Jones wields power quietly, effectively

Published 10:15 pm Tuesday, January 14, 2014

In politics, some rely on the bully pulpit. Others don’t need it.

It’s the difference between perceived power and real power.

Based on news coverage of his first few days in office, you’d think new Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is the guy with the clout in Richmond. He’s promised to push for everything from lower tolls at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels to Medicaid coverage for 400,000 uninsured Virginians.

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Whether McAuliffe delivers on his rousing rhetoric, though, depends largely on whether one man approves — the gentleman from Eclipse, Delegate Chris Jones, new chairman of the all-powerful House Appropriations Committee.

McAuliffe makes headlines. Jones’ name usually appears deep in news stories, followed by a quote that reveals whether McAuliffe has a prayer of succeeding.

On Medicaid expansion, for example:

4Headline: “McAuliffe urges quick work on Medicaid expansion”

4Thirteenth paragraph: “Expansion of Medicaid I do not see this session. Period,” said the Suffolk Republican, who chairs the budget-writing House Appropriations Committee.

Period indeed. As in, “end of story” for Medicaid expansion in 2014.

McAuliffe appears to have a better shot with his toll-reduction plan.

4Headline: “Sources: Toll plan cuts rates to 75 cents, $1 — for now”

4Seventh paragraph: “Del. Chris Jones called the toll relief plan ‘a reasoned approach’ after getting briefed on its outline Tuesday morning. ‘They’re trying to minimize the impact until you actually have the facility open with extra capacity.’”

For the record, Jones doesn’t look or act the part of political powerbroker. Meet him at a cocktail reception and he’s much more comfortable talking Green Bay Packers football (yes, he’s been to Lambeau a few times) than hardball politics.

There’s no arrogant air about him. He looks right at home behind the counter at Bennett’s Creek Pharmacy, which he owns and operates. It’s harder to envision him wheeling and dealing in the Capitol, though clearly he’s done something right politically to earn the respect from colleagues that’s required to be put in one of the legislature’s most powerful jobs.

Suffolkians, regardless of political persuasion, should welcome Jones’ increased influence in Richmond.

Nutty redistricting has carved up Suffolk in such small electoral pieces that Jones is our only resident delegate. We’ve long been without a resident senator, ever since Fred Quayle’s Western Tidewater district vanished in remapping after the 2010 Census.

That leaves Jones as Suffolk’s last man standing in the General Assembly. And he’s standing taller than ever.

Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is