Razzing freshmen part of ritual in Va. House of Delegates

In a tradition of hazing, the first legislation brought to the floor by first-year assemblymen get an intense vetting, no matter how pedestrian the contents.
By Fredrick Kunkle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 21, 2010

RICHMOND -- All he wanted to do was decorate his new office with some deer antlers. But then James E. Edmunds II discovered that this would be against the law, because the possession of shed antlers, like those left by a buck on his farm in Southside, is illegal.

So Edmunds, a member of the biggest freshman class of Virginia state delegates in nine years, used his awesome new powers to submit a bill to legalize their possession. It passed in the House, but not before Edmunds (R-Halifax) was thoroughly and publicly hazed with a barrage of silly questions, a time-honored tradition in the chamber.

Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) demanded to know whether the bill would allow someone to snatch a set of antlers off someone else's shed.

"It would not, unless the antlers fell off the shed," Edmunds, 39, answered gamely.

If the shed collapsed, would a person be able to take the antlers off the shed? Lingamfelter pressed. And what about homemade turkey calls? Would Edmunds's bill infringe on hunters using bits of antler in devices used to lure a gobbler?

As the questions bore in, Edmunds whipped out an impressive, four-point antler as Exhibit A. Other lawmakers roared with laughter.

"I would take note that the gentleman's evidence there appears to be half an antler," Lingamfelter said. "Does this mean a full set of antlers or a half of an antler or a little teeny piece of it?"

Del. Albert C. Pollard Jr. (D-Northumberland) got into the act, slyly noting that Edmunds's possession of any part of the antler could be seen as a violation of the law, prompting more hoots and catcalls for the sergeant-at-arms to be summoned.

Hazing rookie lawmakers is a favorite pastime in Virginia's House of Delegates, where the atmosphere is looser, and a little rowdier, than in the Senate, a difference sometimes likened to that between Britain's House of Lords and House of Commons. The thinking goes that the delegates, who stand for election every two years, are closer to the people than senators, who serve for four years.

When Sen. Jeffrey L. McWaters's first bill was passed this year, his colleagues gave the newly seated Virginia Beach Republican a decorous round of applause.

"We did not have a lot of frivolity in the Senate," said former state senator John H. Chichester (R-Northumberland). "Our horizon is a little farther out there."

Dual traditions

Traditions are prized in the General Assembly, and they seem to run along two tracks. There are the august customs befitting a capitol designed by Thomas Jefferson and a legislative body whose lineage is traced to the establishment of the House of Burgesses in 1619, making the General Assembly the oldest legislative body in continuous existence in the Western Hemisphere. And there are the traditions that amount to horseplay.

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