First, see In the Virginia Senate, an airing of grievances on conflicts of interest (excerpt below) for some background on the video I’ve posted below of Democratic Virginia Senate “Leader” Dick Saslaw publicly siding with Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment and throwing Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax City), a member of Saslaw’s leadership team no less, under the proverbial bus.
Norment, R-James City, makes $60,000 a year as an adjunct professor at the College of William and Mary, a long-standing arrangement for the senator who, as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, has significant say over the state budget. When a bill meant to limit the number of out-of-state students enrolling at public universities was sent to die this week in one of Norment’s committees, state Sen. Chap Petersen had seen enough.
The Fairfax Democrat complained of “an obvious conflict of interest.” William and Mary and other universities have opposed this bill because of the impact the lower tuition that in-state students pay has on their bottom lines.
“He should not be deciding issues which involve William and Mary or higher education writ large,” Petersen told the Daily Press Wednesday, reiterating comments first published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I mean, how can that not be a conflict of interest?”
More background? See Norment’s legal work for William & Mary draws scrutiny from 2009, which explained how, “Since July 2008, William and Mary has been paying Norment $160,000 a year for a dual role as part-time teacher and legal counselor.” And for just for a bit more background on Norment, see Five Reasons Why Virginia Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment Hates News Media (“An affair, conflicts of interest and corporate donations dog him.”). So yeah, Norment is not just the powerful leader of Virginia Senate Republicans, he’s also a slimeball extraordinaire. Now, check out the video, followed by a few comments by yours truly.
First, it’s important to understand that Dick Saslaw is, by numerous accounts I’ve heard over the years, effectively BFFs/soulmates (or one could say two rotten peas in a corrupt pod) with Tommy Norment. Heck, I’ve even heard that Saslaw is effectively an unofficial member of Norment’s caucus in some ways. Which, of course, is appalling and unacceptable.
Second, my understanding is that there is – to put it mildly – no love lost between Saslaw and Chap Petersen (the Senate Democratic Caucus Vice Chair). Third, it’s important to point out that in the Virginia government’s system of legalized corruption and part-time “citizen legislators,” many members have conflicts of interest of various flavors, so calling out one is kinda like throwing rocks in glass houses.
Having said all that, the bottom line is that unless one of your caucus members does something TRULY heinous – like saying something racist on the floor of the Senate – the job of the caucus leader should be to have his/her members’ backs. At the least, the caucus leader shouldn’t call out one of his/her members publicly, while siding with the Republican leader, but should – at the worst – take the member aside for a private meeting to let them know they were out of line or whatever. Of course, in this case, it’s highly questionable whether Chap Petersen was out of line. But as far as I’m concerned, whether you’re the manager of a baseball team or the chair of the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, you do NOT publicly side with a player from the other “team” over one of your guys, especially when the other “team” plays dirty and when your guy didn’t even do anything wrong. Not cool at all.