By Sheila Pursglove
It was perhaps inevitable that Rich Anderson would be fascinated by politics and public policy, after growing up with a Virginia governor and a U.S. congressman as neighbors.
Anderson went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Tech, and after retiring in 2009 from a 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force he entered the political arena. A member of the Republican Party, since 2010 he has served in the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the state’s 51st District, chairing the House Committee on Science and Technology and serving on three House Committees: Appropriations, General Laws and Transportation.
A brigadier general in Civil Air Patrol after serving as the organization’s national commander from 1993-1996, Anderson shares his political passion through his annual 51st House District Future Delegate Program. Students chosen to participate join him for an up-close view of the legislative process.
“As a former CAP cadet, recipient of the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award and a former CAP squadron, wing, region and national commander, I understood first-hand the importance of developing the minds and enthusiasm of young people,” said Anderson, a CAP Lifetime Member and 2016 Hall of Honor inductee.
“CAP sparked everything for me. It defined my life, first as a senior CAP leader, then as a senior USAF officer, then to a career as an elected official who chairs our General Assembly Military and Veterans Caucus and moves legislation for 800,000 Virginia veterans, 50,000 of whom live in my community.”
About 200 middle and high school students have participated in the nonpartisan Future Delegate Program over five years, including 30 students this year.
Each “future delegate” for the day spent eight to 10 hours one-on-one with Anderson before receiving a Certificate of Completion.
“Each day I would take my ‘future delegate’ onto the House floor, where they met a number of delegates and the staff of the clerk of the House,” Anderson said. “My day was their day — subcommittee and committee meetings, the daily floor session of the House, press conferences, testifying in front of Senate committees where my House bills were being heard, and meetings with the speaker of the House and majority leader.
“Almost all were absolutely ecstatic about the experience, and some likened it to being on a Hollywood movie set. Almost all expressed an interest in pursuing elected office or some other form of public service in life,” he said.
Anderson traces the program directly to the mentoring he received as a CAP cadet and then performed as a senior member.
“Just as CAP sparked my interest in a 30-year Air Force career, I know my Future Delegate Program has the potential to spark a young person to a career in public service,” he said.
The program intrigues Capitol colleagues, whose comments include, “I can’t believe you make the time to host a young person every day” and “this is one of the finest youth programs I’ve seen.”
Anderson’s community outreach coordinator, Kristina Schnack Kotlus, organizes the program.
“Politics isn’t necessarily a happy place to work, but what makes working for Delegate Anderson different is the joy he gets from inspiring the next generation of public servants,” Kotlus said.
“Whether he’s signing thousands of honor roll letters or welcoming students to the Capitol, he’s so excited about making Virginia a great place to live and work, and his enthusiasm is infectious in the kids,” she said. “It makes all the behind-the-scenes work worth the effort.”
Kotlus’ son Riley participated last year. “I learned a lot,” said Riley, who followed up by serving as a page in the House of Delegates during this year’s legislative session. “Delegate Anderson introduced a bill and participated in committee breakout sessions, and I learned one person can be incredibly productive in a day — it was overwhelming to keep up!”
Seventh-grader Pavel Steen was eager to learn about the government and how laws get passed. “We went to many smaller meetings, then we went to the Capitol building and learned about its history, and then we went to the meeting with all of the delegates,” Steen said. “It was very interesting to be in an old building designed by Thomas Jefferson. The fact there were important decisions being made here was incredible.”
Steen’s younger brother Milan, who wanted to see how see how politicians carry out their work in Richmond, has an interest in politics and public service. “I feel like the world needs good people to be politicians,” Milan said.
Riley, who plans to study law, would like one day to fill Anderson’s shoes.
“A lot of people transition from law to government,” he said, “so maybe I will take over for Delegate Anderson when he retires.”