A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Patriots Are in the House–and the Senate

By Colleen Kearney Rich on October 19, 2012


When it comes to dealing with the General Assembly and state capital, Mason has always been the new kid on the block. Let’s face it, some of our fellow state universities have been around a long time—the College of William and Mary still has its royal charter, which was issued in 1693.

So as our graduates build careers and establish themselves in numerous places, including the Virginia state government, the university benefits as does everyone else.

What does that mean to Mason?

It might sound obvious, but the reality is that having alumni at the table with relevant information when public financing or public policy is decided means the university’s chances increase of not being overlooked in favor of universities that have relevant information readily accessible.

“[The alumni] know us, up close and personal, making them the most important validators of who we are,” says Elizabeth “Betty” Jolly, Mason’s state government relations director, who helps the university track legislation that is important to higher education.

Throughout the decades, Mason students have always distinguished themselves in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area with their desire and willingness to help others, especially. It isn’t surprising to find some ready to take this inclination to a higher level and move into public service.

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II

Kenneth T. Cuccinelli

A funny thing happened to Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, JD ’95, MA International Commerce and Policy ’00, as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Virginia. He discovered he liked law.

“Halfway through engineering I got on the Judiciary Committee at UVa and found I really enjoyed law,” says Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general. “I knew engineering would be a good background for other things, so I stuck with engineering and got an affinity for the law at the same time.”

His engineering degree may be from UVa, but his law degree came from Mason’s School of Law; he later earned a master’s in international commerce and policy (now international transactions).

“My wife and I lived in Northern Virginia,” he says as to why he chose Mason. “Mason fit our family the best and was a bargain in-state and it’s still true among Virginia’s law schools. And they had some offerings that were attuned to my way of looking at the world.”

The state’s leader in all legal matters, Cuccinelli has a spectacular view of the front pillars of the Thomas Jefferson-designed State Capitol. Cuccinelli wears a crisp blue shirt sans necktie on this hot summer day, taking questions at his desk, while a computer monitor behind him scrolls photos of his seven children.

Cuccinelli is running for his party’s nomination as governor. “The law school was very Libertarian in its thinking but also wide open to disagreement,” he says. “They encouraged debate and discussion, and they’d challenge you, but it wasn’t some sort of orthodoxy they were trying to impose.” The master’s program, he says, “was even more wide open yet.”

In 2006, when the men’s basketball team reached the NCAA Final Four, Cuccinelli was “the only Mason alumnus in the Virginia Senate, and being a ‘double Patriot,’ that was certainly a point of pride at the time. I tell people UVa is my football school and Mason is my basketball school. I’m very glad of the opportunities that Mason had for me, and in ways that fit my family. Being married and right out of college, that was a big deal.”

A self-described collector of degrees (“my wife tells me no more degrees until I’m retired or someone else is paying for it”), Cuccinelli appreciates how the commonwealth has made higher education a priority for its citizens.

“It’s hard to argue with that,” he says. “Certainly, it’s a critical facet of what we have to offer in Virginia, and when you look at our whole higher education system, we have one of the best in the country. It’s hard to compete with us across the spectrum. Maybe there’s one university or another that’s better than one or another of ours, but when you look at our whole basket of universities, we’ve got quite an outstanding selection for the folks who live in Virginia.”

And now Cuccinelli is campaigning throughout the state to be the first governor from Mason. “It’ll be a competitive general election, but you’ve got to get there first. We’re getting a lot of grassroots support, and that’s absolutely key to getting the nomination. So far, so good.”

—Buzz McClain, BA ’77

Charniele Herring

Charniele Herring. Photo courtesy of the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

When Delegate Charniele Herring, BA Economics ’93, was appointed the House minority whip of the Virginia General Assembly, she didn’t realize she was making history. Herring is the first democratic woman to hold the position.

“I love doing the job,” she says. “We have a great caucus, and I’ve really enjoyed getting to know the members better.”

Herring is currently serving her third term representing Virginia’s 46th District. In addition, she chairs the Legislative Reproductive Health Caucus and serves on the Courts of Justice Committee and the Science and Technology Committee.

