NBC12 Investigates: Why did 36 delegates not vote on gay judge nominee?

Published: May. 16, 2012 at 8:33 PM EDT|Updated: May. 21, 2012 at 8:47 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Members of the Virginia House of Delegates provided various reasons this week why they either abstained or were recorded as "not voting" on the controversial judicial nomination of an openly gay Richmond prosecutor.

Tracy Thorne-Begland, who is currently the Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney in Richmond, was nominated for the General District Court. However, his nomination failed just after 1:00 a.m. Tuesday when Thorne-Begland received only 33 yes votes in the House of Delegates. He needed at least 51 to be successful. 31 delegates voted no.

Many who who voted no pointed to Thorne-Begland's gay-rights activism while serving as a Navy pilot in the 1990's. The failed nomination set off allegations of bigotry at the Capitol, along with criticism from Thorne-Begland's boss.

"If there's a tough call to make, you make the tough call, you draw the criticism," said Commonwealth's Attorney Michael Herring on Tuesday. "You don't duck the call."

"The people who voted for those legislators, didn't get their money's worth," added Del. Joe Morrissey ( D-Henrico) on Wednesday. "Their constituents elected them to cast votes. Up or down," he said.

NBC12 called and e-mailed the other 36 delegates who either abstained or didn't vote on the nomination. Their responses are listed below, and will be updated as more phone calls and e-mails are returned.

All calls and e-mails were made Wednesday between 10:13 a.m. and 12:07 p.m. to the delegate's district office and official House e-mail account. Blank spaces indicate responses not yet received. Some responses were edited for length.

Abstentions (10)

M. Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights: In an e-mail, Del. Cox wrote, " I respect Mr. Thorne-Begland's reputation as a prosecutor and the job he has done as the Chief Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney. While he has garnered himself a good standing in the courtroom, I could not ignore his clear disregard for the military code of conduct as a United States Navel Officer.

I listened to some key points on this issue made by several members on the floor of the House who each have served our country on active duty for more than 20 years. I have been a very active House advocate and the chief patron for more than 80 pieces of legislation in support of our veterans, the active military and their families.  I have great respect for the military and the men and women who have faithfully served our nation. The members taking to the floor drew into question Mr. Thorne-Begland's fidelity to his oath as a military office at the start of his service to his public comments near the end of his service.

I believe that Mr. Thorne-Begland exercised especially poor judgment at the close of his service when he violated a military directive by appearing on television to advocate for a personal cause. With this appearance, Mr. Thorne-Begland ignored the requirements of duty that he voluntarily took an oath to uphold. Given his conduct, I felt I could not cast a vote in favor of his nomination."

Anne B. Crockett-Stark, R-Wythe

Riley E. Ingram, R-Hopewell: "I had questions, and that's why I abstained." When asked, by phone, why he didn't just vote no, Del. Ingram referred to a lack of information about the nominee.

R. Steven Landes R-Augusta: In an e-mail, a staff member wrote Del. Landes was tied up at his full-time job and would be unable to respond.

Israel D. O'Quinn, R-Bristol

Lacey E. Putney, I-Bedford

Larry N. Rush, R-Montgomery

Edward T. Scott, R-Madison

Beverly J. Sherwood, R-Frederick

Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach

Not voting (26)

Robert H. Brink, D-Arlington: In an email, Del. Brink wrote, "Due to previously scheduled travel out of the country, I was absent for the May 14 session of the House -- the first session I've missed in my 15 years as Delegate.

Tracy is my friend. For several weeks, after the right-wing threat to his nomination became known, along with other concerned members of the General Assembly including my colleague Adam Ebbin, we strategized on the steps needed to get him confirmed. I deeply regret that we were unsuccessful.

The rejection of this eminently well qualified lawyer, in addition to its unfairness to him, is a loss to Virginia's justice system and another black mark on Virginia's reputation.

It goes without saying that I would have vigorously supported and voted for Tracy if I had been present."

David L. Englin, D-Alexandria: In an email, Del. Englin wrote, "As among the leading pro-equality legislators in Virginia, I would certainly have voted for Tracy if I was there.  Monday's one-day reconvening was part of a special session that was scheduled outside of the normal legislative calendar. … In my case, it was a conflict related to my 'day job' that I couldn't avoid."

Englin added, "The real question is why Governor McDonnell has so little juice with his own party that he couldn't get even a third of House Republicans to vote for the judge candidate he supposedly supported?"

C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah

Gregory D. Habeeb, R-Salem: By e-mail, Del. Habeeb wrote, "I would've proudly voted yes but had to be on the last flight out of Richmond that night. I've been very vocally supportive."

Christopher T. Head, R-Roanoke

William J. Howell, R-Stafford: A staff member said the house speaker was not in the country, describing the travel as a legislative-related trip planned six months ago.

Johnny S. Joannou, D-Portsmouth

Joseph P. Johnson Jr., D-Washington County

S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk

Joe T. May, R-Loudoun

Jackson H. Miller, R-Manassas

J. Randall "Randy" Minchew, R-Leesburg: In an e-mail, Del. Minchew wrote: "Despite my earlier support in Committee, I chose not to support his nomination on the floor because I later learned of certain conduct offenses he committed as an officer in the United States Navy after our Committee interview.

I have real respect for our armed forces and our veterans and I give great deference to the thoughts and opinions of my veteran colleagues in the House. I found their unrebutted testimony that Mr. Thorne-Begland had engaged in conduct contrary to the Uniform Code of Military Justice compelling and I did not discern from his record any regret or even acknowledgement that he had violated the oath he took when he was commissioned an officer in the United States Navy through his public actions. I very much respect, however, the fine job Mr. Thorne-Begland has done in his work as Chief Deputy Commonwealth Attorney for the City of Richmond. He has garnered a reputation as a hard-nosed prosecutor in one of the most crime-infested jurisdictions in Virginia and deserves our thanks for his service in this regard. As a general rule, I like to see good prosecutors rise to judicial service.

In light of the foregoing, I chose not to cast a negative vote against him, but the countervailing elements in his record simply did not allow me to support his election as judge through an affirmative vote."

Richard L. Morris, R-Isle of Wight

John M. O'Bannon III, R-Henrico

Robert D. Orrock Sr., R-Caroline

Christopher K. Peace, R-Hanover

Kenneth R. Plum, D-Fairfax: When reached by phone, Del. Plum said he left the late-running session at 9:00 p.m. and was home by 11:00 p.m. He was suffering from a stomach ailment, but added that he would've voted yes.

Harry R. Purkey, R-Virginia Beach

Margaret B. Ransone, R-Westmoreland

Robert Tata, R-Virginia Beach (Voicemail indicated the office is closed on Wednesdays)

Roslyn C. Tyler, D-Sussex (Voicemail indicated the office is closed on Wednesdays)

Onzlee Ware, D-Roanoke

R. Lee Ware Jr., R-Powhatan: By e-mail, a staff member wrote, "Delegate Ware had to leave before the final votes--after 1:00 a.m.--so he would be in a semblance of mind for his teaching duties at 7:30 the same morning."

Michael J. Webert, R-Fauquier: By phone, a staff member said Del. Webert was spending his first anniversary with his wife and their first newborn child.

Thomas C. Wright Jr., R-Lunenburg

David E. Yancey, R-Newport News

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12. All rights reserved.