Several days ago, I spoke with a Virginia House of Delegates member on the condition of anonymity regarding the vote to confirm Tracy Thorne-Begland, an openly gay judicial nominee to the General District Court of the the 13th District. The General District Courts in Virginia deal with matters like traffic tickets. Thorne-Begland formerly served in the Navy and was honorably discharged because he was a homosexual who violated the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He was nominated to served by Delegate Manoli Loupassi, a Republican from Chesterfield County. Loupassi has stated that Thorne-Begland is well-qualified for the job.
For more in-depth background and a reasoned defense of Thorne-Begland’s opposition against “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” while he was serving in the Navy, refer to this article. Some critics will argue that they are not against gays, they are just against Thorne-Begland’s actions in the Navy. This argument does not stand up to scrutiny as there have been whistleblowers in the military in the past and these whistleblowers are vital to improving the military.
Conversation excerpted from the Bearing Drift article:
Ann Flan Kirwin May 15, 2012 17:40 pm
…The bigger issue, I think, is that he went on national television to speak out against DADT while he was still in the military. Clearly a violation of their rules of conduct. Not a smart move for someone who wants to be a judge.”
MD Russ May 15, 2012 19:44 pm
Two Air Force F-22 pilots went on “60 Minutes” after complaining to members of Congress that the Air Force wasn’t addressing pilot oxygen problems with the aircraft. Today the SECDEF ordered flight restrictions on the F-22 until the problem is solved. One of those pilots in a Captain in the Virginia Air National Guard stationed at Langley AFB. Would you disqualify him as a future district court judge?
This Delegate I spoke to told me that Delegate Bob Marshall’s grandstanding on this issue to remove Thorne-Begland from the list of judicial nominees on account of him being a “homosexual activist” and legislating from the bench could not come at a politically worse time for Republicans. The entire premise for Marshall leading the charge against Thorne-Begland was that he was gay, not because of some nuanced view about the wisdom of adhering to military procedure. Marshall’s exact words about Thorne-Begland was that he was “an aggressive activist for the pro-homosexual agenda.”
I told the Delegate that if Republicans are going to criticize President Barack Obama’s open support for gay marriage as a political ploy to raise money from progressives, then Republicans are hypocritical to oppose a qualified, openly gay judicial nominee and use the opportunity to advance their own political interests with the hardcore anti-gay constituency. Bob Marshall and other Republicans who voted no will most certainly use this issue in the future to raise a good sum of money from their supporters. The Delegate I spoke to agreed with this statement.
The Delegate stated that Speaker Bill Howell (R-Stafford) hoped for enough Republicans to break party lines to reach the 51 vote threshold to confirm Thorne-Begland. It wasn’t even close and Howell himself did not even vote on this matter. The Delegate mentioned that everyone was thinking about the political consequences of the vote for themselves. Obviously, political consequences were on everyone’s minds especially for the Republicans who abstained or did not even vote at all. Yet, in a vote that requires 51 yeas for passage, an abstention or an absence, for whatever reason (i.e. “It was late.” “I didn’t know what was going on.”), amounts to a vote of nay. Everybody knew this was Bob Marshall’s political power play. I guess it is okay in the minds of Republicans to criticize Obama for voting “present” on tough decisions as an Illinois State Senator while they on the other hand, avoid taking a stand on this matter to gain plausible deniability.
The Republicans who broke ranks and joined the Democrats in a losing effort to confirm Thorne-Begland should be commended for their courage. There were only eight of them in a chamber that has 67 Republicans and 1 independent caucusing with Republicans. Not only did they fall short of the goal, these eight Republicans who broke ranks to support Thorne-Begland and had the courage to stand for justice have put themselves at a political disadvantage within their own party in trying to hold onto their seat or in their prospects for higher office in the future.
Today’s Republican Party has been hijacked by an unhinged, insufferable, angry, irrational, hardcore, extremist conservative base. No Republican in office is safe from threats within the party. Even Republicans with solid conservative voting records risk facing primary challengers if they have the audacity to actually say nice things about Democrats as people.
