Local Commentary

Mary Margaret Whipple’s Richmond Report

Last week’s Reconvened and special sessions resulted in a number of notable accomplishments for the 2008 General Assembly.

The budget was adopted with the Governor’s amendments, most of which were accepted. In the end, we produced an austere budget that meets financial projections but nevertheless, by reducing funding in some areas, accomplishes full funding of K-12 education, supports a major reform of mental health programs; provides 600 new mental retardation waiver slots, expands preschool education; adds natural resource funding; and funds foster care initiatives.

A $1.5 billion bond bill was approved that will fund construction of buildings on our college campuses, mental health facilities, dams, state parks and correctional institutions. The projects can be started soon, providing jobs and an economic stimulus in these challenging times.

Many judges were appointed, but some were not, and therein lies a story that was generally not well reported in our area. There was no agreement on the appointment to the prestigious and powerful State Corporation Commission so that will be left to the Governor.

The more interesting tale is the appointment of judges in Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Hampton. Because the Republicans in Virginia Beach, who have become used to making all the appointments, did not get their choice in one judgeship, they held up the appointments of all the judgeships in Norfolk.

Then one of the Republican delegates wanted his sister to be appointed a judge in Hampton. After lengthy negotiations an agreement was reached that his sister would be nominated along with three others for the four available seats.

However, the Senate Republicans refused to vote for the Republican delegate’s sister. Along with some Democratic abstentions, that meant that she did not receive the required 21 votes in the Senate, and was therefore not named to the bench.

In a fit of pique, the House of Delegates voted to reconsider the vote on the other three judges and then held up their appointments as well. As Senator Mamie Locke from Hampton said, “I don’t understand why the other three highly qualified candidates were sacrificed on the altar of nepotism." She said the House Republicans "could have cared less about the other three candidates."

The candidates were all female and included two African-Americans, appointments that would have brought more diversity to the bench.

Of course the Senate Republicans had an axe of their own to grind. They were angry that the Republican delegate who wanted his sister appointed was the same person who had campaigned actively against an incumbent Republican Senator last year in a primary election. The Senator lost the primary and the Democrats picked up that seat in November, giving them the control of the Senate.

In any case, the intraparty feud has meant that a number of well-qualified people were caught in the crossfire. The Governor will fill the seats on an interim basis, but next winter the General Assembly will have to ratify the appointments. It is possible a number of the nominees will not wish to be appointed under those circumstances for they could leave good jobs for what might be only a temporary appointment.