A 1976 Collegiate graduate, Massie has represented the 72nd District in the Virginia House of Delegates for the past 10 years. At noon Wednesday, January 10, his successor will take the oath of office to serve the Commonwealth and his 80,000 constituents in Henrico County to the best of his ability. Massie, who did not seek re-election, will wish him well, then step from the spotlight. For the moment, at least.
“One of the main reasons I ran for office in the first place,” he said, “was a sense of public service. Democracies do not work very well unless informed citizens participate in that democracy. To me, that always meant more than voting on the first Tuesday in November.”
A conservative Republican, Massie has served on the Appropriations Committee, Rules Committee, and Education Committee. He’s chaired sub-committees for Elementary and Secondary Education and for Higher Education.
During his tenure, he successfully sponsored and is most proud of legislation that…
- requires that public schools provide training for personnel who work with autistic students (HB325 in 2012);
- requires the state to evaluate the effectiveness of economic incentive programs (HB1191, 2014);
- mandates, among other guidelines, that campus police forces/security departments notify local law enforcement within 48 hours of the report of a sexual assault on campus property (HB1785, 2015);
- allows individuals and businesses to donate to scholarship foundations benefiting low-income students and receive a 65% tax credit (HB1017, 2016).
Massie’s time at the Capitol has been a call to duty, a labor of love, and an experience with many rewards, but it has not been without its disappointments and frustrations.
One afternoon recently, he and I sat in his living room and engaged in a far-ranging conversation that included his time at Collegiate, his decade of public service, the state of politics today, and his plans for the future.
Speak about the experience of running for office, then serving.
Running for office is a blood sport. You see it nationally. You see it statewide. Fund raising is not particularly fun. The hours are long. You’re constantly out to breakfast, lunch, and dinners, working in the evenings, working on Saturdays and Sundays. The reason we do it is a sense of public service. We’ve been very blessed to live in a democracy. Affecting public policy can get a little frustrating because you’re one of 100 in the House. You have to get 51 people in the House, 21 in the Senate, and a governor to agree on the exact language. That’s a daunting process, especially when you have huge philosophical differences. The politics is tough, not much fun, but public service and the ability to affect public policy are the reasons I enjoyed doing it for 10 years.
What frustrations did you experience?
In the generic, the media does not do a good job of giving a broad and deep, fair and accurate presentation of the facts to put the public in a good spot to make good decisions. Their business model is under a lot of stress these days, especially the print media, to generate revenue. What generates revenue is not that broad and deep boring presentation of facts. It’s sensationalism.
What kept bringing you back?
Helping people. Making an impact.
When did you know it was time to move on?
The system was designed originally that part-time legislators would come in and serve 10 years or so. I always approached it that way. It was never forever. I’m 59 years old. I have another quarter of my life left. It was a sense that I’ve done my public service for a decade. It was time to let somebody else do it.
You’ve been mentioned as a possible candidate for the Republican nomination for the US Senate. Speculation or truth?
I took a really hard look at running for the Senate last year. Tim Kaine is up for re-election in 2018. I continue to take a hard look. We have an election in November. It isn’t right thing to have intra-Republican contests going on when we’re trying to elect our governor, lieutenant governor, attorney. And there’s a lot going on in Washington with health care reform, tax reform. I want to see how Mr. Kaine votes, how he comports himself, and see how that all shakes out. Will I make a decision before November? Possibly. But it’s unlikely.
Politics, even intra-party politics, has become uglier and uglier.
I’m going to follow Ronald Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment and never speak ill of my fellow Republicans. A number of good Republicans will be interested in that primary.
How does a politician maintain his decorum these days?
It speaks to (the fact that) politics is a blood sport. It also speaks to, I think, the media’s role. I wish the media was in the business of giving the public a broad and deep, fair and accurate presentation of the facts, but that’s not the business they’re in. They’re in the business of selling advertising. Sensationalism. Russia. All Mr. Trump’s foibles. All Hillary Clinton’s foibles. That’s what sells advertising rather than boring facts. Politics is a blood sport. The media is a part of the problem.
Is it all right to quote you on that?
Yeah. From my perspective, what we need to be really interested in is not all the drama that’s going on in the Trump White House. We ought to be interested in the public policy. What actually is Mr. Trump accomplishing? That’s going to be health care reform, tax reform, immigration reform. You hear very little about this. I’ve seen estimates that 90, 95% of the news is not focusing on that, not telling the underlying story about what’s going on with all those different Cabinet secretaries or Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. The equity market is up 17% since he got elected. That’s some very sophisticated investors saying, “Hey, we think he’s going to make the economy (better).” There’re a lot of Virginians and a lot of people in the United States that are hurting economically. That’s why they elected Mr. Trump. I think most people in the United States don’t care about Russia. They elected Donald Trump president because they thought he was going to make their life better, particularly with respect to the economy.
Do you envision the tone of discourse improving?
If you went back and looked objectively and closely at politics in the United States of America over the last 200 years in our democracy, it’s been ugly at a lot of different times. I don’t think this is anything new. But with the media and with more people in touch, maybe more people are aware of it.
How did you stay above the fray?
I can’t think of a Democrat at the General Assembly that I’m not friends with. We get along. We talk civilly. And we pass a lot of bills on a bi-partisan basis. I disagree with them on a lot of big issues, but we have a cordial relationship. That’s part of the story the media doesn’t tell.
What did you learn at Collegiate that has helped you as an elected official?
Collegiate gave me a great academic education and taught me how to allocate my time. I was an athlete at Collegiate, and I learned to compete. Politics is incredibly competitive. You get a sense of service at Collegiate. Without that sense of responsibility, democracy doesn’t work very well unless informed citizens participate in the process.
What advice would you give aspiring politicians?
If they were really young, I’d tell them to raise their family, earn a living, and when they have the experience of doing both, then run. If they were older, I would say, do your homework. You have to understand the commitment to the political process. You need to understand the limitations of the public policy process. Sit down with other legislators and ask them what it’s like politically and public policy-wise, day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year, serving in the legislature. You need to have your eyes wide open.
Are you glad you did it?
Yeah, I learned a lot about politics, about public policy, about democracy. I helped a lot of people, and I gave back. Somebody who’s been as lucky as Jimmie Massie has been, that’s a nice thing to be able to do.