The ten delegates who knew better.

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.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

26 replies on “The ten delegates who knew better.”

  1. It’s pretty simple. The times called for leadership and what we got was cowards.

    the people who voted against at least had the backbone to admit their bigotry.

    the others revealed their feckless hypocrisy.

    Virginia “traditions” ….. Die Hard, eh?

  2. I think Thorne-Begland actually needed 51 votes to become a judge, not merely a majority of 64 Delegates who chose to vote. While this seems like a tall order, it’s my understanding that judicial appointments are mostly noncontroversial items that regularly pass unanimously.

    Like you, what’s upsetting for me is not that a jackass like Bob Marshall would oppose an obviously qualified nominee just b/c he’s gay and has the temerity not to be closeted – there are always going to be people like Bob Marshall. The real problem is that he was able to cow some three dozen others to vote no or abstain. I’m still sort of dumbfounded that he pulled that off.

  3. That is the way Steve Landes rolls. I remember when he came begging to Governor Warner for financial help to entice the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) to locate in the Valley. Warner put his back into the lobbying effort with the promise that Valley legislators would back legislation to fund the campus. We got the SRI to commit, but when the vote came, Landes voted against the funding. He is indeed a feckless, bug-eyed wimp of a politician.

  4. Tracy needed 51 votes to be elected (a majority of the members elected, which is by LG Bolling can’t break ties votes on judges in the Senate).

    For the record, 4 delegates were not present at all on Monday due to “pressing personal business” (which is how excused absences are recorded in the House Journal): The Speaker, Bob Brink, David Englin, and Margaret Ransone. I know Brink and Englin would have voted yes, and would have been there if they could.

    Several members had already left by the time of the vote (which was around 1:15 am). I don’t recall all of them, but I know Habeeb, Tyler, Joannou, had already left before we started considering judges.

    The tradition/protocol in the General Assembly is not to vote No on a judge. If you can’t support them, you don’t vote. It is rare to vote No. It is even rarer to abstain. House Rule 69 says it all:

    Rule 69. Upon a division of the House on any question, a member who is present and fails to vote shall on the demand of any member be counted on the negative of the question and when the yeas and nays are taken shall, in addition, be entered on the Journal as present and not voting. However, no member who has an immediate and personal interest in the result of the question shall either vote or be counted upon it.

    Had the hour not been so late, someone might have had the presence of mind to demand that those in their seats and not voting be counted as voting no. But I think it is safe to say that was their intention.

    I really wonder what “immediate and personal interest” in Tracy’s appointment the 10 members who abstained had. I am fairly certain none of them are related to him.

  5. well..like I said.. it was a time for leadership among those who claim to be leaders and we found out that “leading” was not to their liking and reverted to feckless….

    the bigots threw down the gauntlet daring those who claimed to be of principle to stand tall.. and they turned tail……

    same thing happened back during massive resistance ….

  6. Before we start calling people “bigots” off-hand, would it be possible to get a link to some explanations from the “no” voters. I don’t really care what Marshall has to say, but there are some good-natured, decent people on the “no” list that I think deserve a chance to explain their votes (for reasons other than his sexuality, such as his ideology, potential activism, etc.). It’s possible that his sexuality had nothing to do with their vote at all. (Ha… as if that would stop liberals from calling conservatives “bigots” regardless.)

  7. I don’t know what I was thinking re: two or three votes changing, having known full well that 51—not a simple majority—were required. I have struck that line, though kept it visible, because I like making my mistakes obvious.

  8. Before we start calling people “bigots” off-hand, would it be possible to get a link to some explanations from the “no” voters.

    Well, the Tracy was endorsed unanimously by the judiciary committee, and in the floor debate, no concerns were raised about him other than that he’s gay, and that concern was raised in spades. That is to say, they had their chance to explain their vote, and either did so or let their silence say it all. As John J. Chapman, said: “[A] mere failure to speak out upon occasions where no statement is asked or expect from you, and when the utterance of an uncalled for suspicion is odious, will often hold you to a concurrence in palpable iniquity.”

  9. Right on, Waldo. Thanks for the details on the vote. I read the Daily Progress article and immediately questioned why there were ten abstentions. It appears to me that we have an ever diminishing number of true statesmen (and stateswomen) in the general assembly. For me statesmanship is more important than political party affiliation.

