NEWPORT NEWS-Even though there is a strong political divide in America, Democrat Virginia Senator Dick Saslaw and Republican Virginia Senator Tommy Norment have remained friends for decades.
The two retiring senators had an open discussion on Wednesday, April 26 at the Peninsula Insiders’ Post Legislative Luncheon presented by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Civic Engagement. Saslaw is Senate majority leader while Norment is Senate minority leader. They are part of the 30 percent of Virginia lawmakers who are not seeking re-election.
“We hit it off right from the start,” Saslaw said.
Norment agreed. He said they quickly learned to pursue new laws that are doable. They maintained in order for a governing body to work, there needs to be personal relationships between the people in both parties.
“What we are seeing now is very partisan,” Norment said. “One of the biggest mistakes that is being made is the lack of personal relationships with people on the other side of the aisle. It is difficult to call someone an S.O.B. if you know about them and their family.”
Saslaw said the Virginia legislature has become more sterile and less collegiate.
“I am a good listener, and we get along wonderfully even though we often disagree,” Saslaw said.
Saslaw said a way to crush the strong political divide is to reinstate the military draft.
“I know it’s not popular,” he said. “But when I graduated high school, I wasn’t ready for college, so I joined the Army. In my platoon there was a man from West Virginia who told me that when he was issued his Army boots, it was the first time he got shoes that were not hand-me-downs. There was a graduate from Brown University and a Black man from South Carolina who said he had never interacted with white people. We trained together and formed a clique. That kind of experience stays with you for a lifetime.”
Both senators are disappointed by the lack of a budget being passed for the commonwealth at this time.
“There is an inability to compromise between the House, Senate, and Governor,” Saslaw said. “You can stay in the zone of conservative and progressive without going bonkers.”
Added Norment: “There are colleges that must speculate on their budgets because they don’t know how much money they will get. They need to cut the false pride and do it.”
As they prepare to leave office, the two senators reflected on some of the items they are most proud of.
One bill they worked to pass was that a patient be notified before an operation. Saslaw spoke of a woman who was put under anesthesia for a breast exam. During the exam, cancer was discovered and a double mastectomy was performed. She was not consulted prior to the mastectomy.
“We made it a law that people must be notified prior to a surgery being performed,” Saslaw said.
Norment said a proud accomplishment for him was securing funding to search for James Fort.
“A lot of people thought it washed away in the James River, but we found it,” he said.
Norment, who represents part of the Greater Williamsburg area, first began serving in the Virginia Senate in 1992, while Saslaw represents Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. He was first elected as a Virginia Delegate back in 1976.