As with any legislature, there are several caucuses — subsets of lawmakers with similar or particular interests who meet regularly to advance a particular agenda — within the General Assembly. There are the obvious ones: Each party in each chamber has its own to plot strategy and map a legislative agenda — the House Dems, the House GOP; the Senate Dems, the Senate GOP (yes, the Senate Republicans actually have resumed meeting again, so we hear, in some fashion). There also are bipartisan regional caucuses (the Northern Virginia Caucus, the Central Virginia Caucus) whose mission is to bring home as much pork as possible; special interest caucuses, such as The Sportsman Caucus; policy caucuses, such as Delegate Chris Saxman's (R-20, Staunton) Cost-Cutting Caucus; and even caucuses for spiritual fellowship, such as the Sunrise Caucus and Speaker Bill Howell's early morning Bible study group.
We help facilitate one of the most significant and potent caucuses in the entire General Assembly, The Conservative Caucus, which has members from both parties and both chambers. This group meets every Tuesday morning at 7:30 and is joined by several coalition groups, such as the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Virginia Society for Human Life, Virginia Association of Independent Baptists, Americans For Prosperity and many more. We hear from different coalition members on their legislative priorities, discuss policy and strategy, hear from the legislators themselves, and give each other a "heads up" on certain bills good and bad.
But without question, the best caucus of all is the Thursday Night Caucus. Every Thursday night during session, at a microbrewery in Richmond's historic Shockoe Slip, legislators of both parties and all ideological stripes, their staffs, lobbyists for every cause known to man and animal, journalists and prospective candidates, get together to play pool, have a drink, talk and socialize, and not nearly always about politics. (Last night I met Virginia political reporter Seth McLaughlin of The Washington Times and Lilian Kafka from the Potomac News. I also met and have had some great discussions with Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chairman Corey Stewart recently. (The rest of Virginia will be meeting him very soon.) It's a great way to compare notes, build coalitions, and get some intel from various staff, analysts, reporters and lobbyists. You also hear and tell funny stories and get to know people better, even delegates and senators whose views are quite opposite of yours. Thursday Night Caucus kicks off the second Thursday of session each year with a free food bash and ends the last Friday of session with the Sine Die party, a real big time where even some of the less outgoing G.A. members hang out to socialize.
Last year I got to know Delegate Dave Marsden (D-41, Burke), and we became fast friends. Even to this day he greets me warmly and jokes around when he sees me in the GAB. Recently, he was finishing a conversation with someone about a tunnel in Northern Virginia, saw me, and jokingly said, "And we can use The Family Foundation's help on it."
"Anything we can do, delegate," I joked back.
In this business, you need to build relationships. You can adamantly disagree with a point of view, and fight hard to prevail; but just as at the end of an athletic contest, where you have just tried to knock off an opponent's head, you still shake hands and share some fellowship after the final whistle. One thing that's easily learned is that no matter what a lawmaker's views are, they are all committed, make great sacrifices to serve and probably put in more time and inconvenience to their lives than its worth. Many do it with good cheer.
Last night, I similarly got to know Delegate David Englin (D-45, Alexandria) who was an Air Force officer assigned to the Pentagon during 9-11. It was the first time I heard a first-person account of someone actually in one of the terrorists' targets. Spellbinding. Still doesn't mean he's right on almost any issue. But it also means we have a great new respect for each other.