The General Assembly is meeting today in its annual one-day reconvened session, commonly referred to as the “Veto Session,” where it considers the governor’s vetoes and amendments to bills passed during the regular session that met during the winter. Whereas the “Morning Hour” — a fairly open-ended time for members to comment on matters not directly dealing with the legislative calendar — of a regular session consists mainly of welcomes to constituent groups, lifting the profile of a bill or policy position and assertive partisan speeches, Morning Hour during the reconvened session typically plays homage to the members who have announced their retirement. With eight members making the announcement since the end of session in February, there was a lot of talking going on, but none more so than that on behalf of Delegate Lacey Putney (I-19, Bedford), the last of the independents and powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, whose first term began in 1962. He is the longest serving member in the 400-year history of the longest continuously meeting legislature in the New World. That meant lots of laud from numerous colleagues — and a great deal of story telling. After the very lengthy praises were over, Delegate Putney, soon to be 85, took the floor and brought down the House (get it?) with this:
It's not often that I’m speechless, but I hardly know what to say today. I feel like the mosquito at the nudist camp. There is so much territory to cover, you don’t know where to start.
It took several minutes for delegates to contain themselves and the chairman proceeded to compliment colleagues of both parties past and present and the demeanor of the chamber, explain what his time there meant to him, and recount humorous anecdotes, history and the accomplishments of the General Assembly over his 50-plus years of service. The last of the retirees to be recognized, and on the other end of the service scale, was Delegate Donald Merricks (R-16, Chatham) retiring after only three terms. Described by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albemarle) as a workhorse and not a show horse, one who rarely took the floor to embellish himself and one, most importantly, who told you where he stood and never held out his vote for something else.
Then the man of few words took the floor to acknowledge his colleagues' ovation. By now it was nearly two hours after session started with a long single-day's worth of business ahead. He recounted his favorite Bible verse from Exodus, where the Israelites were at the Red Sea with the Egyptians in hot pursuit. Moses prayed to God for a means of escape while others complained that they were better off as slaves in Egypt. Delegate Merricks then relayed how a scholar translated God's answer to Moses:
"Stop praying and start moving the people!" So let's stop talking and get on with the calendar!
To which House Speaker Bill Howell (R-26, Stafford) replied:
If I knew you were going to say that, I'd have recognized you first!