VA state senate proposes bill that would prohibit political ‘retaliation’; Dems silent

VA state senate proposes bill that would prohibit political ‘retaliation’; Dems silent

Tom GarrettWhile Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe talks up ethics reform, three key state Democrats are staying mum about legislation that would ban political “retaliation” by legislators.

State Sen. Tom Garrett, a Republican, has filed Senate Bill 12, which would add a 12th commandment to the state’s code of conduct for public officials. Garrett’s bill says no state legislator may “use his public position to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against any person for expressing views on matters of public concern or for exercising any right that is otherwise protected by law.”

The measure stems from threats made against the Northern Virginia Technology Council PAC, which endorsed Republican Ken Cuccinelli for governor.

State Sen. Janet Howell, a Democrat, wrote Tech PAC leaders that “The ramifications of [Cuccinelli] being endorsed will be huge within the Senate Democratic Caucus. She added:

The response [from legislators] will be frigid and doors will be closed [when the council seeks help with its legislative agenda]. Achieving the goals of NVTC will be difficult to impossible.

The thinly veiled threat — echoed by Democratic Senators Dick Saslaw and Barbara Favola — failed to alter the PAC’s position.

At the time, Garrett, a former commonwealth attorney, noted that Section 18.2-447 of the Virginia Code prohibits “any benefit offered, conferred or agreed to be conferred as consideration for or to obtain or influence either the recipient’s decision, opinion, recommendation, vote or other exercise of official discretion.” Pressing the point, Garrett drafted the proposed addition to the legislative code of conduct.

Howell, Saslaw, and Favola did not respond to requests for comment, but Garrett said it’s nothing personal. “I’m not targeting anybody. I’m targeting behavior,” he said. “I will carry the whole bill without mentioning name, unless they say ‘Why do we need this?’”

Garrett, who sits on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee, says he may go further and introduce companion legislation covering all state officials — not just legislators.

“It’s sad that we need a law to make this clear,” he said.

McAuliffe made ethics a cornerstone of his campaign, vowing to sign an executive order limiting gifts to himself and his family to $100.

Though he has not declared a position on Garrett’s bill, the incoming governor says he favors the creation of a state ethics commission.

Read more by Kenric Ward at

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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