‘Fighting Joe’ returns to Va. legislature

‘Fighting Joe’ returns to Va. legislature
Joe Morrissey is headed back to the General Assembly.

“Fighting Joe” is back.

Joe Morrissey, a controversial figure in Virginia politics, appears poised to return to the legislature after defeating independent candidate Waylin Ross in Senate District 16 with nearly two-thirds of the vote.

“Having been there before, having seen the way things work, I really, truly am going in with a slightly different approach this time,” Morrissey said in an interview Monday, anticipating his win. He noted that his constituents will be his primary concern. As of Tuesday night, Morrissey had more than 65% of the vote, with almost all precincts reporting.

Morrissey won his party’s nomination in June, defeating incumbent Sen. Rosalyn Dance in a primary election with 56% of the votes. Dance had held the seat — which includes Petersburg and Hopewell, part of Richmond and parts of Chesterfield, Prince George, and Dinwiddie counties — since 2014.

Morrissey has previously served in the General Assembly, representing House District 74 between 2008 and 2015. During that time, he was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a minor for having a relationship with a 17-year-old receptionist, now his wife. Morrissey has been disbarred twice and earned the moniker “Fighting Joe” after punching a defense lawyer in 1991 while serving as Richmond’s commonwealth attorney.

Morrissey said he has legislative plans for his return to Capitol Square.

“I’m introducing three pieces of legislation right away,” Morrissey said.

The legislation includes a bill to re-establish parole in Virginia (parole for felons convicted and given a life sentence was abolished in 1995), a bill to double the number of Virginia’s drug courts and a bill to establish a mental health court in the state.

“The interests that I represent are Virginians’, and the residents of the 16th Senate District come first. Party comes second.”

During the primary between Morrissey and Dance, many Democrats, including Gov. Ralph Northam, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, endorsed Dance. Morrissey’s win over Dance prompted concerns within the Democratic party that Morrissey would not be a reliable vote.

These concerns seem to have evaporated as Morrissey touts an agenda largely in-step with the Democratic party line. His relationships with major state Democratic figures have improved too — last month, McAuliffe and Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw hosted a fundraiser for Morrissey at his Richmond home.

On the same day, Northam’s The Way Ahead PAC donated $5,000 to Morrissey’s campaign.

Morrissey’s campaign focused primarily on visiting and speaking to civic associations.

“We are staying pretty busy during the weekends, visiting churches and bigger festivals that are going on,” Morrissey said Monday. “There’s been no letting up off the gas pedal.”

Morrissey said he looks forward to returning to the General Assembly despite the controversies that caused him to leave it in the first place.

“Since I was 13, I learned that you never give up, you never quit. There’s always going to be trials and tribulations, but you get up and you move forward. That’s what I do all the time.”

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.