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Portsmouth students see politics behind the scenes in Richmond

Tidewater Community College students from the Portsmouth Campus glimpsed politics up close on a snowy morning in Richmond.

The Jan. 15 trip was part of the Virginia Community College System’s “Every Day is Community College Day,” and started with an orientation from Jennifer Gentry, vice chancellor for institutional advancement at the VCCS.

Gentry urged the students to “tell the community college story” to their respective General Assembly delegates, noting the state’s community colleges are vying for their part of a $96 billion budget.

“This is where laws are made; this is where rules are made; this is where government happens,” she said. “This is a time to tell your legislators that you value what they’re doing to lobby for community colleges.”

Students from TCC’s Chesapeake, Norfolk and Virginia Beach campuses have tours planned for later in this General Assembly session.

The Portsmouth students talked with Del. Matthew James (D- Portsmouth, Suffolk) and Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth). James was good-natured about sharing his salary for the 120 days the General Assembly is in session.

“That would be $17,000,” he told the surprised students, as many predicted six figures.

Tiana Porter, Janae Thompson and Ta'Nya Snead on the Capitol balcony.
Tiana Porter, Janae Thompson and
Ta’Nya Snead on the Capitol balcony.

James explained the voting system in the General Assembly – “Whereas Congress can vote by proxy, we have to sit in our seats to vote,” and he reflected on the mass amount of bills passed in the short span.

“Community college is dear to my heart,” he ensured. “Community college is the engine of economic development.”

Joannou sympathized with the pending tunnel tolls that will start on Feb. 1 in Hampton Roads, noting that he advocated to no avail for students to receive a discount card.

“I know this will be tough for all of you,” he said, adding that he’d be happy to listen to recommendations any time. “If you’ve got a problem, give me a buzz,” he said.

The students also visited the Capitol balcony, where they were recognized by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth). After lunch, a brief tour of the historic building followed.

“It’s good to see so many of them giving back,” student Kerry Johnson said. “We see these people on the news; it’s good to seem them up close at work.”