Let’s play ‘If he were a Republican’ with lawmaker convicted of relations with teen girl

Virginia State Delegate Joseph Morrissey (no relation to Ed) is a menace… to his party.

The Democratic state-level lawmaker from the Richmond area did not make much national news when he was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of engaging in relations with a 17-year-old girl. He also wasn’t the subject of many headlines when he announced his intention to resign his office in disgrace. But Morrissey did draw the attention of the national press when he announced that he would run for his old seat again at his next available opportunity.

The Washington Post revealed the sordid details of the Morrissey Affair on Thursday:

The Morrissey affair seemed like a fleeting sideshow to those weightier scandals when it emerged in the summer. He had been in trouble many times before — he’s been jailed for fights and lost his law license for nearly a decade — so it was not a shocker to see him in it again.

But the saga has churned on in ever more salacious and absurd directions, giving it a staying power and a level of attention mortifying to people steeped in the state’s proud image of political rectitude.

There were the nude photos and explicit text messages that prosecutors said Morrissey and the girl exchanged — and a claim from the delegate that their phones had been hacked by the girl’s spurned lesbian ex-lover. There is the girl’s pregnancy, and the prosecutor’s claim that the child is “perhaps” Morrissey’s. (The delegate isn’t saying.)

“And most startling of all was the prospect that Morrissey, sentenced to six months in jail but able to leave daily on work release, could show up at the Capitol by day to pass laws — and sleep behind bars at night for breaking them,” The Post observed.

The tale gets stranger from here. Less than 24-hours after the release of this report, Henrico County’s Sheriff’s office rescinded the offer of work release to Morrissey that would have allowed him to serve in the legislature while paying his debt to society. Why? When Morrissey held a press conference announcing his intention to run for office again, he did so at a location a half a mile away from his office without informing the authorities of his intention to travel.

“All he has to do is call and say, ‘This is where I’m going to be,’ and he didn’t do it,” Henrico County Sheriff Michael Wade told The Post. There will be a hearing to determine whether Morrissey’s work release privileges are revoked permanently.

While the political contexts are not distinct, Morrissey’s lurid escapades are not entirely dissimilar from those of former Rep. Mark Foley (R-FL). His text exchanges with underage male congressional pages were thoroughly investigated by the press until it was revealed that many Republicans in the House were aware of Foley’s indiscretions and covered them up.

Good for the media, but that kind of scrutiny would not have materialized without the high stakes associated with taking the GOP down a peg in the autumn of a midterm election year. National Public Radio perfectly frames the context in which political operatives viewed the Foley affair:

There was, of course, the war. And President Bush’s polling numbers. Uneasiness about the economy. The response to Katrina. Throw in a little Jack Abramoff.

But if the Republican Party is going to forfeit the control of Congress it has held since 1994, it may be its response to the escapades involving Mark Foley, the Florida House member who resigned his seat in disgrace, that does the trick.

Despite the likelihood of impropriety on the parts of both Foley and his fellows in Congress, authorities could not access sufficient evidence to convict Foley of a crime. He was, however, convicted in the court of public opinion.

Republicans have an overwhelming majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates, but the state Senate is far more narrowly divided. Given the fact that the state just elected Democratic governor who succeeded a Republican convicted of a variety of corruption charges, the Democratic Party of Virginia has every reason to want to distance themselves from Morrissey and to bury both his name and story forever. The national press seems willing to play along.