Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2023

Virginia Capitol Connections, Winter 2023 5 In a speech to his Senate colleagues in February 2023, Senator Dick Saslaw announced his retirement from the Virginia Senate after a 48-year tenure that was both exciting and consequential. Sen. Saslaw had earlier spent four years in the House of Delegates and had gathered much experience in listening and learning from long-time leaders in that body who resisted opinions and initiatives from the newly-arrived young delegates. He and others were part of an undercurrent of rebellion in the House against the established older leadership. After 4 years as a backbencher in the House, Senator Saslaw was ready to move to the Senate and take on a more central leadership role. Who was this young senator from the northern suburbs of Fairfax who would eventually become one of the most powerful and longestserving legislators in the Virginia Senate? He was born in Washington D.C. in 1940. After high school, he served in the U.S. Army (19581960), then attended the University of Maryland where he received a B.S. in Economics. He married Eleanor Berman in August 1968. They have a daughter, Jennifer, two grandchildren, and a son-in-law who brings them joy and love. Senator Saslaw’s personal qualities were reflected in the many aspects of his public service, including strong loyalty, humor, intensity, and purpose. There are hundreds of Dick Saslaw statements and stories that have been saved, relished, and repeated over the years within the halls of the General Assembly building and the Capitol. Within the General Assembly family, these stories reflected the force of the Saslaw personality, his strength as a leader, and his knowledge of the institution. A biting humor was always a part of his stories, But his love of the Senate precluded him from insulting or demeaning his colleagues. He told lobbyists and state officials in the strongest terms exactly how he felt about an issue, and it was hard to change his mind without data and stakeholder support. He encouraged stakeholder meetings where groups of stakeholders on various sides of an issue or legislative policy could come together and reach an agreement. He would insist that adversaries talk to each other and he would invite them to meet in his office where he could listen to the conversation and direct it towards some consensus. After graduation from college, Senator Saslaw went into the gas station business, eventually acquiring and running several gas stations in Northern Virginia. It was the day-to-day hands-on running of these stations that gave him the experience of representing businesses large and small as one of the few senators who was not a lawyer or banker, but a small business owner. He would draw on this experience again and again during his terms as Minority and then Majority Leader of the Senate. He became known as the voice of business in the state Senate, sometimes causing political criticism but always based on his convictions and first-hand knowledge. Senator Saslaw was first elected leader of the Democrats in the Senate in 1996. He then served as Senate Majority leader several times alternating with Sen. Tommy Norment as the leader when the Republicans took control. His most recent election as Senate Majority Leader was in 2020. One of the hallmarks of his tenure as Minority or Majority leader was to work closely with Senator Norment and other Republican leaders in maintaining the strength of the Senate as the premier body of the General Assembly. While Senator Saslaw had good relationships with both Democratic and Republican Speakers of the House, the Senate leadership, whether Democratic or Republican, maintained a posture of superiority, offering a better long-term vision for the Commonwealth compared to the House. This rivalry between chambers had gone on for decades and is reflected not just in the Virginia General Assembly but in other state legislatures as well as in Congress. Senator Saslaw has served on many key committees and commissions. Most notably, he chaired the Committee on Commerce and Labor, a committee with vast power over Virginia businesses of all types. He also served on the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee, and the Committees on Education and Health, Judiciary, and Rules. As a member of all these committees, Senator Saslaw attended and vocally participated, and in the case of Commerce and Labor, was a strong Chair and proponent for business. Throughout his tenure in the Senate, Senator Saslaw also served on several key study commissions including the Committee on Electric Utility Regulation, Committee on District Courts, and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates. Two key commissions he served on were Health Insurance Reform and Local Government Fiscal Stress. Two areas of controversy faced by Senator Saslaw related to electric utility regulation and payday lending. In the late 90s, the committee on Electric Utility Restructuring, after years of study, deregulated and then in 2007 re-regulated the utilities with legislation that was complex and intensely debated by scores of lobbyists and stakeholders. In 2023, Senator Saslaw was the patron of the Senate bill that brought a new balance of regulation to account for future growth, consumer refunds, and renewable energy for the Commonwealth Richard L. “Dick” Saslaw Delegate 1976-1980 • Senator 1980-2024 BY EVA TEIG HARDY Payday lending was another issue that was controversial and intense among the various proponents and opponents. Senator Saslaw was the patron of several bills on behalf of the industry that were fought by community organizations that were fearful of individuals unable to survive high interest rates. Senator Saslaw was a strong proponent of education, civil rights, a woman’s right to choose, gay marriage, and other human rights issues of importance to his constituents. Senator Saslaw understood the institution that was the Senate, and he further understood that a two-party working relationship was critical for Commonwealth goals to be achieved. He will be remembered for his convictions about public service and his