Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2023

Virginia Capitol Connections, Winter 2023 8 Sen. Tommy Norment arrived at the General Assembly of Virginia in January 1992 in a blaze of glory, having handily defeated a Democratic senior senator, Bill Fears, who represented the Eastern Shore all the way to Williamsburg. Senator Fears, known for his flamboyant lifestyle and controversial statements, was a fixture of the Democratic Party in the Senate. The defeat of Senator Fears was a major victory for the Republican Party and would become the symbol of the growth of its power for years to come. Together with the defeat of Senator Hunter B. Andrews by Republican Marty Williams in 1995, the tide was turning in a new direction. The Senate became a two-party chamber and would soon grow to equal numbers instead of remaining with a lopsided Democratic majority. And Senator Tommy Norment would emerge as the leader and chief strategist for the Republicans in the legislative battles that would bring their agenda to the forefront of the Senate. Who was Tommy Norment and how did he end up as one of the most powerful and longest-serving politicians in Virginia? Thomas Kent Norment was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1946 and following high school attended and graduated from the Virginia Military Institute. He then applied and was accepted at the College of William and Mary Law School where he received a J.D. The discipline he learned at VMI and his focus on law at William and Mary set the stage for him to excel at leadership and public policy. He married Mary Humelsine, and they had two daughters and now share two grandchildren. They divorced, and in 2018, Senator Norment married Angie Besik, a respected public policy lobbyist and analyst who remains his wife amid a blended family. He is planning upon retirement to spend more time with his children and two grandchildren, Tommy Norment started his career as a Democrat but changed to becoming a Republican when he ran and won a seat on the James City County Board of Supervisors. He remains a Republican to this day. He would burnish those Republican credentials in each election. After he was elected in 1991, he was unopposed in 1995 and 1999, then was reelected with over 60% of the vote in 2003, then again reelected unopposed in 2007 and 2011, and reelected with 70% of the vote in 2015. He led the Republican caucus beginning in 2008 until his announced retirement. During his long service in the Virginia Senate, Tommy Norment was a key member of several committees, studies, and commissions. He was a strong and supportive member of the Jamestown Yorktown Foundation Board of Trustees and more recently the American Revolution 250 Commission. He served on the Joint Committee on Tax Policy, JLARC, and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Revenue Estimates. His standing committees were Commerce and Labor, Finance and Appropriations, Judiciary, and Rules. These committees were among the most important in the General Assembly, and his service and participation added to the aura and reality of the power he exercised. In the late 1990s, he became Chair of the recently established Committee on Electric Utility Restructuring. This committee oversaw all aspects of Virginia’s electric utilities and their ability to provide the necessary electric service for Virginia’s economic development and growth. During that time Virginia was importing power from outside the state to meet its needs, and it was determined to try deregulation W. Scott McGeary Director, State Public Policy Corporate Public Policy P 202.624.6686| C 703.408.6583 1000 Maine Ave., SW, Washington, DC 20024 work yet have been ineffective at providing explanations to the public to help them understand the decent work that has been accomplished. “We’ve been good at getting the work done, but not so good at letting the public know what we have done in a clear, concise way. We must do better at delivering the message,” she says. What was it like in those early days for women, I wondered. Senator Howell says that her male colleagues didn’t quite know what to do with the women given that the General Assembly had been a male domain for so long. A bathroom had to be created for the women. It was made clear that women were to be seen and not heard. Well, at least could only speak twice on the floor in any given session. Of course, as we have come to know Senator Howell, that little edict did not last long. Just as the men had a constituency, so did the women. Senator Howell made it clear that her constituents were equally as important and would be duly represented as she raised her voice. There have been many times when an issue on the floor would lead to extended and prolonged discussions and debates. I noticed that whenever there was a motion to end debate (call the question), Senator Howell would vote no. I asked her why, especially when the discussions were so tedious and repetitive. She said everyone should have an opportunity to have their say on an issue. This led me to also vote no on motions to end debates. After 32 years, Janet Howell has decided to retire from the Senate. In those 32 years of serving the 32nd District, she has been a woman of firsts. She was the first woman to be appointed to the Senate Finance Committee, the first woman to be a budget conferee, and the first woman to chair Finance and Appropriations. She chaired the Privileges and Elections Committee in 2011, leading the Senate through the redistricting process that year. Senator Howell served on the Crime Commission shepherding through a study and eventually legislation to establish the state’s sex offender registry. Senator Howell leaves a legacy of being a woman who ascended to power, influence, and prestige, always putting the needs of people first. As a freshman at Oberlin, she met Hunt Howell and married him six days after graduation. He joined her at the March on Washington and has been with her on every step of her political journey and quest for social justice. Senator Howell and her daughter-in-law Theresa authored the book, Leading the Way: Women in Power. This book is designed to inspire young girls to become involved in politics and not be afraid of power. Asked if she had to give advice to younger women wanting to become involved in politics, she said she would tell them that being young does not give one the market on knowing everything. She says that one does not make the leap from obscurity to a highranking position just because you want it. It is helpful to work in the community, become part of neighborhood organizations, and be leaders and activists at the local level. One must be knowledgeable about issues and understand that you do not and will not always know everything. Great words of wisdom coming from a great leader as she leaves the hallowed halls of the Senate of Virginia. Future leaders should heed the advice because the adage “do as I do, not as I say” is most appropriate. Senator Janet Howell has led by example. Senator Mamie Locke represents Hampton and part of Newport News. Tommy Norment Senator 1992-2024 BY EVA TEIG HARDY