Tags: Joe Morrissey | Marion Barry | jail | virginia | state | delegate

Va. Legislature Mulls Options With Lawmaker Elected From Jail

Thursday, 15 January 2015 06:59 AM Current | Bio | Archive

In what the national media is beginning to dub a reality show about Virginia politics, former State Delegate Joe Morrissey — now serving a jail sentence for having sex with a 17-year-old receptionist in his office — stunned the Old Dominion State by winning the special election Tuesday for the legislative seat he resigned as part of a plea bargain.

Now that the voters have spoken in the 74th District (Henrico County), the next question is whether Morrissey’s former colleagues in Richmond will move to expel him from the House of Delegates.

This would set the stage for another taxpayer-funded special election, more national press attention that is surely not wanted by Virginians, and the likelihood of another victory by the seemingly indomitable Mr. Morrissey.

The latest chapter in the storied career of Morrissey, a lifelong bachelor who has fathered three children by three different women, is nothing short of sensational. Denied a crack at the Democratic nomination by a rules change limiting votes in the process to party officials, the former lawmaker ran as an independent and rolled up 42 percent of the vote against the two major party nominees.

"And what’s especially intriguing is that Morrissey swept the heavily black Democratic precincts by a margin of 59 percent to 38 percent for [union organizer and Democratic nominee] Kevin Sullivan," veteran elections analyst Jay O’Callaghan told Newsmax.

“And this is when Sullivan had the backing of the state legislature’s Black Caucus, the Democratic organization, and the labor unions.”

Making the Morrissey win even more stunning was that he was only able to campaign by day, when he was required to wear an electronic monitoring brace. Under the work-release arrangement for his six-month sentence, the former lawmaker had to be back at the Henrico Regional Jail East by 8 every night.

His win Tuesday makes Morrissey the first Virginia lawmaker elected from jail, House of Delegates Clerk G. Paul Nardo told reporters.

Actually, there is little precedent anywhere for what Morrissey accomplished. The late Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry was convicted on one misdemeanor charge of possessing illegal drugs and served a brief prison sentence after leaving office in 1990. Barry did pull off a spectacular comeback by winning back his former job as mayor in 1994.

Boston’s legendary Mayor James Michael Curley served a five-month sentence for mail fraud in 1947 while holding his city’s top job. He resumed his mayoral duties upon his release from prison, but was defeated in his next trip to the ballot box in 1949.

Another Massachusetts Democrat, Rep. Thomas Lane, served a short prison sentence for income tax evasion in 1955 while serving in Congress. He won re-election three more times until his defeat in redistricted territory in 1962.

Actually, winning any office while incarcerated appears to be unprecedented in American politics, at least since the 20th Century.

Even before the ink of Morrissey’s certificate of election was dry, Republican House Speaker William Howell hinted that he and the Democratic leaders may seek a way to deny the embattled lawmaker his seat. Morrissey’s election, according to a statement from Howell, "does not change the fact that his actions fall grievously short of the standards of a public servant in the House of Delegates."

Under the Virginia Constitution, two thirds of the 100-member House of Delegates are required for expulsion of one of its members. The last time a delegate was expelled was in 1876.

"The voters know what they are electing, so why should people outside the District decide who can serve?" former Rep. Tom Davis (R-Virginia) told Newsmax. "If they want to pass a law banning felons let them do that, but it is a slippery slope when a majority can overturn an election outcome that is distasteful."

Shortly after he was sworn in quietly on Wednesday by Chief Clerk Nardo, Morrissey himself told CBS affiliate Channel Six that the voters in his district "made a pretty emphatic statement yesterday."

His colleagues have quickly begun to show what they think of him by placing his new office next to the electrical room in the Capitol. When Morrissey came on the House floor, only one delegate shook his hand.

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

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In what is beginning to be dubbed a reality show about Virginia politics, former State Delegate Joe Morrissey - now serving a jail sentence for having sex with a 17-year-old - stunned the state by winning the special election for the legislative seat he resigned as part of a plea bargain.
Joe Morrissey, Marion Barry, jail, virginia, state, delegate
Thursday, 15 January 2015 06:59 AM
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