I was in the Senate Finance Committee this morning watching, thankfully, two good bills, which may lead to some much needed tax reform, fly through. The committee agenda was short, normal right after "crossover," and only six bills were heard, all passing on unanimous voice votes. Can't be much simpler than that. At what should've been a quick bang of the gavel to dismiss, committee Chairman Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas) made the announcement, the first one in public as it turned out: Former Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leroy Hassell, Sr., died, unexpectedly, at age 55 (WTVR.com). He previously stepped aside as chief justice, but remained on the court.  Governor Bob McDonnell ordered that the flag of the commonwealth be flown at half-staff on all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds (WTVR.com). New Chief Justice Cynthia Kinser was scheduled to be sworn in officially this week. There is no word on the status of that ceremony at this point. She will be the first woman Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice.

(Updated 4:45 p.m.: The governor has ordered that flags be flown at half-staff until his burial on all local, state, and federal buildings and grounds in Virginia. Additionally, Justice Hassell will lie in state in the Virginia State Capitol prior to burial. See his official statement honoring Justice Hassell)

Chief Justice Hassell was the first black person to serve in that position. He was a native Virginian, and proudly so. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli included this 2003 quote in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in his statement honoring Mr. Hassell:

I do not wish to serve, however, because I happen to be black. Rather, I desire to serve because I am a Virginian by birth who has a strong affection and love for the commonwealth and its people.

He will be missed. He was a man of great faith, intellect, warmth, stature and humility.

Later in the morning, a bombshell e-mail from a political consultant friend: U.S. Senator Jim Webb will not run for re-election in 2012 (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog). Though not totally unexpected, the timing (through no fault of Senator Webb) was strange, so soon after the sad news about Justice Hassell. Mr. Webb had not actively engaged in fundraising and many thought from the beginning he would term limit himself, given the flukish nature of his election — and a possible Defense Secretary appointment in a potential Obama second term.

Now, the attention turns to who the Democrats will nominate. Early speculation ranges from everyone from former Governor Tim Kaine and Terry McAuliffe (if he can be pulled away from running for governor) to former Congressmen Rick Boucher and Tom Periello, to Krystal Ball, who unsuccessfully challenged Republican Rob Wittman in the first district last year.