect your daily life.
This year is a bit different, instead of another part of the state much of the power and influence is coming from right here in Hampton Roads. Call it the 757 Factor. 10 On Your Side interviewed four of the power brokers in this year’s General Assembly.
The first thing you need to know, they don’t like to say they are power brokers, but when you define a Power Broker as “a person who exerts strong political or economic influence by virtue of the individuals and votes he or she controls,” it is indisputable that these four Committee Chairmen have the political influence that will mold this General Assembly Session.
“Indisputable, yes. We certainly do have a lot of seniority for this area, and I think Hampton Roads will stead well for this seniority,” says State Senator Frank Wagner (R) Virginia Beach.
Seniority means power in Richmond, and Senator Wagner has it as the new Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, “I guess by the virtue of seniority, I am in a better position to build influence, help influence decisions, and help build consensus by virtue of seniority.”
Sen. Wagner will help influence directing $350 million dollars to the economic engine known as the Norfolk International Terminal. That’s the port and is one of three major economic drivers in Virginia along with defense and tourism.
“Yes, that’s right I’m the gatekeeper, yes? That is correct,” says Delegate Chris Jones (R) Suffolk. Other than Speaker of the House Bill Howell, Delegate Chris Jones could hold the #2 Power in the House as Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
WAVY met with him in his legislative office which is in a back room of his Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy, “This is a draft copy of the Governor’s amendments to the budget we got three weeks ago,” Del. Jones said. Jones will direct how over $40 billion dollars of your tax dollars are spent. “A good example is K-12 education, how we spend lottery funds, categorical funding, what we do for higher education, try to moderate tuition costs,” Del. Jones said.
Jones’ committee has the power to kill Governor Terry McAuliffe’s budget amendment for $157 million dollars to expand Medicaid. He says that amendment is dead, “that will come out…he’s not going to get it…no he’s not going to get it. That is not going to happen,” Jones said with a great deal of confidence.
Del. Ron Villanueva (R) Virginia Beach said the power brokers of Hampton Roads show, “Hampton Roads has strong leadership. We have a voice.”
Del. Villanueva’s meteoric rise in the House of Delegates lands him as Chairman of the House Transportation Committee which impacts almost everyone. “I think it makes sure Hampton Roads is visible, and has a seat at the table. We are making sure that in any transportation decision Hampton Roads is part of that mix.”
“I think there will be some renewed attention to Hampton Roads projects and tax dollars, so I am optimistic in that regard,” says perhaps the most powerful of all the delegation State Senator Tommy Norment (R) James City County. “You lead by leading not by following, and when you lead, you sometimes get arrows in the back, and that’s what you get through the legislative process.”
Norment is not only Co-Chairman of Senate Finance, but he is also Senate Majority Leader.
Norment’s the first to hold both positions since 1995 when the late Hampton Senator Hunter B. Andrews ruled the General Assembly. He was the only Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in his day. “Hampton Roads has not had the political muscle for a number of years. I am delighted that we now find ourselves in a position of legislative strength,” Norment added.