THERE IS an old saying that if you’re looking for loyalty, buy a dog. In politics, this maxim proved to be accurate and particularly enlightening to me.
When I began my service on the Stafford County Board of Supervisors 12 years ago, I was still in my 30s and decidedly new to elected office. In addition to the loyalty lesson, I’ve learned a lot since.
In part because I had endured a campaign in which my opponent exclusively focused on the personal failings and transgressions of my late teens and 20s, I probably had the thickest skin of any first-term supervisor. That proved to be an unintended blessing, allowing me to plow ahead on issues I believed were essential to protecting our liberty without worrying about the name-calling and personal attacks that have come to characterize American politics.
I learned that one person can make a difference in government. I also learned that holding office is not necessarily a requirement to making a difference.
There’s a process to governing and implementing policy. As a participant in that process, I realized that the bureaucracy is a beast. Every law passed is nearly impossible to undo. But, undoing some of those laws is worth the fight. And, determination and persistence are the keys to winning those fights.
One of the most challenging fights I led was repealing a stifling tax on small businesses. In 2009, the then-Democrat-majority board implemented a destructive tax called the Business Professional Occupational License, or BPOL. As the owner and operator of my own small business, I know how crippling overregulation and high taxation can be. So, I fought this tax hike—hard. In fact, one particularly heated board hearing lasted until 3 a.m.
But that November, Republicans won a robust majority on the board. The first thing we did was to cut our own pay. Then, we repealed BPOL. We also adopted a strategic 10-point plan to improve our economy.
Conservative governing worked. Stafford jumped to No. 1 in job growth in Virginia, earned AAA bond ratings, and saw its revenues grow— allowing us to keep cutting taxes.
Raising taxes is lazy. It’s a mantra I’ve heard and witnessed at all levels of government. Politicians rarely fight the trajectory of an ever-growing government. The bureaucracy of government encourages more spending, which in turn requires higher revenues. Raising a little tax here and a little tax there can be a deceivingly attractive path of least resistance. But the heavy burden of those taxes falls on the shoulders of the people. That burden, and not the wants of government, should always be our foremost concern.
Zoning is one of the board’s main responsibilities. Protecting private property rights, while balancing the need for infrastructure and limiting growth, requires constant vigilance. If a new development didn’t improve our county as a whole, we didn’t approve it. Though we approved relatively few new developments, we always made sure secondary roads were in place and that our schools could handle growth.
I learned that most politicians in Richmond have no idea what their policy decisions mean for local government. They pass mandates on counties without funding them. Though Stafford County is No. 6 in the nation in median income, a lot of that money goes to Richmond—and it doesn’t come back to our county. With local roads needing attention, we took matters into our own hands. We fixed or funded the fixes for dangerous roads like Brooke, Poplar and Truslow by leveraging local money to implement voter-approved transportation bonds.
Preservation and conservation—concepts initially championed by Republican Presidents Benjamin Harrison and Theodore Roosevelt—are not wholly owned subsidiaries of Democrats. Land preservation was critical to my first election, and is one of the most important issues to me. Working with elected officials representing both parties, we preserved Crow’s Nest, built trails at Government Island (home to a quarry that produced stone for our nation’s Capitol), created a Civil War Park and worked with the George Washington Foundation to enable the rebuild of Ferry Farm.
I also learned that words matter and that listening is of far greater value than speaking. Having been honored by my fellow supervisors with the opportunity to serve as board chairman, I learned that my words can either instill confidence or cause consternation when leading such a diverse county.
In a time of vitriol in politics, I think that’s what we need most: To respect our fellow man’s point of view. The hashing of ideas is what makes our government the best in the world, no matter at what level one serves.
Though my term in office is ending, this isn’t the last of my efforts to continue working with people to strengthen our community. I look forward to seeing Stafford welcome and embrace its future and I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve.
Paul Milde is the outgoing chairman of the Stafford County Board of Supervisors. He is also president of Closet Interiors Plus.