Prior to her becoming a member of the House of Delegates, Herring was twice appointed by former governor Tim Kaine to the Council of the Status of Women, a role she had to give up once elected.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Herring was first exposed to public service at age 13 when she testified before a presidential committee about the need for continued health care coverage for military dependent children, which she was at the time. Issues facing young people continue to be high among her priorities.

“I believe that if your child gets an early and strong start in their education, they are going to succeed in school and go on to get a degree or degrees, which is important for our economy and Virginia,” she says.

Herring didn’t have the best start herself—and she credits Mason with helping her make the transition to college.

“I had a tough start, and [my family] was homeless for a time. My grades suffered as a result,” she says. “

Herring applied to Mason and was accepted through the Student Transition Education Program.

“It is such an important program to me personally. They reached out to me and invited me to come to Mason,” she says. “The program provided me with the opportunity to demonstrate that I could do college-level work, which I did during that summer at Mason, and that was how I got admitted.”

This summer, Herring spoke about STEP at a Children’s Defense Fund conference and how she believes this is an opportunity all states should offer.

“Coming from challenging economic situations doesn’t mean the students can’t do college-level work and achieve,” she says. “I want to make sure others have the opportunities that I have had to access to education, higher education especially.”

After completing her bachelor’s degree at Mason, Herring went on to earn a juris doctor from the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University.

“Mason gave me a great foundation, and it is wonderful that a state school did that,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I feel obligated to give back to the state.”

—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95

David Ramadan

David Ramadan

“Winning the House of Delegates race was the greatest moment of my life, and everything about that seat is positive, with one exception: I had to give up the Mason board,” says David Ramadan, BA ’93, MA ’95.

It was the only board appointment the Loudoun County businessman wanted—he had turned down others—but you can’t be a delegate and a member of Mason’s Board of Visitors, a gubernatorial appointment, at the same time.

“It’s the only negative,” Ramadan says from his desk in his Dulles office, where he represents the citizens of Virginia’s hot-button 87th district. “I loved the Mason board.”

Ramadan’s district of South Riding sits just west of Dulles International Airport, a region that is undergoing unprecedented growth–84 percent in the years between 2000 and 2010, with no signs of slowing. Transportation is an all-consuming issue, with heavy debates about Metro, new bypasses, and a western entrance to the airport occupying his time. But he enjoys being “a facilitator and nagger-in-chief,” saying, “Politics is in my blood.”

As a boy growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, he saw the ravages of civil war and terrorism, witnessing the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy there and the flames of the Marine barracks bombing. He also read the U.S. Constitution “and began asking questions and understanding what it is.” At the same time, he accompanied his attorney father to civic events and meetings.

Ramadan immigrated at age 19, making him, he says, “possibly the first adult immigrant to make the House since the early 1600s. I am certainly the first Lebanese American.” He graduated from Mason in 1993 with a BA in government and politics and earned a master’s in international transactions, a degree that’s helped him succeed as an international franchise consultant. (His company is called RAMA International.)

This summer, he was appointed to the pivotal Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, a body that will no doubt address his district’s needs.

The first-term delegate introduced 16 bills during this year’s legislative session. He co-introduced five more and cosponsored 63 bills. “And I introduced 47 resolutions and cosponsored another 38,” he says. “I did pretty good for a rookie.”

Clearly, he did not let his first-year status keep him back. “I would tell people [at the Capitol], ‘I’m a freshman in the building, but I’m not a freshman in life.’ I coined that phrase, but by the end of the session, it was being used by the other 16 members of the freshman class.”

He adds, “I’m the 88th-ranked member [of the House], so I’m not really that powerful; however, with my powers of persuasion and nagging, I will go after something for my constituents and my district— and I will nag until I get it done.”

He keeps a small “Mason corner” of green-and-gold mementos in his office, including a foam tricorn hat, a logo ball cap, and a one-of-a-kind hand-decorated vuvuzela horn, a gift from a business partner.

“I told [former president] Alan [Merten], I’m leaving the board, but I’m not leaving Mason. And I mean it.”

