On Home Cooking and the Recipe for Bipartisan Success

RoemVirginia State Senator Danica Roem (D-30) will be the first to admit she is not your typical elected official. Roem, a Virginia native, served in the House of Delegates representing the 13th District from 2018-2024 and is currently serving her first term as senator. Over her tenure, she has garnered a reputation as a hard worker and bipartisan colleague, and it’s her unusual path that in many ways has contributed to her success in office.

“You don’t get many transgender metalhead, yogi, reporter, stepmom, vegetarian, drivers of a $324 ’92 Dodge who are unemployed and uninsured running for elected office,” said Roem, the first out-and-seated transgender state legislator in American history. “But that was my path,” she told her Batten Hour audience this week, explaining her firm belief that elected government should not be the sole domain of the rich and powerful.

Roem described how her experiences have shaped her into an effective lawmaker. As a local reporter for the Gainesville Times and the Prince William Times, she said the stories she covered had an impact on her decision to run for office and directly influenced her work as a legislator.  

The skillsets she developed as a news reporter included asking a lot of questions, listening, taking notes, asking more questions, drafting and going through the editorial process, getting feedback and having a back and forth. “And once it’s published, defending your piece. It’s the same thing that goes into lawmaking,” she shared.

To be a good reporter and a good legislator, you must have knowledge about a multitude of different topics, Roem said, pointing out there can be 1,500 bills coming out of one legislative chamber in a single year.

“It’s really important that you have a strong grasp of the issues and make sure you are reading the news every single day,” stressed Roem. “I really make sure that I take the time to stay informed, and I talk to my constituents and make myself present in the community.”

This approach influences how she votes on bills and which ones she and her team will write. Her modus operandi is based on years of living in Northern Virginia and really knowing her constituent base as both a reporter and now a legislator. This work has given her the reputation in Richmond of “home cooking,” she said, meaning she takes care of her district.

Roem is also known for success in obtaining bipartisan support on bills she’s introduced. In the Virginia Senate this past legislative session, 10 of her bills passed, nine of which had zero or only one ‘no’ vote. What’s her recipe for success?

“I still go up to my colleagues across the aisle, and I say, ‘Hey, I've got a bill I'm working on that I think you have a lot of interest in.’” 

Roem said she talks to Republicans about her bills, but she also works with them on their bills. She will make amendments to further success in committee, even when some of her Democratic colleagues advise her to just let the bills die.

“I represent a purple district where people want us to work together,” she said. “They want us to work bipartisan, right? And my good faith record in the General Assembly is that I do the work. People see I am engaged, I ask a ton of questions in committee, and I genuinely do the work. And that's one of the ways you get people on both sides to respect you.”

Gabrielle Rosario and
Gabrielle Rosario (MPP, '24) and Nick Ruszkowski (MPP, '24) of Batten PRIDE moderated the panel with Senator Danica Roem.

Roem’s bills that have been signed into law – 42 in all -- have covered a wide range of policy issues, and she endeavors to be an inclusive leader, putting policy solutions above politics. She told an anecdote of one Republican constituent who told her he didn’t like her and would never vote for her. Yet when he asked her to carry a bill, she said it was a good bill, and she did, and it passed.  He later donated to her campaign not because of any preset expectations but because, as he said, he respected her and thought she was doing a good job.

Roem serves on several committees: General Laws and Technology, Local Government, Privileges and Elections, and Transportation. She’s extremely proud of her work on the Route 28 Stars Project which she calls “her baby” and which is now eligible for $40 million from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to help prevent accidents, cut down commute times, and add two miles of pedestrian connectivity, according to Roem.

The success she’s experienced as an elected official has helped Roem focus on things within her control rather than the negative campaigning and vitriol against her that has often been over-the-top in anti-transgender messaging, she said. While she can’t predict what opposition or negativity she’ll face in the political sphere over the next four years, she said she will continue to work hard to pass her bills and to work for her constituents.

"I tell transgender people who want to run for office, part of this is being vulnerable enough to be visible," shared Roem. "You are really putting yourself out there, and you know what the inherent risks are. You know everything that comes with it and you're doing this because of a cause that is greater than your own. And in this case, it's constituent service. It's community service. It's taking care of the people around you. And as you're doing a good job of that, chances are you might be the first out trans person someone has met, or you might be the first out LGBTQ person in general someone has met. And they may say, ‘Wow, Danica was really nice, and if that's what trans people are like, well, okay.’ And that means that I just had a positive impact for our whole community.”

Batten PRIDE sponsored this Batten Hour event, and Nick Ruszkowski (MPP, '24) and Gabrielle Rosario (MPP, '24) moderated. 





Garrett Hall at Sunset

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