The National Conference of State Legislatures sponsors a “Legislators Back to School Day” each year as a way to promote the idea that more legislators should visit their local schools to see the good work they are doing, as well as to understand the challenges that school administrators and teachers face.
I take advantage of that opportunity, and other times I am invited to visit schools in my district, and sometimes to visit schools in other areas to learn about special programs.
For me, the visits are very positive experiences. I continue to be impressed with the outstanding work that our schools are doing, especially considering the thousands of children–more than 180,000 in Fairfax County–they have to educate. Ensuring that every child reaches his or her full potential is a continual challenge, but I find administrators and teachers at every level working earnestly and diligently to make sure it happens. The children in our community are amazing! They are, for the most part, eager learners who are full of questions and curiosity. And they are good citizens.
One question that I get from children that may be a curiosity of some adults as well is, just what is a delegate? I discuss with the students the meaning of “to delegate” and explain that I am given a delegation of responsibility by the voters of my district to go to the state capitol each year to represent their interests.
In most states, and at the federal level, members of one house of the legislature are called “representatives;” they represent their constituents in the legislature just as I am delegated to do by the people who live in my legislative district.
Their follow-up question is a key one that must be answered appropriately if our representative form of government or republic is to be successful: How do I know the interests of my constituents? I give several explanations.
My term of office is for two years. When I stand for re-election every two years, I tell the voters in my district what I stand for and believe in. Their vote for me is an affirmation that I stand for the kind of things that they want in their government. If I do not represent the interests of my voters, they have an opportunity every two years to take back the delegation of responsibility they have given to me and give it to someone else.
Secondly, I know many of the interests of my constituents because I am out and about in the community all the time. I listen to a lot of people. I encourage people to call or write to me. I try to stay very active in the community to understand my constituents and their needs. I encourage people to respond to my annual constituent survey, which you can do at my website.
Along with Senator Janet Howell, I also hold public meetings; the next one is Monday, Dec. 19, 7:30 to 9 p.m., at the Reston Community Center at Lake Anne. Please come and participate.
Being a delegate is supposed to be a part-time job in Virginia; for me it is a full-time job and a half, but I am very honored to have been entrusted with this delegation of responsibility.
Photo of Del. Ken Plum at 2016 Legislators Back to School Day, courtesy Del. Ken Plum.