Although the end of session may provoke emotions ranging from physical relief (the meat grinder is over) to mental relief (the legislative sausage making is over) to melancholy (friends and colleagues going home for a year), there is one thing we greatly look forward to: The House Sensitivity Caucus Awards, presented the last Friday of session each year. In a year truly turned upside down, epitomized remarkably by the staid Senate being more entertaining than the rowdy House, the Sensitivity Caucus Awards capture real atmosphere of the General Assembly: good-natured and sincere willingness to work together, despite the negative reporting that overwhelms mainstream media's sparse coverage.
The Sensitivity Caucus, one of many intra-legislative coaltions, is a semi-secret cadre of House members who, throughout session, observe and make note of all 100 members' (and some staff, as we found out) rhetorical and habitual idiosyncrasies. It awards those members who fit certain parameters and who make themselves (in)famous for certain statements, proclivity to speak no matter what the occasion and willingness to serve as instant experts on topics far and wide. Both quality and quantity are recognized. It's non-partisan and all offending (in a very good and fun sense). While there are many caucuses, the Sensitivity Caucus
Some of the members are Steve Landes (R-25, Verona), Terry Kilgore (R-1, Gate City) and Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock). The caucus even creates teams and "drafts" members in a secret competition of "pop-ups" — members who get up and speak the most. Not only that, but this year they added awards this year to reflect behavior in committee. Whether on the floor or in committee, there was plenty of material this year, and each award pronouncement and explanation was greeted with loud bipartisan laughs (see Richmond Times-Dispatch's Virginia Politics Blog).
The award winners were:
Vivian Watts (D-39, Annandale);
Kay Kory (D-38, Falls Church) as Best Team Player for her adoring gaze at Minority Leader David Toscano (D-57, Charlottesville) during his perfunctory challenges to conservative bills;
Barbara Comstock (R-34, McLean) for the Homeland Security Award, for her more than casual references to her federal experience in speaking up on bills not her own;
Gilbert for the Wish I Hadn't Said It Award for his mention of a particular "lifestyle choice;"
Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico) for the On Board Award, which exemplifies action in committee, for the time he said in the Appropriations Committee that several organizations were "on board with this bill, the governor is on board with this bill, and I'm on board with this bill" (it was his own bill);
Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth) for the I Don't Practice Law In This Area Award, for the phrase he repeatedly prefaces his remarks with when fighting passionately for eminent domain reform (which he ultimately won);
Anne B. Crockett-Stark (R-6, Wytheville) for the Breakfast With The Devil Award, for using that phrase in a rousing speech she made on a gun bill;
House Clerk Paul Nardo, the first-ever staff winner, for the Speaker's Award, for keeping Speaker Bill Howell (R-28, Fredericksburg) more or less in line, on time and moving along;
Scott Garrett (R-23, Lynchburg) for the Cheerleader Award, for his much continued, solo clapping after a standing ovation had long since finished in honor of a speech given by Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights);
Greg Habeeb (R-8, Salem) for the Freshman Of The Year Award, which, caucus leaders assured us, was a tough competition that lasted three or four ballots due to the many talented rookie legislators, for asking a lot of questions (he shouldn't be asking). Further hint: He's not a freshman!
The final award was the granddaddy of them all, the coveted Pop-Up Award. It's the Heisman Trophy of the General Assembly. It's given to the member who has tallied the most floor speeches, who pops out of his or her seat to speak the most on any and all issues. According to Kilgore, there was a lot of competition this year. He said, "There are a lot of people in this chamber who want to tell us what they know." So much so, that a first-ever Honorable Mention Award was given to freshman Alphonso Lopez (D-49, Arlington).
But in the end, there was no suspense. No one jumps out of his seat more frequently, nor with more brazenness, the one who's speeches have been dubbed "Morrissey Moments," than "Fightin'" Joe Morrissey (D-74, Henrico) himself, who popped up 51 times this session, more than one of the entire teams. True to form, as Speaker Howell called the chamber back to order, the first person in his queue to speak was, none other than, Morrissey, who had his own ad hoc Sensitivity Award: The Too Much Information Award. Delegate Scott Surovell (D-44, Mount Vernon) was the front runner early on for a floor speech he made bemoaning Virginia's traffic congestion, a condition that, apparently, affects the sanctity of his marriage (see video here).
But he had nothing on Delegate David Albo (R-42, Fairfax), who went into great detail on the floor on February 24 about how the ultrasound bill affected an evening with him and his wife. See (or not) the painful and inartful details here. Why, Morrissey, rightly wondered, after 12 years of marriage, did Albo find it necessary to slyly slip his arm around his wife's shoulder? More curious is that viewing the "Redskins Channel" is an apparent prerequisite for mood acquisition. So, appropriately, Morrissey presented Albo an oversize poster of his head superimposed on the Redskins' number 21. Quipped Speaker Howell, "What's nice about that is that it has his IQ on the jersey, too."