It’s been a year for Virginia Democrats.
The state’s governor and attorney general, who are white, admitted they had donned blackface in the 1980s. The state’s lieutenant governor is facing accusations of sexual assault from several women, which he’s denied. And now – as of Tuesday night – Joe Morrissey is back!
Who is Joe Morrissey, you ask?
Well, he’s almost certainly the next Democratic state senator in Virginia’s 16th district, where he ousted incumbent Sen. Rosalyn Dance on Tuesday night. (No Republican has filed to run for the seat in the fall.)
Here are a few other facts about Morrissey:
1) He was forced by Democrats to resign his seat in the state House in 2014 after a misdemeanor conviction for contributing to the delinquency of a minor – in this case the 17-year-old part-time receptionist at his law firm with whom Morrissey had had sex and exchanged nude pictures. (Morrissey was in his mid-50s at the time.)
Here’s how The Washington Post covered Morrissey’s resignation, in one amazing paragraph:
“There were the nude photos and explicit text messages that prosecutors said Morrissey and the girl exchanged — and a claim from the delegate that their phones had been hacked by the girl’s spurned lesbian ex-lover. There is the girl’s pregnancy, and the prosecutor’s claim that the child is ‘perhaps’ Morrissey’s. (The delegate isn’t saying.)”
According to a local report, Morrissey has argued that he believed the woman was 18.
Morrissey has since married the woman, Myrna, and they have several young children. His family played a prominent role in his state Senate campaign.
2) As Richmond’s commonwealth’s attorney back in 1991, Morrissey got into a fistfight with a defense lawyer. “I punched his lights out,” Morrissey told The Washington Post at the time. “He had to be taught some manners.” The defense attorney said that Morrissey’s outburst was the result of him knowing he was losing the case, adding: “His grip on his masculinity is very precarious.” Shot back Morrissey: “He is 55 to 75 pounds heavier than me and he found himself lying on the ground with more than egg on his face.” Morrissey went to jail for five days. Ever since then – including in this state Senate campaign – Morrissey has taken up the nickname “Fighting Joe.” (The episode is known in Virginia political lore as the “brawl in the hall.”)
3) Morrissey lost his 1993 re-election race as Richmond’s top prosecutor when he was indicted on charges of bribery and perjury. As The Washington Post noted: “The indictment grew out of Morrissey’s handling of a rape case in which he reduced the charge to a misdemeanor in exchange for the defendant pleading guilty and the defendant’s father paying $25,000 to the victim.” The Post reports he was later acquitted of those charges by a jury.
4) In 1999, Morrissey got into a(nother) fight – this time with a contractor named Gary Wycoff. In an obituary of Wycoff in the Richmond Times Dispatch (Wycoff died in 2009), the incident was described this way:
“During an altercation with Morrissey in 1999 over contracting work, Wycoff suffered a broken nose and a deep cut over his left eye. He sued Morrissey for assault and battery, and a jury awarded Wycoff more than $1 million. A court reduced it to $390,000 in 2002, but with interest and costs, the amount grew to $544,000 by June 2007.”
After nine years of legal wrangling, Wycoff collected upwards of $390,000, and the matter was officially closed.
5) In 2003, Morrissey lost his law license. He got it back in 2011. He lost it again in 2018. He has appealed the second revocation, arguing that the judges made errors in their ruling.
There’s more. But you get the idea. Morrissey has always been a bit of a problem child – and proud of it. In fact, his entire campaign this year was based on the idea that the establishment didn’t want him anywhere near them. And he was right; Gov. Ralph Northam as well as former Govs. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Tim Kaine all endorsed Dance.
“Has there ever been a Democratic candidate who was running in a Democratic primary and continued to criticize the party officials for their ‘anoint and appoint’?” Morrissey asked rhetorically after his victory.
If Morrissey was just an outspoken lightning rod, that would be one thing. But Democrats’ problems vis a vis Morrissey go FAR deeper than that.
See, right now Republicans have a very narrow 21-19 seat majority in the state Senate. Democrats believe they have a very good shot at winning back the majority. But imagine this scenario: After the elections this fall – Virginia votes for state offices in odd years – Republicans control 20 seats and Democrats control 20 seats. One of those 20 Democratic seats is Morrissey, the man who the party establishment has repeatedly made clear they want nothing to do with – and who, as recently a Tuesday night, left open the question of which party he would caucus with. This comes from the Post write-up of his victory:
“When asked by a reporter which party he would caucus with, Morrissey said he was receiving calls from both Democrats and Republicans.
“‘There’s one thing that I remember Governor Northam saying in his inauguration address,’” he said. “’We don’t come to the state Capitol, to Richmond, as Democrats or Republicans. We come as Virginians.’ It’s true. . . . Just say that.’”
Whoa boy. Buckle up, Virginia Democrats. This ride is going to get bumpy.