Steve Landes’ Response to his Abstension on Tracy Thorne-Begland’s Judicial Vote

I asked last week on the RealCrozetVA Facebook page (and emailed as well) for Steve Landes’ to explain his choice to not vote on on the Tracy Thorne-Begland judicial vote.

Delegate Landes responded this morning:

Thank you for contacting my office regarding my vote for the judgeship of judicial candidate Tracy Thorne-Begland.

Judges are elected in Virginia with the Constitution requiring 51 “yes” or affirmative votes in the House of Delegates and 21 “yes” votes in the Senate. Judicial elections are not like voting on house and senate bills. In elections, a person only votes “for” a candidate. For example, just like when you go to vote in a general election, you cast a vote “for” someone not “against” another. There is only one vote. In the General Assembly election of judges, that is why the question put forth is “Those in favor of XXX will vote yes.”

In that situation, anyone who does not vote yes (whether voting “no”, using “Rule 69 in the House Rules ”, or “not voting”) for purposes of judicial elections is a major distinction without significant meaning. By those votes, you do not know “why” a particular person chose to vote that way; the person is not obligated to give a reason. Looking at prior votes on judges, there are many examples of members voting Rule 69 or not voting by both parties in other years during the selection of judges. Attached you will find a more detailed legislative history on judicial elections in Virginia.

Let me reiterate, it has long been a “custom and practice” of the body for members by and large to abstain or not vote for someone if they didn’t support that candidate for whatever reason. The practice is not spelled out in the House Rules, but part of past procedure and practice done routinely in the House of Delegates.

In 2002, there was a Parliamentary Inquiry raised by Delegate Robert Hull (D-38th) about judicial elections. Cited in the February 28, 2002 House Journal, Hull asked then Speaker Vance Wilkins if, “the members should not vote in the negative, since those votes were not counted. The Speaker stated that the gentleman was correct and that negative votes were not counted in judicial elections.”

Now, since many people have incorrectly assumed I abstained for voting for Tracy Thorne-Begland because of his sexual preference, I will be glad to share my reason for abstaining. I chose not to vote for him and I do have serious concerns for his lack of judgment. It is my understanding that while in the military, Mr. Thorne-Begland admitted to conduct contrary to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, violating the oath he took as a military officer when he was commissioned in the U.S. Navy. He violated the “Don’t Ask-Don’t Tell” official Department of Defense Policy. He has also a record of actively putting forth his personal beliefs above military rules, laws, and protocols by going on national television to complain about military policy.

Had Mr. Thorne-Begland openly criticized the abilities of our Commander-in-Chief on television, no one would be questioning that he be denied a judgeship for lack of good judgment. No matter the subject matter of his personal beliefs, he used poor judgment in putting them ahead of his duty and sworn oath. No one should appear before a sitting judge who does not observe a sworn oath or follow the letter of the law himself.

Yes, no doubt, for some members who did not vote for this candidate it was about his sexual preference. But please do not assume that all of us not voting or abstaining were doing so for that reason. Mr. Thorne-Begland’s past breach of military conduct did not come to light to the members of the House Courts Committee during the time of his interview and certification. That is regrettable; but, once these issues were brought forth to the attention of members of the House, they simply could not be ignored and therefore he did not receive support for his election.

Thank you for your contact and giving me the opportunity to explain my vote. I understand if you still disagree with it, but we will have to respectively agree to disagree on the issue.

R. Steven Landes

 Rule 69 from the House Rules states that “Upon a division of the House on any question, a member who is present and fails to vote shall on the demand of any member be counted on the negative of the question and when the yeas and nays are taken shall, in addition, be entered on the Journal as present and not voting. However, no member who has an immediate and personal interest in the result of the question shall either vote or be counted upon it.

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