Delegate Joe Morrissey was reelected with a plurality of votes as an independent in a three way race Tuesday while holding a victory party in his jail cell. Despite all his protestations, Speaker William Howell set up this catastrophe back on December 18, 2014 in a private deal brokered with Del. Morrissey.[read_more]
Background for the deal
Morrissey entered his plea on Friday December 12, 2014. In that plea, Morrissey admits only that the government has enough information to convict, but vehemently denies that he did anything illegal. The calls for Morrissey to resign (Democrats included) were deafening. Morrissey scrambled to determine the safest course of action to rehabilitate his reputation. He knew that when returning to Richmond in January he would be shunned by his own caucus, and likely removed from office. Morrisey wanted a referendum from the voters to confirm they still want him despite knowing of his “false” accusations.
He needed to be assured of victory, and he needed victory to occur before being forcibly removed from office.
Speaker Howell wanted Morrissey out. A legislator representing constituents from a jail cell would make a mockery of the General Assembly Session. Obtaining Morrissey’s resignation on any terms may have appeared to be the best option available to him.
Update: Speaker Howell’s office represents that it was trying to ensure the district remained represented and that is the reason behind the quick scheduling of the special election. It was not until after the deal was made that Speaker Howell learned that Morrissey intended to run in that special election.
UpdateX2: Paul Goldman confirmed that Speaker Howell was not told that Morrissey would run for election in the special election.
The deal itself
The deal itself was to allow Morrissey to stay in his seat pending a special election. A very hasty special election would occur on January 13, 2015 just before the General Assembly session. Speaker Howell did not want Morrissey to run in that election. Morrissey intended all along to run in the special election. A random cold Tuesday in January would be the perfect timing for a special election for Morrissey to win on turnout alone.
Part of the deal was to have the nominating method within a matter of days. The time frame for nominations required completion of the party nomination within five calendar days of the date of the resignation. Morrissey expected to stack the local nominating process, and with the Democratic nomination easily win the special election. This part of the plan went horribly awry for Morrissey. But the timing of the nomination method was a mandatory element of the deal brokered between Morrissey and Speaker Howell.
How do we know this was a deal brokered between Morrissey and Speaker Howell?
- There is objective proof of the timing the deal was made.
- Speaker Howell did not have to legally make any deal at all.
The proof of the deal
The proof stared reporters right in their faces on December 18. In their haste to announce Morrissey’s resignation, they glossed over a particular line from the resignation letter implicating the existence of the agreement between Morrissey and Speaker Howell.
Pursuant to your recent discussions with Mr. Goldman, this resignation will take effect on the day of the special election, January 13, 2015, (Emphasis Added)
Mr. Goldman is Paul Goldman, Joe Morrissey’s law partner. Morrissey knew when he resigned when the special election would be, because he worked it out with Speaker Howell in advance. Mr. Goldman, when I confronted him with the exact language of the resignation letter, admitted that the conversation occurred between him and Speaker Howell, but stated that the terms of that conversation were “confidential.” There is no doubt that a deal was made, and that deal contains, in part, the timing of the special election.
Speaker Howell did not have to make a deal at all
Speaker Howell did not have to schedule a special election for January 13, 2015 at all. Morrissey could have stayed in his seat and the House could have forcibly removed him, or Speaker Howell could have waited for Morrissey to resign of his own accord and set a special election when Speaker Howell felt was appropriate. Under the Virginia constitution the House has the power to set special election to fill vacancies while the House is “in session.” But why would Speaker Howell even want his fingerprints all over this:
Even if Morrissey did not know about the case law cited in “Did Morrissey Outsmart the Democrats,” I firmly believe based on my interactions with Morrissey and Mr. Goldman that they think that the special election immunizes Morrissey from removal due to prior bad acts. In the least, Morrissey is in a much stronger position to avoid forcible removal than he was on December 12, 2014 when he entered his plea. It is clear that Morrissey wanted the special election on January 13, 2015 even after the botched Democrat nomination process.
The righteous condemnation of the Speaker
Speaker Howell condemned Morrissey on December 18, 2014
Mr. Morrissey’s decision to run in this election is deceitful, selfish and disrespectful to this institution and the people he supposedly desires to serve. This is a despicable, arrogant political stunt that should disgust each and every citizen of Virginia. The people of the 74th district deserve better than this and the obligation now rests with them to retire Mr. Morrissey permanently.
And again when Morrissey won on January 13, 2015
Mr. Morrissey’s election tonight does not change the fact that his actions fall grievously short of the standards of a public servant in the House of Delegates. As Speaker, I have an obligation to faithfully and impartially discharge my duties as presiding officer and a responsibility to protect the honor and integrity of the House of Delegates as an institution…Working with House Minority Leader David Toscano and other members of the House, we will begin the process of assessing these options in order to determine the appropriate path forward.
The fallout from the deal
This is an election year. Conflict with a Democrat legislator convicted of sex crimes with a minor is not a losing issue for Republicans. Speaker Howell could have stood his ground and demanded Morrissey’s resignation with no strings attached. Speaker Howell did not foresee that Morrissey would run in the special election. If Morrissey refused, the House could have removed Morrissey with overwhelming support. Upon removal Morrissey would have been in a much weaker position to claim he is qualified to hold public office pursuant to a subsequent special election. Instead, Morrissey received his special election on January 13th which, as he predicted, he won, and he likely has strong additional legal arguments against his forcible removal from the General Assembly. UpdateX2: This all happened even though Speaker Howell did not know he was assisting Morrissey in his plan.
Speaker Howell’s office confirmed again that they are still looking at their options to preserve the integrity of the House.