Del. Mark Keam’s 13 years in the General Assembly came to an unexpected halt Sept. 6 after he resigned to accept a federal-government post.
In an earlier message on Twitter to his colleagues, Keam said he wished he could have continued his work as a state delegate, but a job opportunity had arisen that required him to work full-time year-round.
“Regardless of how long we have worked together, I have cherished every minute of the times we shared in the House,” he wrote. “You have become more than colleagues to me – you are family, friends, and fellow advocates for our progressive goals. It has been an incredible honor to serve with you over the past thirteen sessions.”
Keam, 56, added that he had notified House Speaker Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) last week that he would be resigning his seat and not attending the special session set to begin Sept. 7.
Keam formerly worked for Verizon, but left the company in 2016. He for a time ran an international-trade consulting company, but the pandemic caused most of that business to dry up. Now that both of his children are in college, Keam decided to pursue full-time work with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration as deputy assistant secretary for travel and tourism.
The policy-related job will involve working with the U.S. Department of State and other agencies to encourage more foreign travelers to come to the United States.
“I thought this would be a good time for me, and for my family, for me to go back to work full-time,” he said. “I grew up overseas and have a strong background in foreign affairs.
Keam said he never envisioned serving as a legislator for so long.
“It’s been tremendously enjoyable,” Keam said. “I’ve been both honored and privileged to have had this opportunity. I never thought that I’d be a career politician.”
Keam said he was proudest of his legislative efforts regarding “green” energy. The General Assembly in 2020 passed his Solar Freedom Act, designed to foster additional solar-energy usage in communities, and last year passed his Environmental Justice Act, which requires state actions to be reviewed for their environmental impacts on minority and low-income communities.
In an effort to ensure “our state’s government reflects the diversity of our country and our state,” Keam last year also formed an Asian-American Caucus.
Keam first was elected to the House of Delegates in 2009, narrowly defeating Republican candidate James Hyland for the open seat, and has been re-elected ever since.
According to Keam, the governor sets special elections when the General Assembly is not in session, but because of the current special session, Speaker Gilbert will decide when the election occurs.
While state code would permit the special election to be held concurrently with the upcoming Nov. 8 general election, Keam said this scenario was unlikely because the latter election is federal and would have additional complications.
Born in South Korea, Keam moved with his family to Vietnam and later fled to Australia when Communists took over Vietnam in 1975. Keam and his family later settled in California. He became an attorney and served as chief counsel for U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) on the Senate Judiciary Committee before becoming a vice president and counsel for Verizon.
Fairfax County Democratic Committee Chair Bryan Graham on Sept. 6 issued a statement regarding Keam’s resignation.
“We thank Mark for more than a decade of public service in the House of Delegates and honor the history he made as the first Asian-born immigrant and the first Korean American elected to any state-level office in Virginia,” Graham’s statement read.
“While we wait to hear when the special election to replace Del. Keam will happen, FCDC is formalizing its plans to operate an open and fair process to choose our nominee,” Graham wrote. “We will ensure that a Democrat remains representing the people of Dunn Loring, Tysons, Vienna, and Oakton in the current 35th House District.”
The 35th District long was in Republican hands, represented by the late Richard Fisher and then Jeannemarie Devolites Davis, but has been held by Democrats since the 2003 election. Del. Stephen Shannon (D) served three terms and did not seek re-election in 2009 so he could make a bid for Virginia attorney general. Shannon lost in 2009 to Republican Ken Cuccinelli and in 2015 was elected a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge.
Del. Rip Sullivan (D-McLean-Arlington) called Keam a “terrific public servant.”
“His constituents – and all Virginians – are lucky to have had him in the General Assembly,” Sullivan said. “A trailblazer and a leader on numerous issues important to Virginia, Mark has left Virginia better off than when he came to it as an immigrant. He leaves behind many friends on both sides of the aisle, who will all miss his intellect, wit and dedication to public service.”