Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2023

Virginia Capitol Connections, Winter 2023 7 producing weekly electronic newsletters for his constituents. Ken has been an eyewitness and participant in the enormous progress of Virginia’s government becoming more representative and accessible to all Virginians. He celebrates that there are now five times the number of non-Caucasians and five times the number of women members of the General Assembly than when he arrived and he looks forward with excited anticipation to those numbers increasing significantly in the future. He has promoted technology as a tool to enable the public to know what their public servants are doing through access to information and championed policy changes, such as requiring recorded votes throughout the legislative process, to make legislative information available to promote a more perfect representative democracy. Ken is the prototype of a citizen-legislator. He points to a fourthgrade field trip to Jamestown as his motivation to serve in elective office. This was where he realized that public service in a democracy was not the exclusive province of a socially elite privileged class. Being from a modest working-class family, as he grew to adulthood, he became even more confident that he, and others like him, were fully qualified to serve in government. As a career educational administrator, unlike most other legislators who had a significant stream of income whether they were at their “day job” or the As a student of African American history, I learned during my undergraduate years about the role of Oberlin College as part of the Underground Railroad story. It was one of the first white institutions to admit Black students and women, becoming the first coeducational college in the country. As a professor of African American history, I made sure my students knew the history of Oberlin, especially its role in abolition, being a key stop on the Underground Railroad, and the story of a group of liberators being jailed in Cleveland for violating the Fugitive Slave Act in a case that drew national attention. Oberlin’s quest for social and political justice has been part of its mission since its founding and certainly part of the grounding for its students. One of those students was Janet Howell, who earned a degree in Government from Oberlin in the early 1960s. I learned about Senator Howell’s Oberlin connection very shortly after my election to the Senate in 2004. As a great admirer of Oberlin’s history, I advised her of this. I learned that her dorm was one of the stops on the Underground Railroad and then learned of another connection between us. While she was at Oberlin, an exchange student from Tougaloo College came for a semester and was her roommate. Tougaloo College is my alma mater. Tougaloo College’s history is steeped and rich in the civil rights movement. Senator Howell advised me that she was determined to attend the March on Washington in 1963 which was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. Kindred spirits, she and I. A commitment to social and political justice that no doubt emanated from two schools, hundreds of miles apart, instilled in us a desire to be of service and advocate for social justice. In 1991, Janet Howell was elected to the Senate. Women serving in elective office were indeed rare. The Virginia General Assembly began meeting on July 20, 1619, yet it took 360 years for a woman Janet Howell Senator 1992-2024 BY MAMIE LOCKE to be elected. In 1979, Eva Scott of Amelia was elected as the first woman. Thus, when Janet Howell took her seat in 1992, she became part of a very exclusive club. She became one of four in the body. So, what motivated her to want to enter an arena where so few women had dared to tread before? Anger. Senator Howell says that it is anger that motivated her to run back in the early 1990s and it is anger that kept her seeking re-election for seven terms. That first time she was concerned about education, human services, and foster care. Virginia was doing so little, and she knew that so much more could be done. Virginia was not living up to its potential and was writing off so many people. As a community activist and chair of the state board of social services, she knew that so much more could be done. So, she threw her hat into the ring where few gave her a chance of winning. But she did win and has been a voice for women, the underserved, and those who needed a voice for 32 years. Senator Howell says she is most proud of the work she has done around family violence issues and the bipartisan collaborative work on mental health. However, she is concerned that Democrats have been ineffective at messaging the strong values and principles for which the party stands; at least, not in a way that citizens truly understand. Democrats have done so much good and meaningful General Assembly, Ken didn’t get paid by his employer when he was performing legislative duties, he just received the modest legislative stipend. He does not regret this, saying the satisfaction of serving always more than offsets the financial sacrifice. Ken and his wife, Jane, will be using their newfound free time to travel. He will also continue to teach at the Life Long Learning Institute of George Mason University, write, and give greater attention to his fascinating garden of native Virginia plants (there’s that manifestation of agricultural interest even in Reston). Ken’s advice to aspiring candidates for elective office is to become active in community activities before running; get to know as many of your future constituents as possible. Elective office should not be an entry-level community service. Because of Ken Plum’s long and effective service in the House of Delegates, Virginia is in a much better place than when he began his first term. Long after his term ends in January of 2024, countless Virginians who will have never heard of Ken Plum will continue to have their lives enhanced because of his accomplishments, and that is the highest and most well-deserved tribute that a modest statesman like Ken Plum will find enormously and sufficiently satisfying. Bernie Henderson is the President Emeritus at Woody Funeral Home and Cremation Service. Kenneth R. Plum from previous page