If it’s Monday morning, Chris Saxman’s fans across the Commonwealth and beyond are gathering around the newest political water cooler in Richmond.
No, they aren’t physically hanging out to jaw about the latest issues and controversies. They’re tuning in to the former Virginia House of Delegates (2002-10) member’s three-hour radio show that takes place Mondays from 10:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. online and on Facebook.
This 53-year-old Pied Piper of politics, a ball of energy who naturally pulls in followers from both sides of the political aisle, makes it palatable to listen to sometimes-mundane issues on his Virginia FREE radio show, a recent entry to the airwaves in Virginia.
“Call in!” he encourages with his engaging enthusiasm. “Our number is 804.778-8888. That’s 804.778-8888. Give us a call!”
His weekly prerecorded intro says it all. With upbeat music playing in the background, Saxman voice-overs his reasons for the show:
“Virginia is the crucible of democracy. And we hold a special charge in world history. [Background: Patrick Henry’s stirring ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’]
“If you fall into two camps and the camps are bitterly and evenly divided, we don’t move anywhere as a country. And we need to keep moving.
“We have to have a space and a media outlet for people to come and say, ‘Hey, this is what’s going on, this is what I’m doing about it, canvas, campaigns, what-not, but also policy leaders, political leaders, business leaders, and of course we’re taking callers from around, not just the state, but from around the country. Virginia FREE radio.
“We want to be the place where America comes, Virginia comes, to ask the tough questions, get the tough answers on how to get them engaged to actually implement and effectuate the change that they really want.”
Friends, colleagues, former constituents in the Shenandoah Valley, politicos, and business leaders tune in for the pre-show warmup, a relaxed five minutes or so of friendly chatter and shoutouts as familiar names pop up on the screen. Sitting at a nondescript desk in a nondescript surrounding, a notebook with an outline of the day’s program in front of him, he glances at his cell phone to the side. A Starbucks cup sits within arm’s reach.
Picking up a Sharpie and the Starbucks cup, he writes, “Go Howard,” on the side while disclaiming any endorsement of the Democratic former CEO of Starbucks who has talked of entering the 2020 presidential race as an Independent. “I’m not endorsing Howard Schultz,” he emphasizes. “But I’m for choice. Give people a choice!”
Saxman, who was first elected in the 20th House District (Staunton, Augusta County area) in November 2001, was listed by The Hotline  in 2003 as one of the top 20 “up-and-coming stars” of Virginia politics. Only 35 years old at the time, he wore out multiple pairs of shoes walking the district and appearing in parades and at events that endeared him to the community.
Easily winning the seat in the red Shenandoah Valley, he went on to make connections in Richmond between the GOP and Democrats, a natural role for the son of a Democratic mom and a Republican dad. The words compromise and communication, to take place with those across the political aisle, were not dirty words to him.
By combining his knowledge and experience of the state’s legislature and political issues along with his background as a businessman and leader in the communities where he has lived, he talks with guests and callers, answering questions and listening while quickly filling three hours of air time.
On a recent Monday this natural storyteller was in the midst of a tale about his third child as he laughed and enjoyed a role he is well-known for — sharing experiences in an animated fashion that draws in listeners. On another show he had yet another family story that involved his parents who were instrumental in his development in politics and his willingness to listen to all sides of an issue.
Virginia FREE , the Foundation for Research and Economic Education — a non-partisan business organization that is headed up by Chris who has served as their Executive Director since 2014 — sponsors this Monday funfest. It’s all laid back and casual. One Monday he was standing in his chair trying to fix the overhead light. Other times he can be seen during news breaks making notes, sipping from a water bottle, or grabbing a snack.
In between the light-hearted bantering that goes on with Chris and his engineer Al, there’s actual learning going on. Former Governor Bob McDonnell’s reparations group. I-81 pro-con information. Energy. Climate change. Issues under discussion during the General Assembly session. Cap and trade. Candidates. Redistricting.
Guests call in. RPV Chairman Jack Wilson discussed the 2019 General Assembly session. One show former Delegate Joe Morrissey called in and joined in the conversation about redistricting with Brian Cannon who is Executive Director of One Virginia 2021. On another, Chris talked with Democratic operative Jessie Harris from Iowa, picking his brain about candidates. Running for Chris’ old delegate seat, former Staunton mayor John Avoli called in last week from Staunton.
March Madness was the subject on the mid-March show with Democratic strategist Ben Tribbett’s predictions at a time when folks were filling out NCAA tournament brackets. (By the way, Ben picked the University of Virginia to lose in the first round in 2018, which they did, and chose them to win the entire NCAA tournament in 2019, which they did. If you want to buy a lottery ticket, maybe you should take him along.) The conversation then rolled into politics and Ben, knowledgeable about political campaigns in the Commonwealth and beyond, ticked off one race after another with thoughts on election results. Pure gold for political junkies.
Saxman’s son William called in next. William, who was manager of South Carolina’s basketball team when they went to the Final Four, added his knowledgeable analysis about the teams going to the NCAA.
After the Oscars held in February, Saxman was non-complimentary of the event from the night before. “I don’t need someone to tell me what to think. Just say thank you and let it be.” You could almost hear the cheers of agreement from some across the Commonwealth, and the groans, too.
He talks Virginia politics with the occasional dive into national politics when it comes to the 2020 presidential election. Chiding Republicans for not being willing to disagree publicly with the president, he notes that there are Democrats who don’t agree with the far left wing of their own party and they, too, need to speak up.
Perhaps the most entertaining show so far, for me, followed the University of Virginia’s winning Elite Eight game that propelled them into the Final Four of the NCAA 2019 tournament. A miracle winning three-point shot by Mamadi Diakite at the buzzer when UVa was three points down, forcing Purdue into overtime, was a delight to Chris who had Al play the audio over and over throughout the show. Each time we heard the winning shot go into the basket, Chris’ arms went up in a V-shape of victory as he basked in the glory of the game.
UVa won their Final Four game and went into the championship game, winning the entire tournament in an overtime heart-stopper. The ecstasy of this radio host, who was at UVa’s Scott Stadium with 25,000 other Hoos fans for the victory celebration last weekend, knows no bounds.
It’s a fleeting three hours every Monday. Whether you stay for the entire show or pop in when you can, Chris with his enthusiasm and knowledge of politics will entertain, enlighten, and educate.
For missed shows, check out the archive of Virginia FREE Radio podcasts.  You can also find Virginia FREE on Facebook . And Chris? You can usually find him somewhere around Short Pump in Richmond’s west end. But on Monday mornings, he’s leading the discussion around the water cooler. See you there.