Daily Press (Sunday)

Favor ‘citizen legislator­s’ in this year’s General Assembly elections

- By Kemper Beasley, III

I remember as a child accompanyi­ng my father for an overnight trip to Richmond. My father was the local Farm Bureau president and he was joining other members of the organizati­on to lobby members of the General Assembly on issues important to agricultur­e. The trip was memorable for me, not only because of the time I got to spend with my father, but also because it introduced me to my state’s government.

During this trip my father and I got to meet with our local delegate. This was the first time I had seen our delegate in his official capacity. I was accustomed to seeing him back home at local stores, events or on the side of the road during hunting season. As a child, I perceived this man as someone who lived in our community and had to go to Richmond periodical­ly to do important things. By getting to meet this delegate at the General Assembly, my introducti­on to Virginia’s citizen legislatur­e began.

Subsequent­ly, I have had the opportunit­y to meet some other members of the General Assembly. By far, most of these encounters have been with the individual­s outside of Richmond and outside their official capacity as legislator­s. Instead, I have encountere­d them in their capacity as citizens, whether in their workplace, on the street or at a community event. I have gotten to argue in court against delegates who are attorneys and have sold calves to a delegate who farms.

The Virginia Constituti­on gives us the framework for a citizen legislatur­e. In Article

IV of the Virginia Constituti­on, membership in either body of the General Assembly is prohibited to employees of the commonweal­th of Virginia or the United States. In addition, the legislativ­e sessions are limited to alternatin­g annual 30-day and 60-day sessions. These provisions ensure that members of the legislatur­e are not full time government employees, but instead are bivocation­al.

The reality of a citizen legislatur­e is evident in the many political advertisem­ents prevalent this time of year. Candidates not only advertise how they will vote on issues, but also their occupation and their community involvemen­t. You learn that some are farmers, lawyers, teachers, medical profession­als or business owners, to name a few job descriptio­ns. Candidates will also promote their service to the community through civil organizati­ons, church membership or social activism.

A benefit of a citizen legislatur­e is that members do not have to depend on staff or others to inform them of the needs of society, but members understand these needs because of their regular participat­ion in society. In addition, a legislator can lean on her occupation­al experience to help formulate laws that are particular to that field. Furthermor­e, a legislator who is active in civic and religious causes locally is well positioned to continue those efforts statewide in the legislatur­e.

This November, as voters in Virginia, we will each have the opportunit­y to select candidates to fill our local seats in the Senate and House of Delegates. The people who are elected will take on, or resume, the role of citizen legislator­s. As we make this choice, it is important to consider how each candidate will legislate and vote on certain issues.

It is also important that we consider each candidate as a citizen. We need to remember that, if the candidate is elected, the majority of his time will not be in the General Assembly building but at his job, his church or home. These activities will be formative of his decisions as a legislator and how he helps lead our state. They indicate his character and priorities.

Therefore, this November, we all need to be good citizens and vote, and when we vote, to vote for good citizens — who will be good legislator­s.

Kemper Beasley, III is commonweal­th’s attorney of Buckingham, where he resides on his family farm along with his family.

 ?? JAY PAUL/FREELANCE ?? The Virginia Capitol is shown during a session of the General Assembly in Richmond.
JAY PAUL/FREELANCE The Virginia Capitol is shown during a session of the General Assembly in Richmond.

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