With the Virginia House of Delegates almost evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats when it convenes on Wednesday, 10 January 2018, Out of the Box decided to spotlight Library of Virginia records related to that last time the chamber was tied in 1998. A recent Washington Post article described the 14 January 1998 opening session of the House of Delegates as an “ugly spectacle.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch called it a “parliamentary WrestleMania.” You can now see for yourself.
The Library has added video of a portion of this session to our YouTube Channel. The video is part of the recordings of the Virginia House of Delegates sessions, 1982-2011 (accession 50627) housed at the Library.
After the 1997 general election, the Democrats held a 51-48 majority in the House of Delegates with one independent. Republican Governor-elect James Gilmore (1998-2002) appointed two state senators, Joseph B. Benedetti (R) and Charles L. Waddell (D) and one Democratic delegate, David G. Brickley to positions in his administration. The appointments set off a chain-reaction of House and Senate special elections which culminated in the Republicans gaining one additional house seat. With independent delegate Lacey E. Putney agreeing to caucus with Republicans, the chamber would be tied when the session began. However, the State Board of Elections refused to accelerate certification of the Republican delegates elected in three 13 January 1998 special elections, Michelle B. McQuigg, R. Lee Ware, Jr., and Harry B. Blevins.
The 1998 session of the House of Delegates was called to order by House Clerk Bruce F. Jamerson at noon. The 97 members-elect were sworn in. McQuigg, Ware, and Blevins were unofficially sworn in by Richmond notary public Lisa Foster. However, Jamerson refused to recognize them since their victories had not been certified. Delegate John H. (Jack) Rust (R-37th District) made a parliamentary inquiry followed by a motion that the three members-elect be sworn in. By allowing Rust to make a motion, Jamerson gave control of the House floor to the Republicans who began a filibuster. House Majority Leader C. Richard Cranwell (D-14th District) made a motion to adopt a proposed House Rule for election of Speaker of the House. The House recessed twice in order for Jamerson to further research Rust’s motion. The video picks up when the House reconvened at 4:00 PM.
0:05 – Clerk Bruce F. Jamerson (Chair) gavels the House to order.
0:20 – Delegate Jack Rust (R-37th District) resumes discussion of his motion to have members elected on 13 January 1998 seated.
2:02 – Jamerson rules that he erred when he allowed Rust to make a motion to seat the three members-elect. He further states that Cranwell’s motion to adopt a proposed House Rule for election of the Speaker of the House is in order.
5:27 – Delegate Marshall begins shouting “objection, Mr. Chairman” repeatedly. Meanwhile, the House agrees to Cranwell’s motion (Y-49 N-0); the vote is barely audible.
6:11 – Delegate Marshall shouts “objection” repeatedly. Additional Republican members rise and start shouting “objection” while slamming the lids of their desks. The House elects Thomas W. Moss, Jr. as Speaker of the House of Delegates (Y-50 N-7). Delegate Marshall shouts “illegitimate power” and promises “Sherman’s march through Georgia every day.”
11:05 – Delegate Marshall appeals the ruling of the Chair (Speaker Moss) with regards to the House agenda. Before the vote on whether the ruling of the Chair is sustained, Delegate H. Morgan Griffith (R-8th District) requests a viva voce (or live voice) vote. Delegate Bob McDonnell (R-84th District) makes a parliamentary inquiry if McQuigg, Ware, and Blevins would be allowed to participate in the vote. Moss rules that they are not members of the House since their 13 January election had not been certified by the State Board of Elections and could not vote. The ruling of the Chair is sustained (Y-50 N-26).
31:41 – Election of Bruce F. Jamerson as Clerk of House of Delegates (Y-71 N-1)
43:26 – Justice Carrico swears in Jamerson as Clerk.
44:46 to 1:29:45 – The House begins an extensive discussion on the Rules of the House of Delegates. Delegate Cranwell moves that the Rules for the 1997 session be adopted for the 1998 session. Delegate Griffith offers and explains his amendments to the 1998 Rules. Delegate Cranwell requests that before voting on Griffith’s amendments, that the two parties continue their “dialogue” on sharing power in the House. The House agrees to take no action on the amendments until the next day.
Delegate Cranwell’s “dialogue” with the Republicans leads to a power sharing agreement on 15 January 1998. The agreement was contained in the 1998-1999 Rules of the House of Delegates. The final vote was 90-2 in favor of the new rules (see below).