If they had to do it all over, members of the local legislative delegation acknowledge it might have been better to hit the pause button before rushing in to judge the actions of embattled statewide officeholders.
In the words of Del. Rip Sullivan (D-48th): “Take a breath.”
Comments about the imbroglios of the commonwealth’s governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general came as seven legislators participated in the Leadership Center for Excellence’s annual legislative breakfast.
The April 5 event at Army Navy Country Club looked back on the 46-day session, and asked lawmakers to discuss their efforts to forge good relations across Virginia’s political and geographical divides.
“Our session was a success,” declared state Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30th), a view that seems to be held by both Democrats and Republicans.
But despite the legislative accomplishments, the session was overshadowed by allegations of racial insensitivity leveled against Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring, and accusations of sexual assault made against Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.
In the cases of Northam and Fairfax, a number of local legislators were out early demanding their fellow Democrats to resign. The calls came either individually, or through the Democratic caucuses in the state Senate and House of Delegates.
“There were a lot of life lessons” learned from the wreckage in Richmond, said state Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd). Chief among them? “Don’t rush to judgment.”
“I’m sorry we did,” said Howell, who also pilloried national Democratic leaders and presidential candidates for weighing in, early and sometimes loudly, on the Virginia situation. (“Ignore them,” Howell advised.)
State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st), who was among those to call for resignations only later to backtrack, acknowledged legislators were caught up in a media firestorm. “Statements were made before people even talked to the governor,” said Favola, who long has been an ally of Northam.
“It was like a snowball coming at you, bigger and bigger and bigger,” Del. Patrick Hope (D-47th) said of the frenzy that hit Richmond in February, the heart of the legislative session.
Outside of Howell, there was no specific apology made by the legislators for the rush to judgment, but lawmakers were nearly unanimous that they had learned from the experience.
“We need to contemplate first,” Ebbin said, noting that the Democratic caucuses and specific legislators “got out ahead of things.”
“Make sure you know your facts, particularly if you know the whole world is watching,” said Del. Mark Levine (D-45th).
Passing judgment on how the legislative session went outside of the scandals is akin to the macabre joke asking Mrs. Lincoln how went her night at the theater other than the gunfire, but the all-Democratic Arlington delegation had positive things to say.
“It ended up being very productive,” Sullivan said, albeit in a “heartbreaking and surreal” environment.
“We all want Virginia to be a better place,” said Del. Alfonso Lopez (D-49th), pointing to his efforts working across the political aisle.