Showing up

Published 9:42 pm Friday, November 14, 2014

In the absence of any of his colleagues from the Virginia legislature, Delegate Chris Jones (R-64th), one of Suffolk’s representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates, found himself occupying the lone hot seat during a forum sponsored Thursday by the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

The forum, which had been advertised as an opportunity for members of the public to engage with members of the state legislative delegation from Suffolk and Portsmouth, appears to have been something less to most of Suffolk’s legislators than the political event of the season — which is probably not all that surprising, considering Suffolk’s reduced political influence since redistricting cut the city into four different senatorial districts.

But as the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Jones holds an almost-outsized power in Richmond, and his were the words most of the business owners, managers and community leaders attending the chamber breakfast meeting were waiting to hear, anyway. The fact that he was willing to stand and face questions on his own speaks highly of him and of the community’s respect for him.

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The questions quickly turned to education funding, especially in light of the legislature’s special session on Monday in which members voted on a bill introduced by Jones to close a $2.4-billion budget gap over the next two years. Among the cuts prescribed by that bill are $45 million from higher education and $30 million from local governments each year.

Jones demurred when asked to describe the budget-cutting process, but he affirmed his commitment to both balanced budgets and education — both the traditional, public-school variety and the magnet-school variety. And he stood firm on his commitment to hold individual schools accountable by having the Virginia Department of Education to issue them A-F letter grades.

It would have been easy for Jones to have ducked some of those questions. In fact, he could have avoided them altogether if he had chosen to skip the event, the way his colleagues did. Whatever one might think about his answers, Jones at least deserves credit for showing up and honoring his constituents with a little respect. Sadly, that’s more than can be said of Suffolk’s other representatives.