There are many examples of powerful, well-funded conservative Republicans falling to openly angry conservative Republicans who had fundraising disadvantages in primaries and in lesser known intra-party races across the nation over the past few years. Richard Mourdock’s victory over the conservative, yet genteel, Richard Lugar is the example that is fresh on everybody’s minds. However, the example I will cite is even more pronounced.
Former Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) came from a heavily Republican district. South Carolina’s 4th Congressional District included the ultraconservative Bob Jones University and the winner of the GOP primary in that district is assured a seat for life. Never mind that Inglis was as hardcore a conservative as one can get. His lifetime American Conservative Union rating is 93.25%. He made some open-minded statements about climate change, voted for the bailout, and had the decency to respect President Obama as a human being. For that, the GOP activists found him intolerable and Trey Gowdy defeated Bob Inglis in the primary in 2010 by a landslide.
These are the stakes. The eight Republicans who broke ranks and joined the Democrats to support an openly gay judicial nominee who is well qualified for office have exposed themselves to the possibility of a primary challenger, eroded some support and enthusiasm from the right-wing activist base that they need to consolidate in order to win reelection in tough swing districts, and have made any prospect of winning a primary to be a Republican nominee for higher office more difficult.
These eight Republicans set aside their political ambitions in order to vote on principle. This is the principle that in America, a person is deemed fit for a job based on his or her qualifications, accomplishments, potential for success, diligence, and, ultimately, character. Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, background, and socioeconomic status is un-American and it is wrong.
The following is a list of the 33 individuals who voted to confirm Thorne-Begland. I reiterate that due to the unhinged, uncompromising extremists who have taken over the Republican Party, these eight Republicans should be commended for doing what is right to advance American values of fairness and equal opportunity instead of doing what is safe to improve their standing and reputation within their own disturbed and deranged Republican Party. The Democrats likewise, should be commended as well.
David B. Albo, R-Fairfax
Kenneth C. Alexander, D-Norfolk
Mamye E. BaCote, D-Newport News
David L. Bulova, D-Fairfax
Betsy B. Carr, D-Richmond
Barbara J. Comstock, R-Fairfax
Rosalyn R. Dance, D-Petersburg
Peter F. Farrell, R-Henrico
Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax
Charniele L. Herring, D-Alexandria
Patrick A. Hope, D-Arlington
Algie T. Howell, D-Norfolk
Matthew James, D-Portsmouth
Mark L. Keam, D-Fairfax
Terry G. Kilgore, R-Scott
L. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax
James M. LeMunyon, R-Fairfax
Lynwood W. Lewis Jr., D-Accomack
Alfonso H. Lopez, D-Arlington
G. Manoli Loupassi, R-Richmond
Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond
Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond
Joseph D. Morrissey, D-Henrico
Thomas Davis Rust, R-Fairfax
James M. Scott, D-Fairfax
Mark D. Sickles, D-Fairfax
Lionell Spruill Sr., D-Chesapeake
Scott A. Surovell, D-Fairfax
Luke Torian, D-Prince William
David J. Toscano, D-Charlottesville
Jeion A. Ward, D-Hampton
Vivian E. Watts, D-Fairfax
Joseph A. Yost, R-Montgomery
The complete list including nays, abstentions, and non-votes can be found here. In the interest of disclosure, Delegate Barbara Comstock is a former boss and current client of mine. The anonymous Delegate I spoke to several days ago on this matter was definitely not her. I had no influence on this vote whatsoever and no one asked me to write this article to highlight the 33 Democrats and Republicans who came together to stand for justice.
American Conservative Union. (2010). “2010 U.S. House Votes”. Retrieved from http://conservative.org/ratings/ratingsarchive/2010/2010HouseRatings.htm#SC
Kraushaar, Josh. (April 7, 2009). “Inglis faces fight from the right”. Politico. Retrieved from http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0409/20974.html
Schoeneman, Brian. (May 15, 2012). “Vote against openly gay judicial nominee another black eye for Virginia”. Bearing Drift. Retrieved from http://bearingdrift.com/2012/05/15/vote-against-openly-gay-judicial-nominee-another-black-eye-for-virginia/
Times-Dispatch Staff. (May 15, 2012). “House roll-call on Tracy Thorne-Begland”. Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/2012/may/15/house-roll-call-tracy-thorne-begland-ar-1916406/