  10. I think EVERYONE had an opportunity to make sure that no one misunderstood their vote if it was for principled reasons.

    I consider a “no” vote a principled vote also if someone explains their position and it is clearly different from “bigot”.

    Until I see and hear those “principled positions” I’m going to classify this as a win for the bigots.

    This is like looking back at the civil war era and have folks claiming they were “out of the loop”…. Back then, you either spoke out in favor or in opposition or you hid in the shadows… there is no shortage of so-called leaders hiding in the shadows on this IMHO of course.

    The time comes in everyone’s life when you have to stand up for what is right (or explain your principled opposition) or run and hide…

  11. Jackson Miller on why he voted “no”:

    In one of your remarks you state, “I am simply writing based on what the leader of the effort to block the nomination said.” I would agree that Del. Marshall was the leader to block this nomination in the arena of public opinion, however, he was not the leader within the House Republican Caucus on the subject of not electing Thorne-Begland to the General District Court.

    If you had been able to watch the floor debates, you would have seen that a group of retired military Colonels gave very articulate and convincing statements as to why they believed Thorne-Begland should not be elected. I was compelled to not vote for this judicial candidate based on what I was told by several career military retirees that I serve with in the House of Delegates.

    Del. Marshall is a strong orator and the press loves to interview and quote him on hot button issues, but I can assure you that in this instance the members of my caucus did not see him as the leader on this issue. They were listening to the military leaders.

  12. hard to fathom why or how the “military” would have principled objections to a CIVILIAN judge..

    come again?

  13. Jackson Miller (and Bob Marshall, for that matter) would praise “activism” and “disobedience” to the constitution (state and federal) IF it were in the service of THEIR ideals. But if the issue is gay marriage or DADT, then it’s suddenly a bad thing to be an activist and force objectionable laws to be reconsidered.

  14. It is principled to vote against a candidate who advocates for and engages in immoral behavior.

  15. I have a special request for Warren. Warren — and I mean this sincerely — PLEASE continue to voice your opinion about homosexuality frequently, in as many public places as possible, to as many people as possible. I would very much like as many people as possible to hear this opinion articulated in exactly this clear-cut manner. Because I’ve seen the data on American attitudes towards homosexuality, and I know they’re rapidly shifting towards acceptance and embrace, and I know that this trend isn’t going to reverse itself (just as attitudes towards interracial relationships have not reversed). All the survey data show that the percentage of people who think that sexual relations between same-sex couples are “immoral” is dropping, dropping, dropping. The younger the demographic, the lower the percentage. More and more people actually know someone who is gay. Churches are shifting their attitudes towards homosexuality. Sure, there are hold-outs, not all of them codgers, but the tide is against them, and it’s against you. And I think that every time someone like you comes out with your “immoral behavior” line and presents it as if it were inarguable fact — honestly, you’re just making the tide run that much faster against you. Because the increasing number of people who know someone who is gay can’t reconcile that belief with the person they know. You’re on the losing side of history, Warren. Maybe you and your friends can emigrate to Nigeria and enjoy the anti-gay paradise that awaits you there.

  16. Minor quibble but didn’t 33 vote in favor of the judgeship and 31 against?

    That’s a very important quibble, Vivian. I did reverse the numbers, but I have corrected them now. Thank you!

    So, for the record, I wrote:

    There are the 31 delegates who voted for Tracy. Great. There are the 33 delegates who voted against him.

    That was the mistake that has been corrected here.

  17. “Ha… as if that would stop liberals from calling conservatives “bigots” regardless.”

    http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0512/76437.html

    Robert Marshall: “[Thorne-Begland] could preside as a district judge for a marriage of two guys if he wanted to, in violation of the law…. Moreover, if you have a bar room fight between a homosexual and heterosexual, I’m concerned about possible bias.”

    “Sodomy is not a civil right.”

    Fuckin’ bigot.

  18. All this talk by Marshall about how wrong Thorne Begland was to stand up for his beliefs against the law of the land….. Isn’t that exactly what Marshall was doing when he tried to cram Hb1 down our throats? He was trying to use the personhood bill to create an end run around constitutionally protected rights insured by Roe v. wade. So that makes Bob not only a bigot but, if we follow his logic, unfit to hold his current office since he actually did use his position in the exact same way he expected Thorne Begland might do.

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