In 1619, the Virginia Company of London sent a new governor, Sir George Yeardley, to the tiny, struggling Virginia colony with a set of instructions called the Great Charter. The document called for ending martial law and instructed the settlers to establish a self-governing legislative body to manage the fledgling outpost.
The Virginia General Assembly, the first legislative body to meet in the Western Hemisphere, convened on July 30, 1619. It continues to meet to this day.
We think that is pretty phenomenal and deserves to be celebrated widely and well. Such were the intentions of the commemoration events planned for this July 30 to mark the assembly’s 400th anniversary. It was assumed that all invited Virginia lawmakers and national politicians would understand the significance of that first meeting far outweighed the petty emotions of today’s politics. After all, Virginians of differing political beliefs and principles have been legislating together for the past four centuries.
Unfortunately, Democrats in today’s General Assembly don’t feel that way. In what can only be described as an act of petulance, House Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, House Democratic Chair Charniele Herring, Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw and Senate Democratic Chair Mamie Locke issued a joint statement Friday declaring they will not attend any portion of the commemorative sessions on July 30 if President Trump—a Republican—is present. Friday night, the Democratic Party of Virginia also joined in, tweeting: “There’s no room for @realDonaldTrump and his racism at the 400th anniversary of Virginia’s General Assembly.”
But Democrats were taken aback to learn the following morning that the president had been invited by none other than Gov. Ralph Northam, himself a Democrat. The 2019 Commemoration organization extended invitations to Trump and to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that were signed by Northam, Virginia House Speaker Kirk Cox and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment—both Republicans. “Your presence and remarks on this important anniversary would be most appropriate,” the nonpartisan request read. “By lending your voice and insights, you would continue a tradition that has brought numerous prior Presidents and world leaders, including Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, to Jamestown to reflect on the significance of the place and its major milestones.”
In their tweet, the Democrats wrote: “We will not be attending any part of the commemorative session where Donald Trump is in attendance. The current President does not represent the values that we would celebrate at the 400th anniversary of the oldest democratic body in the western world.” Unfortunately, Virginia Democrats who are boycotting this monumental event aren’t representing those values either.
In another century, Virginia will observe the 500th anniversary of the General Assembly. We hope when the events of the past half-millennial are remembered, this sad performance will have been long relegated to the dustbin of history.