Members of the Virginia House of Delegates today expressed disbelief, indignation and sometimes amusement at a published report detailing complaints of sexism by women who work at the General Assembly.
By a voice vote, the body agreed to allow Del. Warren Barry (R-Fairfax) to introduce a measure authorizing Speaker of the House A. L. Philpott to investigate incidents reported Sunday in The Washington Post. Barry said the measure would include censure authority to be directed against either legislators or the newspaper as necessary.
"This isn't reporting the news," Barry said in the opening moments of today's House session as he held the newspaper aloft. "This is creating the news out of half-truths, innuendo, and the wishful thinking of some paranoid individuals."
The article, based on interviews with more than three dozen women, detailed the belief of a significant number of them that they have special problems operating effectively in Richmond.
Six current women legislators said on the record that attitudes held by certain of their male colleagues make work difficult or at times affect legislation.
The women interviewed included all nine women members of the 140-member Assembly, plus lobbyists and legislative staff aides.
Photocopies of the article sprouted all over the assembly today. Many delegates and senators were seen reading them at their desks while the House and Senate were in session.
Despite the House's unanimous vote on Barry's measure, several legislators said an investigation is unlikely. Calling such a probe's chances "zero to nothing," Del. Vince F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax) said none of the delegates wanted to vote against the measure because "they didn't want to look like they were trying to whitewash anything."
"How are we going to investigate something like this?" asked Callahan, the chairman of the Republican caucus. "We have to have something concrete -- not just a newspaper article but complaints to the speaker. And I haven't heard that we have any."
Philpott was absent from the assembly due to illness, and unavailable for comment.
Barry drew loud laughter from the delegates when he read portions of the article aloud and referred to Philpott, House Minority Leader Thomas W. Moss (D-Norfolk) and Del. Elise Heinz (D-Arlington) pictured with the story, as "sex objects."
Calling the article "fiction," Barry called for an examination of reports that an unnamed legislator had asked sexual favors in return for favorable consideration of legislation, and that a female page had been pinched by a legislator. "These are very serious charges," Barry said. "If there is no basis for them, we've got to go to the publisher and editor of this newspaper and tell them we hold this type of journalism in disdain."
Responding to an allegation in the article that Moss had shocked a female lobbyist by kissing her while the two were riding in an elevator, Barry said the incident was innocent. "Anybody who knows Tom Moss knows that if Tom Moss wanted to put the moves on a woman it wouldn't be to kiss her on the cheek, that's for sure," he said after the session.
Del. James F. Almand (D-Arlington) later called the ruckus "much ado about nothing." Another legislator, while expressing doubts that a probe would be held, joked that he hoped to be named to the committee. "I'd give my eyeteeth to be on it if they have subpoena power," he said.