One of the best parts of my job is meeting with citizen advocates. They are uniformly well informed, sincere, and committed to making Virginia better. They are not paid but are devoted to their cause.
When we are not in session I meet with citizen advocates and constituents either at their group meetings or in my family room. They are often surprised to meet at my home but the fact is that legislators are not provided an office outside of Richmond. Since I am a full time Senator, we meet at my home.
When we are in session, I try to meet with them in my splendid office. With seniority comes a good office - and since I am #2 in seniority, my office view is breathtaking!
Sadly, during session it is difficult for me to meet with anyone. I am constantly in committees or on the Senate floor. The same seniority that gets me the spectacular office gives me the opportunity to serve on more committees and commissions than any other senator. We are meeting constantly!
So far this session we have had large groups concerned with the ERA, gun safety or gun rights, banking issues, redistricting reform, AFL-CIO, Chambers of Commerce, climate change, immigrant rights, local government, education for the hearing impaired, casinos, coal ash, and many others.
Today is Red for Ed Day - PTAs, VEA, and retired teachers are all here wearing red. The halls are filled with civilly engaged citizens.
Meanwhile, professional lobbyists are also filling the halls. They arrive very early in the day and greet us as we arrive. My view on them has changed over the years. I came here very skeptical, basically hostile, toward them and reluctant to even meet with them. But, Virginia legislators have an unspoken rule about lobbyists - they are expected to always tell us the truth and accurately answer our questions. Anyone who lies to us is persona non grata. Period. In my 27 years here only once has anyone lied to me. He will never be admitted to my office.
One major change over my years here is how many women are now professional lobbyists. Women used to be rare, young, and mainly with public interest groups. Now they are established, respected, and representing major businesses. But I would love to know if they are equally paid.
I can't begin to tell you how important it is to hear from everyone. I learn every day about issues important to Virginians. Lobbyists, especially citizen advocates, are important for a citizen legislature!