Monday night, my wife and I stayed up late to watch live video of the House debate the nomination of Tracy Thorne-Begland to a judgeship. My wife and Tracy went through the Sorensen Political Leaders Program together. We know Tracy, and we know him to be a stellar human being. Watching his nomination fall in a 33-31 vote purely because he’s gay was embarrassing. Yet again, Virginia will be the laughingstock of the nation.
There’s one aspect of the vote that I want to call attention to. There are the 33 delegates who voted for Tracy. Great. There are the 31 delegates who voted against him. So the hood is off—they’re bigots, but they’re willing to own up to being bigots. Decades ago, these same legislators would have voted to prohibit interracial marriage, for Jim Crow, for slavery, for secession. But then there are the ten abstentions. Delegates who were there, in the room, who chose to abstain rather than vote yes or no. Those are Anne B. Crockett-Stark (R-Wythe), Riley E. Ingram (R-Hopewell), R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta) Israel D. O’Quinn (R-Bristol), Lacey E. Putney (I-Bedford), Larry N. Rush (R-Montgomery) Edward T. Scott (R-Madison), Beverly J. Sherwood (R-Frederick), and Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach).
(There were also 26 delegates who didn’t vote, but the unusual hour of the vote and, indeed, the very unusual time of year for this reconvened session surely led to a high rate of absenteeism, so I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt until I can find out for sure who was present.)
These ten delegates should be a special kind of shamed.
Two votes could have made the difference here, three certainly would have. All ten of these delegates witnessed an injustice, they knew it was wrong, and they did nothing. They could have stopped it. I’ll repeat that: They could have stopped it. But they didn’t. They chose not to. All of them would do well to consider the words of John J. Chapman’s 1900 commencement address to the graduating class of Hobart College, a speech so important to me that I’ve carried it in my wallet for well over a decade. This is the concluding paragraph:
I have seen ten years of young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find how deaf the world is, they think they must save their strength and wait. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little eminence from which they can make themselves heard. “In a few years,” reasons one of them, “I shall have gained a standing, and then I shall use my powers for good.” Next year comes and with it a strange discovery. The man has lost his horizon of thought, his ambition has evaporated; he has nothing to say. I give you this one rule of conduct. Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.
These ten legislators failed their trial. They failed Tracy Thorne-Begland. They failed Virginia.