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Del. Ken Plum: The Passing of an Era

by Del. Ken Plum December 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm 21 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photo

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week, I made a journey to Norfolk to say a final goodbye to a former colleague in the House of Delegates, Thomas W. Moss, Jr., who passed away. He was more than just a member, however; he was Speaker of the House from 1991 to 2000. His service in the House from 1966 to 2002 spanned a passing of an era in Virginia’s history, and he was an important transition figure.

Speaker Moss was first elected to the House of Delegates as an anti-establishment Democrat. His campaign slogan, “Get Norfolk Out of the Byrd Cage,” reflected the fact that while a Democratic-controlled political machine dominated the state since Reconstruction it was not good for urban areas like Norfolk.

That machine was headed from the 1930s by Governor and then Senator Harry F. Byrd, Sr., a tight-fisted conservative who called himself a Democrat but could more appropriately be labeled a Dixiecrat as many white Southerners were known. Byrd vehemently opposed racial desegregation of Virginia’s schools, and his opposition to government spending kept Virginia a backward state for decades.

Mr. Moss was a national Democrat and succeeded in getting himself elected to the House of Delegates where he was in the minority among the more conservative members. Changes in Virginia’s political alignment came about because of the work of leaders like Moss working within the system and federal laws and court decisions influencing the system from the outside.

Getting rid of the poll tax and other restrictive voting laws that kept mostly African Americans from voting, passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and court decisions on redistricting brought about a shift of power where Delegate Moss as a more progressive member became Speaker and the more conservative Democrats switched parties and became Republicans. Eventually this realignment of political allegiance and federally-enforced fairer representation among the regions of the state led to Speaker Moss losing his leadership role in 2000.

He retired from the House after the next term when the new Republican majority drew him into a legislative district with another Democrat. He was elected Treasurer of the City of Norfolk, where he served until January 2014.

Virginia became more progressive during Mr. Moss’s tenure — in the areas of public school spending, investments in higher education, improved mental health and social service programs, and roads. In areas of civil rights, it languished. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) for women was opposed by Mr. Moss until he was challenged by a woman who came close to defeating him in a primary. Virginia still has not passed the ERA.

Talk with anyone who knew him and you are likely to get a funny story about him. His sense of humor was always evident no matter how serious the moment. Sometimes his wisecracks challenged the boundaries of social acceptance. During tense times in the legislature his levity helped move the business along.

Not only did Mr. Moss get Norfolk and Virginia out of the Byrd cage, he helped move the state into a modern era where public education and strong institutions of higher education were valued and transportation and infrastructure were recognized as critical investments. Speaker Moss provided leadership during the passing of an era for which he will be remembered.

Whether his legacy will be built upon or neglected is in part in the hands of those who mourned him last week.

  • Ming the Merciless

    Virginia became more progressive during Mr. Moss’s tenure — in the areas
    of public school spending, investments in higher education, improved
    mental health and social service programs, and roads.

    And everyone can readily see that the public schools, the universities, the mental and social services systems, and roads are soooooo much better now thanks to “progressive” policies.

    • Greg

      Don’t forget Quiana.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Oh, I don’t think I will…

    • Chuck Morningwood

      I can only imagine the Dickensian alternative you might have in mind to those “Progressive” policies about public schools, universities, mental and social services systems.

      You want M-oo-oo-rrrrrrr-eeeeeee!?!

      • Ming the Merciless

        Not everyone has guzzled the liberal kool-aid that pre-1966 America was a “Dickensian” nightmare of poverty and injustice.

        • Chuck Morningwood

          Here’s a hint, Mung. The is post-1966 American, not pre-1966.

          • Ming the Merciless

            When “progressives” tout the “progress” we have “achieved” since 1966, it is fair to ask whether we are better off as a result of that “progress”, and whether the alleged “benefits” are worth the cost. This requires a realistic appraisal of the past. It is no accident, comrades, that the “progressives” are desperate to vilify the past, because doing so is the only way to make their “achievements” seem positive and worth the cost. This is not an irrelevant academic exercise. If we judge that progressive policies have actually made us worse off since 1966, then we should stop listening to progressives and stop pursuing policies that fail very expensively.

            Or you could go with the progressive approach, which is, if FAIL then TRY HARDER using MORE MONEY.

            Which is a good working definition of insanity.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            So, you’re really trying to say that America is not better off now than we were in 1966? Stop fooling yourself, Mung. This is 2015. We are better off now than we were in 1966.

          • Greg

            Hardy. Despire the trillions of dollars in taxes the progressives have taken from those who pay taxes, we have more poverty (both in percentage and vastly more in absolute numbers) than in 1966.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Only in the world of progressive kool-aid drinkers.

  • Greg

    The era of Ken Plum needs to pass. ASAP.

  • Mike M

    Have I been censored or just delayed again for several hours?

    • Mike M

      Why the delay?

      • Karen Goff

        Just got busy and forgot to check the queue. Sorry.

        • Mike M

          I seem to be on consistent queue assignment. I’m not understanding that.

          • Karen Goff

            Well, you post probably more than anyone else. So odds are you use one of the 50 or so words that will get caught in the filter. It’s nothing personal. It’s done by flagged words (which are sometimes used innocently enough) and not by sign in name)

          • Mike M

            OK. Thanks. (Dialing in on trigger words.)

  • Andrew Freeman

    So, when are you running for office?

    • Mike M

      When I can afford to live off the paltry salary. See, with my views I wouldn’t attract many special “donors.”

      • Herb hunt

        That’s exactly the problem I see with the Republican party. If any one of their candidates seems to resonate with the general public (Huntsman or Simpson eg) they immediately get sidelined by their colleagues or trashed by the media. It will be interesting to see what happens with Trump but chances are he will commit political suicide

        • Mike M

          Agreed. But I have been assuming that Trump had already committed political suicide five times now. He tries but cannot succeed. People are fatigued by the usual media declaration of “gaffes.” They also see the “appropriateness” and decorum on the other side where Hilary smartly espouses free trade to Wall Street on Tuesday and then emotionally barks protectionism and Socialist values to a Union in Ohio on Thursday. Never mind her e-mail crimes and blaming Benghazi on a Florida Koran burning It’s all a circus. Just different styles of clown.

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