—Buzz McClain, BA ’77

Bryce Reeves

Bryce Reeves

Mason alumnus Bryce Reeves, MPA ’99, has worn many different hats, including an Army Ranger tab, during the course of his professional career, but one thing has remained constant through all the jobs he’s held: his desire to help those who could not help themselves.

“I felt a patriotic duty to serve this great country,” he says of his time as a U.S. Army ranger. He continues to serve to this day; this time it is the people of Virginia’s District 17, which includes the town of Culpeper, as well as parts of Albemarle, Louisa, and Spotsylvania counties.

“Now I have the opportunity to do a whole lot of good by helping create the laws that will allow my fellow Virginians to flourish and hopefully lead productive lives and raise their families in a better Virginia,” he says.

During his freshman term as a state senator, Reeves was chief patron of 20 pieces of legislation and copatron of many more. He was recognized by the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys as a Champion of Justice for Senate Bill 685, which allows law enforcement to apply to use a global positioning system (GPS) device during an investigation.

It isn’t surprising that he would be would be looking out for those in law enforcement. After his time in the U.S. Army, Reeves worked narcotics and vice as a Prince William County police officer. Noted for his exemplary work on the narcotics squad, Reeves was asked to serve on a joint jurisdiction drug interdiction task force of Northern Virginia and Maryland.

It was his time in law enforcement that led him to pursue a degree in public administration. “I needed to make sure I was educated and informed on the latest management practices in the public sector,” he says. “I knew that an MPA was the right track to help me achieve those goals. Mason has one of the best programs for an MPA in the country, and it fit my needs perfectly.”

Now Reeves is president of Bryce Reeves Insurance and Financial Services and Reeves Asset Management Group, a commercial real estate development firm, in addition to representing District 17.

After his election in 2011, Reeves was appointed to serve on four committees: Courts of Justice, General Laws and Technology, Privileges and Elections, and Rehabilitation and Social Services.  In addition, he serves on a handful of caucuses and committees, including the Military Caucus, which he cochairs, and the Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission.

“I would like to focus on military and veterans legislation,” he says of the kinds of legislation he is interested in. “We owe our veterans and military a tremendous debt of gratitude. We have a duty and obligation to make sure we take care of those folks.”

When not working with his companies or on behalf of the Virginians he represents, Reeves has a third grader and ninth grader at home to keep things busy for him and his wife, Anne.

“Representing 204,000 constituents with only one staff person has a lot of challenges,” Reeves says, but he is already preparing for the 2013 session. “It is such an honor to serve as a senator in Virginia, and I am truly blessed.”

—Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95

Sidebar: Friends in High Places

It turns out the university has lots of friends and alumni looking out for us in Richmond.

Mason alumnus Sean Connaughton, JD’92, is Virginia’s secretary of transportation.

Matt Conrad, JD ’05, is deputy chief of staff and deputy counselor for Gov. McDonnell.

In the House of Delegates, Michael Webert, BA Communication’10, is representing Virginia’s District 18.

Thomas “Tag” Greason, MBA ’00, is representing District 32.

Delegate Barbara Comstock of District 34 is a Mason parent. Her daughter is a graduate student studying forensic science.

Although Delegate Alfonso Lopez of the 49th District did not graduate from Mason, the university is still near and dear to his heart. Lopez’s fathercame to this country at the age of 19 with $260 in his pocket and the dream of a better life. He learned English and started attending school—first Northern Virginia Community College and then Mason, taking a class a semester until he graduated one month before his son graduated from high school. Lopez credits his father’s determination and value of education for encouraging him to follow his dreams.

Delegate Jim Scott, MPA ’82, of District 53 is on the advisory board for the School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s Point of View.
In the State Senate, we have another Mason parent: Barbara Favola of District 31 has a son studying geography at Mason.

Also not a graduate of the university Chap Petersen of District 34 is still a part of the Mason family. His father, the late John Petersen, was a much-loved professor in the School of Public Policy.

Senator Chuck Colgan of the 29th District doesn’t hold a Mason degree either but is part of the Mason family. Over the years, Colgan has been a huge supporter of the university and instrumental in some of the progress we were able to make with our campus in Prince William County.

 


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