Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
This week, I stepped down after 17 years as the 48th District’s Delegate in Richmond. This milestone gave me a chance to reflect on how I arrived at this point, what lies ahead — and how much this unique community means to me.
Unlike some people who have adopted a coiled snake as their mascot, I believe in government and the important and sometimes essential role it plays in improving people’s lives. From that belief came an interest from an early age in politics as a means of ensuring that like-minded people would serve in government. (The fact that I grew up in Chicago, where politics is in the water system, may have had something to do with it as well.)
The politics/government connection drew me to this area and to Arlington some 40 years ago. Here we were absorbed into the Arlington Democratic family: some became surrogate grandparents; our kids grew up together; and I developed lifelong friendships with people who would become colleagues and co-workers in Arlington’s positive, person-to-person brand of politics. Then in 1997, when Judy Connally (whose first campaign I had managed) decided to retire as Delegate, my personal and professional circumstances made it possible for me to run to succeed her.
My 17 years in Richmond have reinforced how fortunate we are to be part of this community. We know the statistics: we’re well-educated; we’re affluent; we continue to have a dynamic, vibrant economy (our unemployment rate is consistently Virginia’s lowest).
We champion efforts that don’t necessarily benefit us directly. A prime example is K-12 funding. If there’s anything like a litmus test in Arlington, it’s support for our public schools. Yet, due to Virginia’s K-12 funding formula, Arlington receives relatively little state money for its world-class public schools — by and large, we pay for them through our local taxes.
But Arlington’s delegation in Richmond is united in defending K-12 funding in the state budget — it’s the right thing to do and makes us a better and stronger Commonwealth. (A tragic irony in the debate over Medicaid expansion is that some downstate members most vociferous in their opposition to expansion represent areas with disproportionate numbers of low-income uninsured people who desperately need access to health care.)
Unlike many other delegations in Richmond, we work well together — within the delegation and with our local elected officials.
We’re generally of the same political party and share the same political goals. But that’s not the complete answer: there are other one-party delegations that fight like cats and dogs, both among themselves and with their local officials. Rather, it’s based on mutual trust and respect within the General Assembly delegation and with our hometown boards and constitutional officers.
That’s paid off for Arlington. When the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was in danger of moving out of Arlington, we worked together at the federal, state and local levels to keep DARPA headquarters here. Through strong working relationships developed over time in Washington, Richmond, and Arlington, we were able to achieve that goal.
DARPA is an example of how government investments in research and development as well as infrastructure pay enormous dividends in terms of national security, private sector growth and productivity — most famously as the place where the Internet got its start. DARPA’s continued presence is vital to Arlington’s economy and reputation for innovation.
A good share of my time in Richmond has been spent on “Arlington issues.” It’s a duty I’ve taken on gladly, and it’s one my successor must be prepared to assume.
This Arlington unity will become even more important. In a Dillon Rule state, Arlington’s delegation in Richmond must defend programs and policies in transportation, human rights, and other areas that reflect Arlington’s values and priorities developed through the community-centered process we call the “Arlington Way.”
A few weeks ago a Washington Post columnist noted that officials from surrounding jurisdictions sometimes refer to us as “Perfect Arlington” because sometimes we seem to view ourselves that way. While we have every reason to be proud of our accomplishments as a forward-looking, inclusive community, we need to be vigilant that satisfaction doesn’t become smugness and self-righteousness. I’ve found that a bit of humor doesn’t hurt either.
This is not a farewell address. While I’m moving on to new challenges, Arlington will always be my home. I’ll always be grateful to people who gave me the opportunity to be their voice and champion their values in Richmond. You’ll forever be in my thoughts.
Bob Brink is the Deputy Commissioner for Aging Services in the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services. He represented Arlington in the Virginia House of Delegates from January 1998 to June 30, 2014.