Local freshman lawmakers ‘taking it all in’
When the General Assembly convenes its 2014 session Jan. 8, at least 14 new faces will be in the House of Delegates.
Two of them represent districts in the Fredericksburg region.
Michael Futrell—at 31, the youngest of the freshman class, according to the Virginia Public Access Project—will represent the 2nd District, covering Stafford and Prince William. He defeated incumbent Republican Mark Dudenhefer in the November election.
Buddy Fowler—at 58, the oldest of the class, VPAP says —will represent the 55th district, which is mostly in Hanover but has territory in Spotsylvania and Caroline counties. Fowler won an open seat after the retirement of Del. John Cox.
This will be the first year Fowler is allowed to sit at a desk on the House floor, but it’s far from his first session.
Fowler was Cox’s legislative aide, and served as the aide for former Del. Frank Hargrove before that. He’s been at each session as a legislative aide since 2005, he said, and was involved in the legislature in other capacities going back to 1995.
That gives him more experience in how things work in Richmond than many sitting lawmakers.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to get it all right,” Fowler said in a telephone interview. “But I know the drill. I know that stuff starts coming at you from even before day one. . . . I think it’ll definitely give me a little bit of an advantage over the rest of my freshman class.”
Fowler knows to show up in Richmond a few days early to set up his office, because already the emails are coming in from people wanting bills carried, people wanting help.
He hasn’t prepared any bills yet—he’s waiting, in part, to see which committees House Speaker Bill Howell assigns him to. Fowler’s hoping for a seat on the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources committee.
“I have a lot of experience and expertise in that area; the district is primarily agricultural,” Fowler said.
He said he’s interested in the environment, the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s responses to Environmental Protection Agency regulations, particularly on stormwater.
Fowler, who lives outside Ashland, will be spared one of the hurdles most freshmen have: finding somewhere in Richmond to live during the week.
Most stay in downtown hotels, several of which have special session rates, or short-term apartments. But Fowler will be making a commute of about 25 minutes, without traffic.
Futrell, who lives in Prince William County, plans to stay in Richmond during the week for the two months of session.
He said he’s been preparing for session by attending various meetings in the district, trying to get an idea of what his new constituents need from him.
“You find out that different people have different issues, and it may not be something you originally thought,” he said.
Futrell is planning to propose a bill that would eliminate taxes on veterans’ retirement benefits, and another bill to add a tax credit for people who buy houses from military personnel who are selling because of a deployment.
A former teacher and a former pharmaceutical representative, Futrell hopes to get spots on the House committees that cover education and health issues.
He said orientation for new delegates has been helpful.
“It’s a lot of information. It’s almost like anytime you start a new job, they’re throwing a whole lot of things at you,” Futrell said. “You’re taking it all in, you’re trying to figure out how it all works best.”
He said he doesn’t feel overwhelmed by it all.
“I think I feel as prepared as I can possibly be in this situation,” he said. “I wouldn’t say overwhelmed, because we understood this was going to be a whole lot.”
In the drawing for seniority for the freshmen delegates, Fowler drew number 92 out of the 100 delegates, while Futrell came in at 97.
But already there’s at least one House special election going on—for Del. Onzlee Ware’s seat in Roanoke— which means Fowler and Futrell and the others will all move up a slot. They might move up one more if Del. Lynwood Lewis wins a special election for Sen. Ralph Northam’s Senate seat. Northam was elected lieutenant governor.
The General Assembly session starts Jan. 8.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028