The Virginia General Assembly plowed ahead with its 46-day session Monday despite it being a statewide holiday to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. The spirit of the slain civil rights icon hung over the legislative work, which by tradition on this day featured large groups of citizens coming in to speak on various matters.
King was invoked to support civil rights during floor speeches, to call for raising the minimum wage in a committee meeting and to push for concealed weapons permits at a pro-gun rally.
But Democrats in the House of Delegates were abuzz over something that didn’t happen.
Del. Roslyn Tyler (D-Sussex) stood in the House of Delegates to pay tribute to King. At the end of her floor speech, she mentioned the clash over the weekend between President-elect Donald Trump and U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
Lewis, who marched with King and is a revered civil rights icon in his own right, had suggested that Trump’s election was illegitimate because of interference in the political process by Russian hackers.
The president-elect responded with a series of tweets that dismissed Lewis as “all talk” and saying he represents a failing district.
Tyler said Trump “saw fit to insult and denigrate a colleague of Dr. King.” In response, she said, “it is time for all of us to stand up against this bullying and intimidation, as it is inconsistent with the life of Dr. King and the values of this country.
“So today I ask my colleagues to stand with me in support of Congressman John Lewis, to honor the legacy of Dr. King and the countless other civil rights leaders who fought to make America the great country that it is.”
A video shot by other House members shows that Democrats all stood with Tyler and applauded, while Republicans in the chamber remained seated. Some Republicans could be seen clapping, but none appeared to stand.
After the session, Democrats seized on the moment to say that their Republican colleagues were disrespectful.
“The president-elect has denigrated a man who risked his life so that all Americans could realize the ideals of this country,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (Charlottesville). “I call upon every member of the House Republican Caucus to immediately condemn this shameful attack.”
The Republicans, though, weren’t taking the bait.
“It is unfortunate,” House Republican spokesman Christopher E. West said, “that House Democrats would politicize a floor speech honoring the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”