Goodlatte Reflects on 26 Years in Congress
In January, Virginia will lose Congressman Bob Goodlatte, who as Judiciary Committee Chair has been the most powerful member of the Commonwealth’s delegation in Washington.
Bob Goodlatte has served in Congress since 1993. In more than 25 years representing the Roanoke area and the Shenandoah Valley, he chaired the House Agriculture Committee and is now ending his tenure as chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee.
Just because he’s retiring doesn’t mean he’s kicked his feet up. “It’s been the busiest year I think of my service in Congress and we’re going right up til the end, not just what the House is doing but this committee has been just timely busy right through the finish," Goodlatte said in a recent interview. "That’s good. I like it that way.”
This year Goodlatte has had everyone from the CEO of Google to numerous singers and songwriters before his committee– and seemingly everyone in between including conservative commentators Diamond and
Silk and even former FBI Director James Comey. In his last year Goodlatte was proud to help usher through a previously stalled prison reform bill while helping pass the revolutionary Music Modernization Act, a sweeping bill aimed at updating music licensing laws in this digital era that passed unanimously. “And this is not some little bill that everybody can easily agree on. It took many years to build up the consensus,” he noted.
Goodlatte took over the Judiciary Committee from Texas Republican Lamar Smith who praises Goodatte’s legislative abilities. “Bob is, I believe, an ideal member of Congress because he’s smart, he’s intelligent, he’s persistent, he’s knowledgeable, he’s cheerful and a very, very effective and a strategic thinker,” Smith said.
For many Democrats, including Northern Virginia's Don Beyer, it’s a different story. “I think he’s a smart, well-meaning person. He’s a friend but I’m not going to miss him in his role as Judiciary chairman,” Beyer noted. That’s because Goodlatte’s committee was known as the place where bills went to die, including comprehensive immigration proposals and gun safety measures, according to Beyer. “We’re actually talking about changing the rules so that one chairman can’t stop a bill that has widespread support, and that unfortunately I think characterized much of the Goodlatte leadership in the House Judiciary Committee.”
Goodlatte brushes aside the criticism. “This committee deals with some of the most controversial issues in Congress," Goodlatte noted, "and it’s the responsibility of the chairman when we get 1,500 or more bills a Congress to make the very tough decision about which ones to prioritize and which ones to not.”
Still, Goodlatte was able to reach across the aisle on some major and divisive issues, like criminal justice reform which some hardliners in his party have resisted for years. For that he found an ally in progressive Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. “I think it’s a good story for the American people to know that in order to do your job where you find common ground take advantage of it and work together and do something that many people will benefit from," Jackson Lee said. "I think he had that ability. And that’s what we did.”
Goodlatte says there’s still a lot of bipartisanship behind the scenes on Capitol Hill but he says social media has driven the parties further apart. “Unfortunately, it is harder and harder for the public to see it.”
Goodlatte says he’s been too busy to line up his next career move, and he’s glad about it. “I didn’t want a long, slow coast to the finish line. I want to run through the tape.”
Goodlatte has granddaughters in Washington. So whatever he decides to do next will involve time in Washington, whether that’s only as a grandpa or also as a lobbyist is yet to be seen.