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The Bedford independent played a key role in legislative power shifts.
Friday, March 29, 2013
In his 52 years in the House of Delegates, Lacey Putney has witnessed dramatic shifts in Virginia’s political landscape. Indeed, he’s often helped to shape those changes. The Bedford native’s decision this week to retire alters the commonwealth once again and demands introspection from his rural constituents and fellow lawmakers.
“The one thing that has helped the rural parts of the state is that a number of rural delegates tended to run longer and stay longer,” he said in an interview Thursday. “We have fewer rural positions of leadership today.”
Putney is the longest-serving member of the Virginia House, the oldest continuous legislative body in the Western hemisphere. After leaving the Democratic Party, he spent years as the chamber’s sole independent delegate, and thus the junior member of every committee. He later joined the GOP caucus, while keeping his independent status, and shot to the top of the seniority list, gaining power and responsibility. He served a brief stint as interim speaker, but his real power emanates from his 48 years on the Appropriations Committee, six as chairman, allowing him to keep a watchful eye on every penny that passes through the state budget.
A fiscal conservative by any measure, Putney risked political capital last year when he pushed for a sales tax to generate funding for transportation and education via referendum. He failed, but his actions contributed to momentum that led this year to passage of a historic road revenue bill.
His advice to other rural lawmakers: Stop fixating on social issues like abortion and focus on core responsibilities of government, particularly “attention to budgetary affairs” and maintaining the state’s triple-A bond rating.
Today’s lawmakers seem to spend more time tweeting than reading bills, but Putney is proudly old-fashioned in his habits. He didn’t hold his first fundraiser until he’d been a delegate for 38 years. He announced his retirement with a simple one-page release.
In electing his successor, Bedford voters would be wise to favor staying power over hashmarks and chutzpah.
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