There were 25 new Delegates in the “Class of 2002.” We were elected together in November 2001, went through orientation in December and formed a quarter of the General Assembly when it convened in January 2002 with new Governor Mark Warner.
It was a heavily Republican class. Twenty-two of the 25 came from the GOP, nearly all of from newly-drawn districts. The only Dems were two from minority-majority districts around Richmond and me. Actually, I was a surprise. So it really should have been 22 of 24, a fact I was reminded of many times that first year.
Our class was a definite mix geographically. We had every area code covered. Ideologically my colleagues ranged from conservative to …. conservative. No worries. Those were the election results.
Over the years, we became good friends, despite many battles. In fact, when my daughter Mary Walton was born, the Republican Delegates made a “center aisle” presentation to give me a huge stuffed elephant. I still have the photo on my wall.
The ringleader of “House freshmen” was Chris Saxman from Staunton in the central Valley. Chris and I had met in the summer of ’01 at a seminar at George Mason University to reach younger voters. (Little did we know that the Internet and a then-state senator from Illinois would turn this concept upside down).
Chris and I both were elected in our districts, each in an upset (his a primary, mine a general). When we met again in Richmond, we decided — in a moment of shocking naivete — to stay friends and work together on bipartisan issues.
That summer (2002), Chris and I co-sponsored a bipartisan House retreat in Staunton. We had a hard time convincing folks to come. The older members thought we were crazy — we should be ought raising $$ for our own Caucus. I think we ended up with 33 attendees out of 100 members.
It was a great experience but we didn’t do it again. It’s hard to change House traditions. (Ironically, the Senate has a bipartisan retreat every November to review the state budget).
Chris and I continued to be friends. I made occasional appearances at the “Cost-Cutting Caucus” that he hosted. We played basketball together at the VCU gym. We managed to hang on as members of the Class of 2002 began drop away.
(Who’s left? Clay Athey, Rob Bell, John Cosgrove, Bill Carrico, Mark Cole, Tom Gear, Glen Oder, Bill Janis and Tom Rust remain in the House. Ryan McDougle, Robert Hurt and me in the Senate).
We didn’t agree on a lot. We had some serious debates on the House floor and as campaign surrogates. Last September, Chris represented McCain and I represented Obama at an Albemarle debate broadcast to Allstate employees around the U.S.
Anyway, I thought of all this when I heard Chris is not running for re-election to his House seat. I highly doubt we’ve heard the last of him. The Class of 2002 is not done yet.