In Jamestown last Tuesday, it was an honor for me to represent Culpeper with a delegation of state and local officials at the 400th anniversary of the first representative legislative assembly in the Western Hemisphere.
The solemn occasion was filled with pageantry and ceremony to honor Virginia’s rich history of representative democracy.
We were very blessed to have President Trump attend as the first sitting U.S. president to address the Virginia General Assembly since our nation was founded.
The well-planned event was billed as a bipartisan affair, which promised a temporary flash of comradery during national political turmoil.
Unfortunately, the hope for bipartisanship was soon broken.
Gov. Ralph Northam had signed a letter of invitation to the president last year along with Republican leaders of the House of Delegates and state Senate.
When President Trump accepted the invitation, Virginia House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, joined other top Democrats in pledging to boycott the part of the ceremonies that featured Trump.
According to The Washington Post, “Democrat Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, a Democrat who is often touted as a future candidate for governor, resigned from committees overseeing the 400th anniversary events because of the Trump invitation.”
“A president who labels those who disagree with him as un-American and ignorantly advocates for duly elected congresswomen, all United States citizens of color, to be sent back to their countries of origin has no place at this commemorative gathering in our commonwealth this weekend,” Stoney wrote in his resignation letter.
Before the president’s speech, a religious figure in the Episcopal Church stood to give the invocation. Instead of a prayer, she gave a veiled political speech about immigration and wrongdoings against natives, blacks and Chinese.
During the president’s speech, Del. Ibraheem Samirahm, D-Fairfax, stood and started yelling at the president, holding a sign he had snuck into the event. The president stood by patiently while Capitol Police escorted Samirahm outside.
Later, the delegate tweeted, “We can’t let bigotry get comfortable anywhere. Especially not at the celebration of a government made of immigrants.”
In the run-up to the event, numerous newspaper editorials from around the nation begged Democrats to put aside partisanship. These pleas were ignored. As a result, the Democrats gave Virginia a black eye in the news media and declared “The Virginia Way” officially dead.
President Trump’s speech was both historical and professional. He spoke about the importance of representative democracy and the role that Virginia played in the founding of our nation. No campaigning, no slogans, no vitriol, simply the facts.
It is most unfortunate that our politics have devolved into opposing sides unable to set aside politics for a special moment in history.
I am concerned for our future generations, as they see usually rational elected officials acting in irrational ways simply to score cheap political points.
Regardless of which party serves in the White House, we have a responsibility as Americans to honor the office of the presidency when its occupant acts in an official capacity.
There will always be time for politics, but the 400th anniversary of representative democracy in Jamestown was not one of them.
We are better than this, Virginia.