After an especially acrimonious week in Richmond, state legislators went home last weekend, spent time with their families and perhaps unwound in other ways that Del. Dave Albo may eventually discuss on the House floor. But come Monday, Democrats and Republicans were right back to business – and right back at each other’s throats.
Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) kicked off the House session with a letter from more than two dozen Virginia business leaders, who urged Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and the General Assembly to drop divisive social legislation and focus instead on maintaining the state’s business-friendly atmosphere.
“These men and women have every right to be concerned,” Brink said. “All you need to do is turn on your TV, open any national newspaper or go to YouTube, and it’s impossible to escape the conclusions that we’ve allowed ourselves to be portrayed as a bunch of ignorant, backward-looking buffoons. That’s what you get when you pass a personhood bill the voters of Mississippi — Mississippi! — rejected just a few months ago. That’s what you get when you pass a bill giving the green light to discrimination against people who simply want to give an adopted child a loving, stable home. That’s what you get when you pass an ultrasound bill that demeans women and then joke about it.”
Brink was referring to a bill – passed by the House but killed last week in the Senate -- that would have defined a fertilized egg as a person; legislation allowing state-funded private adoption agencies to turn away gay parents and others on religious grounds; a bill that, before it was softened last week, would have required most women seeking abortions to first get a type of ultrasound involving a vaginal probe; and Albo’s sharing on the House floor that his wife had denied him sex after seeing TV coverage of the ultrasound bill.
Brink said the commonwealth’s image also was hurt by an amendment, added to the House budget proposal last week, that would prevent any state funds to be used on human stem-cell research.
Deputy House Majority Leader Todd C. Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) rose immediately to say that Brink’s rhetoric was offensive to people who oppose abortion. (Mississippians probably weren’t flattered, either.)
“I hope that the millions of Virginians who value the sanctity of human life heard the gentleman equate their belief system with ignorant buffoonery a moment ago,” he said.
Gilbert went on to say that social legislation has been just a small share of the bills the GOP has pushed, and that business leaders are probably more concerned about the state budget, which Senate Democrats are threatening to derail partly in a bid for power-sharing in the evenly divided chamber. Senate Democrats voted down the Senate spending plan last week and are vowing to do the same to the House version.
“I would suggest that those business leaders are every bit as concerned, if not much more, … about the fact that that budget is in jeopardy and the fact that we find ourselves careening toward a point where we cannot salvage that budget because of the ambitions and the personal interests of those in the Senate on their side of the aisle,” Gilbert said. “If he wants to focus on the things that will make Virginia better, and will move Virginia forward …and ease the minds of business leaders around Virginia, he should march down the hall and talk to some of his colleagues in the Democratic caucus in the Senate about why they have held up budget process for their own personal gain.”
Passions promised to stay high. A women’s rights group has organized a rally and candlelight vigil outside the governor’s mansion for 6 to 9 p.m. Monday.
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin managed, even amid all the heated rhetoric, to offer a blase response to the planned demonstration.
“We’re always pleased to see individuals exercising their First Amendment rights and getting involved in the democratic process,” he said. “We wish them well.”