Vienna Connection reports on Delegate Keam's legislative session
Bipartisanship helps get things done.Â Thursday, March 17, 2011
First-term Delegate Mark Keam (D-35) said he is pleased with the results of the General Assembly's recently concluded 2011 session. Of the 17 bills for which Keam was the chief patron or co-chief patron, six passed (and a seventh was folded into another bill that also passed).
Keam was also pleased because he felt that Democrats and Republicans worked well together to serve their constituents throughout Virginia. Connection visited with Keam last week and asked him to assess the session.
Q: What would you consider the biggest successes of the session this year?
Keam: I'm very excited to have been able to pass six bills and a couple of budget amendments this year. The six bills were all passed unanimously in the House and the Senate, so that was, for me, considered a pretty big accomplishment. I have no idea how well my colleagues did — Democrats or Republicans — by class, but I've been told by people who follow the General Assembly that they thought I did extremely well for my class, so I feel good about that.
But more importantly, I feel good because these are bills that really can help people. I mean, like health care for jobs, tax relief for senior citizens and regulator relief for small businesses. These are bills that I think really can help people who face certain problems. So I'm glad to be able to do something in this job… The reason I ran for office is to help people, and I feel like I'm actually doing that through legislation. I feel very good about that.
Q: What would you consider your biggest disappointments?
Keam: I wouldn't say it's a disappointment at all. I'd say the vast majority — 99 percent — of all the things that I was able to experience in the session was positive. The only thing I guess I was disappointed in was that the session came and went so fast, and I didn't get the chance to spend as much time learning about new issues and really digging into the policy discussions.
We've had a lot of issues that were very important to the commonwealth, dealing with health care issues, the budget, the pension, the long-term liability of our pension system, educational concerns — very, very big issues that affect lives. We just don't have as much time to sit there and really analyze and study it.
Hearings come and go so fast. We have just enough time to read a bill before we vote on it. I feel like the design of the General Assembly being a part-time legislature — in particular, the short session versus the long session — it just doesn't give us enough time to really learn the issues as well as we should. That's not something I can fix myself, but it is one of the areas where I wish that the system weren't so limited.
Q: What was your single most important contribution to the session this year?
Keam: This isn't going to be a typical answer, but I think my biggest contribution to the General Assembly and to the process is my willingness and my desire to just get things done. To a point where I was being criticized by some of my supporters in my party, I try my best to be bipartisan.
I try my best to be non-partisan because I really wanted to focus on just moving beyond the rhetoric and the tags and the personal attacks across parties that happen all the time, to really focus on resolving and accomplishing things together and moving forward with people saying, "OK, well, let's agree to disagree on this, but let's look for some common ground."
I really try my best to do that because I think people expect that of us. People want us to work together. The government tends to focus on core functions, and one maybe symbolic way that we've accomplished [working together] is the fact that when we passed the budget this year, it was passed unanimously in both the House and the Senate. One hundred House members and 40 senators all agreed, even though during the process there were all kinds of amendments and bills that were voted differently.
When it passed, it was all by a unanimous [vote], and the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Lacey Putney, said that in his 50 years of service in the General Assembly — he's the longest-serving state legislator — in 50 years, he has never seen a budget pass unanimously.
I think that speaks to our willingness and our ability to put things aside — partisanship aside, politics aside — and to really focus on getting it done for the people of Virginia. My style being bipartisan and wanting to work across the aisle and getting things done, I think my style has helped contribute to that sense of accomplishments, and something I feel proud about.