Salem’s Republican Delegate Greg Habeeb had a friendly audience of 25 at his Saturday morning town hall meeting in the Cave Spring High School Auditorium. Everyone at his first town hall seemed pleased with his grasp of the issues.
“We’re happy with his service so far,” said Bob and Jenny Hardin of Cave Spring.
His whirlwind campaign and January 11 special election victory left him no time to prepare for the 2011 General Assembly session. He was In Richmond the next morning and sworn into office by noon.
Habeeb said the hardest part of being a delegate is being away from family. “Leaving early Monday morning or late Sunday night has been extraordinarily difficult,” he said. The pace is faster then he thought. “You go at the speed that it takes you.” Habeeb reads every bill.
“I’ve been very pleased with the lack of heavy handedness,” he said. There are very few instances where the Republican caucus takes a stand. This allows him the freedom to do what he thinks best for his constituents.
“The partisanship in Richmond is a lot less then I anticipated it to be – it’s a lot more regional then it is partisan,” said Habeeb. Most of the time delegates fight for their area.
Habeeb says he has learned that “a bill may have come up for a decade. I think I’m better off not having that history” Others may have a voting history that prevents them from voting a different way. “I can look at every [bill] fresh and new,” said Habeeb.
An example of regionalism and history is the contest over the Labor Day bill that Habeeb framed as “institutional inertia” saying the state is way past the days of schools not being able to open before Labor Day. “It takes a long time to turn that around. It will get done, we’re going to get it done,” insisted Habeeb.
The bill was introduced by Delegate Bill Cleaveland (R-17). It will allow Roanoke City Public Schools the option to open before Labor Day – a sorely needed tool for a school system with 70% of its students on free or reduced lunch.
Noah Tickle, a Roanoke County Tea Party member had a written list of three bills he was prepared to ask Delegate Habeeb about. Tickle praised Habeeb for having the town hall meeting. “I believe if this had been going on at the beginning of the republic then it would have been an entirely different attitude in the public sector. This is a wonderful thing and I hope you will keep it up …it will be an example to other people.” Tickle’s comment was met with applause.
Roanoke County Board of Supervisor’s member Ed Elswick blamed the state for passing the burden of the state budget shortfall to localities to resolve. He said the state is “dumping on localities to raise money and shirking their duties.” Elswick wanted to see the state finance localities based on population. “If the state won’t decrease requirements then the state should raise taxes,” said Elswick.
Localities are at the end of the revenue food chain. “As long as [the state] is going to micromanage localities’ use of their money [then] we’ve got to come up with the money for them,” said Habeeb. He reassured Elswick that refunding is more the likely scenario this budget year.
Business friendly legislation will get the economy going again. “Instead of fighting over who gets what piece of the pie we [need to] grow the pie so everyone can get their piece,” he said.
Transparency is a large part of Habeeb’s philosophy. As an example he voted for HR64, a bill that allows anyone at a glance to judge the voting record of his or her representative without having to sort through each individual bill. Though the vote was not unanimous it was bipartisan. The Senate has yet to make that commitment.
There is one more week left – a week of budget negotiations between the Republican held House and Democratic controlled Senate. Localities will receive news of the size of their “piece of the pie” and their budget process can then start in earnest.
Posted By Valerie Garner
Categories: Local Events, Politics, State Politics
Tags: budget, general_assembly, open_government, republican, Roanoke City Public Schools