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1 bill, 2 legislators and a ‘bleep’

SoVaNow.com / February 17, 2009
By TOM McLAUGHLIN
News & Record Staff
One of the peace-keeping traditions of the Virginia House of Delegates is Rule 57, which states that “no member shall in debate use any language or gesture calculated to wound, offend, or insult another member.”

Apparently the rule doesn’t apply to the House lounge, where delegates go to unwind, chat and — when the mood suits — hurl an expletive at a fellow legislator.

Thursday witnessed a notable dust-up involving local Del. Clarke Hogan and Del. Robert Marshall (R-Manassas), over what would seem to be a non-controversial matter: a memorial resolution that Marshall introduced last week honoring Thomas Vander Woude, a Nokesville man who died Sept. 8, 2008, while saving his disabled son from drowning in a backyard septic tank.

Vander Woude’s 20-year-old son, Joseph, who was born with Down Syndrome, fell through a piece of metal that covered an opening to the tank, and Vander Woude dived in to save him. Vander Woude got underneath his son and pushed the son’s head above the sewage while his mother and a worker at the home struggled to pull him out. Rescue workers who arrived at the home some 15 minutes later were able to save Joseph Vander Woude, but efforts to revive his father were fruitless.

Marshall’s resolution praises Thomas Vander Woude for his life of service as a high school and college basketball coach, athletic director, Vietnam veteran and Navy pilot, and “mourn[s] the passing of a dedicated father and outstanding Virginian” whose “heroic actions saved the life of his son ….”

The resolution is patroned by 99 members of the House of Delegates and all 40 members of the Virginia Senate, with only legislator — Hogan — missing from the list.

Hogan was asked to sign on, said Marshall, who said he approached his GOP colleague while the two men and a handful of other delegates were milling around in the House lounge during a break in the floor action. After waiting for Hogan to finish a cell phone call, Marshall said he went up to him to ask his support.

“I wanted him to sign [the memorial resolution] honoring one of my constituents and he declined to and made it very emphatic he wasn’t having any part of it,” said Marshall on Friday.

“I said ‘Clarke, this is not for me, this is for a man who died saving his son’s life.’ More vituperation,” said Marshall. Marshall said he pleaded with Hogan not to let personal differences get in the way of their legislative duties, and there was “more smoke coming out of his ears.

“And then when I said, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ that’s when he said, “You’re a piece of [expletive].

“He didn’t say I’m full of [expletive]. Lots of people say that,” joked Marshall.

Reached for comment, Hogan said his exchange with Marshall “was a private conversation that was done in private and doesn’t involve the public business, so I don’t feel compelled to comment on it one way or another.”

The episode was witnessed by House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville, who had ducked into the lounge to grab a bite to eat. Armstrong said when he walked in, “Del. Hogan and Del. Marshall were having a conversation which was fairly heated” and then Hogan used the epithet to describe his fellow Republican.

“Marshall said, ‘Clarke, we’ll I’ll pray for you’ and Clarke cursed him and said ‘Well, you can pray for yourself’ and Del. Marshall left the room,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong said there were about half a dozen other delegates who witnessed the exchange between the two Republicans. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Armstrong, who joined the House in 1992, the same year as Marshall. “I’ve never seen a member curse another like that. You’re supposed to have respect for one another.”

Marshall, a leader of Virginia’s right to life movement who ran for U.S. Senate last year before narrowly losing the GOP nomination to former Gov. Jim Gilmore, attributed Hogan’s anger to a dust-up earlier in the week. He said Hogan was still sore at him for forcing a vote on the House floor on legislation mandating health insurance coverage for autistic children. When the bill stalled in committee, Marshall filed a rarely-used discharge petition Monday to bring the measure up for a floor vote.

Republicans not only denied the effort, they punished Marshall two days later by killing another of his bills which would require voters to produce proof of citizenship to cast ballots.

Marshall made no apologies for the discharge petition, noting that when it came time for a Republican-dominated subcommittee to report out his autism bill, “no one said anything.

“Silence is a morally unacceptable response,” argued Marshall. “I said, ‘Hey, I don’t mind losing, especially on something like this that helps the kids, but vote it up or vote it down. Don’t sit there like a Sphinx in a denial.’”

Marshall said Monday was the first time he had sought a discharge petition since 1995, when Democrats ruled the General Assembly and Marshall would force floor votes on abortion legislation. Back then, “The Republicans loved it when I did it” with the Democrats in charge, said Marshall. “Now I get punished by the leadership for doing this.”

Marshall said he has had a strained relationship with Hogan dating back to 2007, when he sponsored a bill that would have defined life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. While most House Republicans supported the measure, Hogan and 15 other GOP delegates joined Democrats and one independent in defeating it. Marshall laid its failure to “country club Republicans who don’t want to deal with this issue” and added, “They’ll do anything to cover this up.”

Asked if he included Hogan in those ranks, Marshall replied, “It was very clear he voted against my bill restoring protection to unborn children. That’s a matter of public record.”

While other delegates may not like his methods, Marshall added, only Hogan refused to sign his resolution honoring Thomas Vander Woude. Marshall added he is hardly alone in the House in incurring Hogan’s wrath. “Other people have had run-ins with Clarke,” he said.

Although he declined to comment on the incident this week with Marshall, Hogan said he opposed HB 2797 two years ago because it would have banned in vitro fertilization and “would not have stopped any abortions, and the patron admitted it at the time.

“It would have banned a procedure that I think most people don’t have a problem with,” said Hogan.

The Hogan-Marshall clash crept into a running floor debate on the House budget later in the week. The protagonists this time were Hogan and Armstrong, who argued over a House proposal to withdraw $149 million from the state’s water quality improvement fund to plug holes in the budget.

Armstrong contended most of the money in the fund has already been spent or is spoken for, and accused House budget negotiators — of which Hogan is one — of producing a deficit budget, in violation of the Virginia Constitution.

On Thursday Armstrong called the water fund raid “a can of air” and said the House was “headed down a path that I don’t think this General Assembly wants to go to even in times of economic hardship.”
That prompted a response from Hogan, who said Armstrong had his facts wrong. Citing a line from the film 48 Hours, Hogan said, “Just ‘cuz you say it with conviction doesn’t make it true.’”
Armstrong returned to the subject on Friday, saying his staff re-checked with state officials who confirmed that the money was already earmarked, including as payment for projects that are already completed or currently under construction.

Armstrong then jabbed, “The gentleman from Halifax implied yesterday that I’m either a liar, or an idiot, or both. I like to think that I am neither, but … given what he said to one other member in the lounge earlier this week, I guess I’m ahead of the game.”

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