Thursday, March 28, 2013

An Institution Hangs Up His Quill

Yesterday, we learned that Delegate Lacey Putney is calling it quits after 52 years in the House of Delegates at the age of 84. 

Lacey won his first election in 1961 at age 33 when John F. Kennedy was President.  He was elected as a Democrat, but changed his party affiliation to Independent in 1968.  He has caucused with the Republicans starting in the late 1990's and briefly served as Speaker. 

Lacey is an a trial lawyer who hails from Bedford County - right across the Roanoke River from my grandfather's homeplace in Franklin County.  Every time he speaks, I have flashbacks to my summers spent in Franklin County and my grandparents friends who I met through the years.  People just don't talk like Lacey any more. 

He has seen a lot in his 52 years in the House and I always found my conversations with him in the Member's lounge to be fascinating.  When you have 52 years of experience, you have a lot of wisdom and insight to offer about Virginia, legislating, practicing law, or million other things. 
Managing a process where $80+ billion gets divided up by 140 people who want a piece of it for their district and where it must be balanced after 60 days requires a lot of skill, judgment, and people skills.  Lacey has been in charge of that process for about the last 10 years including the first cycle when I was elected where we saw the worst budget crisis in 70 years.  He pulled it off repeatedly without a mutiny. 

Most of us who were there, will never forget the day he took the podium with his Washington & Lee Law School classmate (and 44th District resident), former U.S. Senator John Warner.  You felt like history was standing there before you.

One day, I was before a Finance Committee Subcommittee waiting for one of my bills to be killed and Lacey went ahead of me (that's the custom for Committee Chairmen).  He was presenting a bill to propose a referendum to increase the the sales tax - half to pay for roads and half the fund the General Fund. 

He went into stories about how the condition of the roads in his district had deteriorated to the point where he thought they presented safety issues, and he talked about how there simply was not enough money in the General Fund to pay for our responsibilities such as schools, colleges, public safety, healthcare, and the safety net.  

When Lacey stands up on the floor to speak, people listen.  I was awestruck that the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee was in there pushing a possible tax increase, but to me it spoke volumes about how dire our revenue situation has become - on both transportation and the General Fund.  It says a lot about how the General Assembly has changed over the last 40 years. 

Lacey has been an institution and his presence at the chair next to the entrance will be missed by all of us who serve with him.  The loss of 52 years of experience and the wisdom that comes with it is something that will definitely be felt in our Chamber. 

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