Home 2019 Elections Video: HD57 Dem Nominee Sally Hudson Brilliantly Explains the Need to Professionalize...

Video: HD57 Dem Nominee Sally Hudson Brilliantly Explains the Need to Professionalize the Virginia General Assembly

According to Hudson, "something like 40% of the [legislative] text that we get is just like boilerplate lifted  straight off of some...special interest"

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Among the numerous impressive Democratic candidates for Virginia General Assembly this year, one of the most impressive IMHO is Sally Hudson, who’s running unopposed in the overwhelmingly Democratic HD57 (Charlottesville, Albemarle County). Soon-to-be-Delegate-elect Hudson, of course, will be replacing Del. David Toscano, so she has big shoes to fill. But, as I’ve discussed previously (e.g., see my endorsement of Hudson here), I believe that Hudson has the intellectual firepower, progressive values and superb communication skills to do so.

For instance, check out Hudson’s brilliant answer to a question earlier this week by host Jerry Miller on I♥Cville. First, here’s the question, followed by Hudson’s superb response following the video (bolding added by me for emphasis).

“I think – and correct me if I’m wrong – [a Virginia] Delegate [earns] about eighteen thousand [per year] in compensation…so unless you have a flexible job, like you’re saying, it’s not a position that someone that’s like lower class, middle class, or has to work a nine-to-six, can do. So…this really caters to folks that are independently wealthy – retired entrepreneurs, people that run the show at their business where they can leave their business and go do this. Do we think that…the compensation package at the Delegate…should be changed, which would then open up a larger spectrum of demographics of people that could run for these spots?”

[This part was actually right before the question, but it’s worth posting here: “There’s not a lot of jobs where you can just peace for two or three months and drop everything to go serve. And so that really limits who can even serve in the state legislature. It’s why typically we’ve seen lawyers who bill by the hour and have pretty flexible schedules or folks who are independently wealthy and don’t really have to work. It’s much harder if you’re holding down another job – you know doctor, nurse or journalist or something, to just drop everything and go to Richmond.”]

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“I think that’s spot-on. And I think it’s important that we understand how government works when we don’t pay our public officials appropriately. Because the low salary comes from a good place; they have in mind this really romantic vision of government, where we are all citizen legislators and we do it part-time for the love of the work. And that’s true; a lot of us do it that way. But what ends up happening is that because we don’t really have a professional legislature that works year-round, what we end up with instead is a professional lobbying core. We end up with a super professional super powerful set of people who do this full time in well-paid gigs and those are the lobbyists. And so it means that it’s just not a fair fight when it comes time for the legislature to work through all of the bills that get put forth by the lobbying corps.  

…I think it’s really telling; there was a really interesting study that caught my eye this spring, where they were trying to understand how much of the text of the bills that get passed are really being written by legislators and how much of it is just coming straight out of industry. And so now with modern language processing software, we can digitize all the text of the bills from all over the country, all the state chambers nationwide and then run them through and identify the big blocks of texts that are popping up…over and over. And in Virginia, it’s something like 40% of the text that we get is just like boilerplate lifted  straight off of some…third special interest that’s in the mix. I don’t think it’s an accident…It’s really frustrating. But you think about the math of it; we serve in Richmond during the short years for six weeks…There’s not enough time…you can’t read…3,000 bills in that time. And so… it’s not that you just do less work; the same amount of work gets done, it just gets done by someone who’s less accountable to the people.”

So yeah, Hudson absolutely nails it in this response; not sure I’ve ever heard anyone explain the situation more clearly.  This is an issue I care a lot about, and have been bugging people about for years. For instance, as I put it in this March 2019 post, “when we treat these important positions as low-paying, part-time gigs, we create a significant power vacuum,” a vacuum that gets filled “by powerful corporate interests, whether Dominion Energy or Verizon or whoever…corporations’ lobbyists [who] are there year-round, 24/7 if need be, and are paid good money to be experts on issues impacting their respective industries” and are more than happy to “explain” the issues, bills, etc. to the overwhelmed “citizen legislators.”

Which is why, I’ve argued for years, we need to professionalize the Virginia General Assembly, in a variety of ways, including full-time work and higher pay for legislators and staffers, enactment of MUCH tougher campaign finance and ethics laws in Virginia, etc. Because the fact is, until we do those things, we can expect the set of perverse, damaging, corrupting incentives to persist at the state level here in Virginia. And as Sally Hudson so eloquently explains, that simply means we end up with a bunch of laws – she estimates something like 40% of the text of bills! – are made by corporations and other special interests who are “less accountable to the people.” That should be an unacceptable situation to basically anyone who cares about good government. And it’s why I’m so happy to see that soon-to-be-Delegate Hudson understands this situation, and clearly is gearing up to fight for change in Richmond. Badly, badly needed change, I might add.