Q & A with Del. Dave Nutter
About Dave Nutter:
Home: Price’s Fork
First elected: 2001, served five terms in House of Delegates
Work: Economic development specialist at Virginia Tech
Quote: “People think it’s all about Republicans and Democrats. … It’s all about regions. That’s what drives what happens in the General Assembly so much more than party politics. Party politics organizes it. But how the votes go down on the floor is really much more about how the pie is cut by region.”
For the first time in a decade, Dave Nutter isn’t packing to go to Richmond this week.
After 10 years as a Republican member of the House of Delegates representing the 7th District (which included parts of Montgomery and Pulaski counties and Radford), Nutter made a bid for a state Senate seat last fall. But Democrat John Edwards of Roanoke successfully defended his 21st District seat and Nutter found himself back in private life.
The Virginia Tech economic development specialist recently reflected on his time in the legislaturecapital:
In looking back at 10 years in the House of DelegatesLegislature, what are a few of the high points?
Nutter: To be selected by your friends and neighbors to be their voice in Richmond is … still one of the high points – that alone. …
I think about the way … we renovated the Capitol. … We made a major investment in what I still think is the most important historical building in the state of Virginia – cost $100 million and I think we made the citizens proud.
I’ve always felt like what we do here at home is in many ways more important than what we do in Richmond, working with groups, discovering interests that you had, problems in your community that you didn’t really hardly know were there, or the magnitude of them.
So you’re talking about connecting state resources to different situations and issues locally?
Nutter: Right, or finding issues that are going on out there.
One issue I got involved in that I’m still very interested in is … the area of workforce. … When you start to look at the problems in communities and how you can help attract and keep industry, the problem of substance abuse starts surfacing. … I increasingly started hearing more from industry people about how it’s hard to hire people who could pass drug tests.
What do you think were some past decade’s developments in Virginia government that historians will see as the most important?
Nutter: I think health care has been one of them. …
Higher education … was rarely thought of. It was something that happened and we liked it, but we didn’t think a lot about it, particularly in the area of research. … We’ve done it in fits and starts, but what I think the community needs, what the commonwealth needs, is more a sustained level. … That’s a definite step in the right direction for the commonwealth, recognizing that research is, has a lot of implications to keep Virginia in the forefront. …
A lot of these will be economic development in some way. People are talking about … a lot of workforce issues. I’ve seen more focus on that. … We tend to look at economic development solely as real estate or incentives. But you know, increasingly today, people will tell you it’s really about workforce, it’s about skill sets.
I think there’s been a shift over the past 10 years. … I think it’s recognition that we do need to make investment into the skill sets of our citizens if we’re going to stay competitive in the global economy. And what that means, again, is we’re not competing with North Carolina alone anymore. …
I look across the 10 years I’ve been there and I think there’s a slow awareness of that. A lot of legislators didn’t think that was their problem. A lot of legislators looked at higher education as well, you know … a lot of them often said, “It’s all a bunch of liberal professors.”
And I’m like, “Well, who cares?”
It’s the kids we’re worried about. … If our citizens aren’t getting good educations, or getting access to good educations, then it doesn’t really matter whether a professor’s a liberal or conservative.
Either personally or in a broader historical sense, what were some of the low points of the past decade?
Nutter: I … sometimes wonder between Republicans and Democrats why we can’t find more middle ground on policy.
Like all things, you’re never going to have enough money to do everything. Ironically, 2010 was a pretty calm year. I think everybody knew the economy was pretty tanked. … The traditional battles over the budget – which on both sides are grossly distorted – kind of got lost and people got it. …
Unfortunately, everything that happens at the national level eventually trickles down to state and local races. And as that gets more money, more combative, it’s sad that it comes down to these races.…
The broader question … I think sometimes what is lost is the deeper look at policy questions.
What are policy questions that you would recommend to the General Assembly that’s about to convene?
Nutter: What do we expect our local governments to do in relation to the state? What authority do we give local governments? What needs to change?
Local governments always say everything’s an unfunded mandate. Well, to some degree that’s true. …
What counties used to do, used to be responsible for has vastly changed. … We’ve got to come to terms with that. What do we want these communities to do? What power to we want to give them? …
In the end it’s probably going to take a governor, because very few things profoundly change in state government without the push of a governor. But these are not the kind of things governors really want to wrap their arms around in a four-year term.
But at the same time, if Virginia’s going to modernize, it’s got to come to terms with that issue. …
We’ve had a moratorium on annexation for many years … think how much the destiny of Virginia has been changed by that moratorium. There would be Roanoke city coming to the door of Montgomery County. …
That’s why Virginia doesn’t have a Charlotte or an Atlanta. Maybe we don’t want that and we’re probably too far down the road to change that. But from a policy perspective, something profound happened … that we’ve never really thought what it means to the state today. … It’s one of those things, you know. What would it mean, what if we loosened that?
Instead, Virginia suggests regional authorities or regional cooperation to work around it.
Nutter: That’s exactly right. … You look at how a public policy choice had huge implications to the state. … The counties – have they become urban centers in their own right now? Then how do they manage themselves? Right now it’s property taxes. …
Do you have any regrets about this most recent campaign, this most recent election? Do you regret trying to step out of the House of Delegates into the state Senate?
Nutter: No, I made the decision I wanted to make. But my interest in public policy is not going to change. I’m going to continue to be active and I’m not ruling out any future runs.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1669
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