State legislators weigh bill outlawing political retaliation

State legislators weigh bill outlawing political retaliation
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By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – While Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe talks up ethics reform, three key state Democrats are staying mum about legislation that would prohibit political “retaliation” by legislators.

State Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, 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, D-Fairfax, wrote Tech PAC leaders that “The ramifications of (Cuccinelli) being endorsed will be huge within the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“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,” Howell stated.

The thinly veiled threat – echoed by Sens. Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, and Barbara Favola, D-Arlington – 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 Watchdog’s requests for comment, but Garrett said it’s nothing personal.

“I’m not targeting anybody. I’m targeting behavior,” he said in an interview.

“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.

Kenric Ward is chief of’s Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward