Profile of a Freshman Delegate
This article was published in the Vienna-Oakton Connection newspaper on January 20, 2010.Â Online version, including photos, can be found at http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/article.asp?article=336871&paper=73&cat=104.
Keam Promotes 'Diversity of Views'
Freshman delegate discusses the General Assembly session.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
For Del. Mark Keam (D-35), one of two Asian-Americans serving in the Virginia General Assembly, it's not necessarily important to have a legislature that looks diverse, but it's critical to have one with diverse viewpoints.
"You might have 100 people, and every one of them looks different," Keam said. "But if they all think the same, there is no diversity."
A diverse viewpoint is exactly what the freshman Democratic delegate from Vienna hopes he can bring to the General Assembly.
KEAM, who was in born in Seoul, Korea, lived in Vietnam and Australia before settling in California with his family as a teenager. To help support his family, he worked odd jobs, from construction to collecting shopping carts from a retail parking lot.
"I want to be able to speak on issues where people say, ‘I've never met an immigrant in my life; I don't know what you guys think about it,' " Keam said. "I want to be able to say, ‘Well, let me tell you what they think about it.'"
One issue Keam knows firsthand is English as a Second Language. He was an ESL student when he moved to the United States.
For the legislative session that began Wednesday, Keam is sponsoring House Bill 1129. It would raise the number of ESL teachers in Virginia's schools from 17 full-time positions to 30 full-time positions for every 1,000 students.
"We're not doing these guys special favors or special treatments," Keam said. "We're trying to get them to become Americans as soon as possible so they can contribute back."
Del. Jim Scott (D-53) is co-sponsoring HB 1129 and serving with Keam on the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee. He said he thinks Keam will be an excellent legislator.
"He seems to understand much more quickly than some first-year folks exactly how the process works — that you can only get things done if you understand it and bring other people along with you," Scott said.
"In the House, we (Democrats) are in the minority so nothing gets done without some support from the majority party and he's worked on that pretty well."
Keam is on unpaid leave from Verizon Communications, where he is vice president and counsel. (Keam said he would abstain from voting on any bills that pose a conflict of interest. He has not introduced any legislation regarding telecommunications. The 11 bills he has filed involve such issues as health insurance, job creation, transportation and education.)
In 2001, Keam was the chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Earlier, he served as an attorney for the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Federal Communications Commission.
In November, Keam won 51 percent of the vote in defeating Republican Jim Hyland for the 35th District seat. Keam succeeds Steve Shannon, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for state attorney general.
Keam said his first week has been about settling in and figuring out committee assignments. He has been assigned to the House Finance Committee as well as the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.
Keam has been keeping in touch with his constituents through Facebook, Twitter and his Web site, markkeam.com.
"I am supposed to be representing everyone's interest publicly, and I also believe in accountability," Keam said. "That means anytime I do anything I want people to be able to say, ‘Why did you do that?' And I want to have an answer for that."
By Veronica Garabelli
Capital News Service