Conservatives bend to the will of special interest group; Governor loses on amendments with bipartisan majorities
May 21, 2012
The conservative right-wing attack-machine has been in full mode in the General Assembly session since January. Most of their efforts had been focused on attacking women’s reproductive rights and expanding the ability of citizens to carry guns into more public places, from public parking lots to airports. But the low-point came on May 15, 2012 at 1:00 a.m., when the Republicans denied the appointment of a highly qualified prosecutor to the General District Court judgeship for the City of Richmond. Tracy Thorne-Begland, a Navy veteran and hard-nosed prosecutor in the Richmond Commonwealth’s Attorney office, was denied appointment simply because he was gay, and was willing to say so.
The Thorne-Begland application has an interesting history. He was thoroughly vetted and approved through a rigorous process by the House Courts of Justice Committee, including its Judicial Subcommittee, which is controlled by conservative Republicans. He was certified by both of those committees to be a judge and was listed among the nominees that were submitted to the full House of Delegates. At the eleventh hour, however, the Virginia Family Foundation, a group with substantial influence in the General Assembly and which pursues a vigorous anti-gay and anti-women’s rights agenda, issued a statement calling on delegates to deny the appointment. Most Republican delegates fell in line and decided to deny the appointment. To their credit, however, several Republican attorneys who sit on the House Courts of Justice Committee and had previously voted for Thorne-Begland, stood on principle to support the application. But most others simply reversed their original approval, falling prey to the pressure of the conservative interest group. Others left their seat rather than have a vote recorded, and still others abstained. Even Gov. McDonnell was unwilling to clearly support Thorne-Begland’s appointment. This was simply one of the more disappointing votes that I have seen in my seven years in the House of Delegates.
Earlier in the day, we also considered an unprecedented number of Governor’s recommendations to change the budget, many of which were rejected by lopsided bipartisan majorities. The Governor appears to have been spending too much time running for Vice President and not enough time working with legislators of both parties to develop coalitions to pass his agenda. Many of the recommendations that he made were either sloppily drafted or made no financial sense, and these were summarily rejected by both parties. Among those rejected were the Governor’s proposals that would have made it more difficult for state employees, including university faculty and staff, to receive bonuses in the event that the state generated a surplus in the next year. This will help many in our area receive some additional compensation to make up for years of lack of raises.
I was pleased to support a successful effort that will increase funding for a life science initiative that will help the University of Virginia and our region continue efforts to become a biotechnology hub in the Commonwealth. You can see some of my comments on that item below.
I will continue to press for greater investments in our research institutions and the commercialization of ideas that create good jobs for our local economy.
As always, it is an honor to represent you in the General Assembly. I encourage you to let me know your thoughts and concerns about how we are doing as a Commonwealth. Sincerely, David