The racial politics of seating white sex offender in state legislature

Last month, Joseph Morrissey was convicted of contributing to the delinquency of a 17-year-old girl with whom he had a sexual relationship. The girl worked as a receptionist in Morrissey’s law office.

At the time of his conviction, Morrissey was a delegate to the Virginia General Assembly. He promptly resigned, and then mounted a campaign to fill the vacancy his resignation created.

In a special election, with light turnout, the good people of the 74th House District, which consists of a Richmond suburb, re-elected Morrissey. A former Democrat, he captured 42 percent of the vote running as an independent in a three-way race.

How, you might be wondering, is Morrissey able to serve, given the fact that his conviction carried a six month jail sentence. The answer is that he attends legislative sessions under a work release program. Legislator by day; jailbird by night.

Republicans have called for Morrissey to step down and, since he’s unwilling to, they are insisting that he be expelled. The Democratic caucus, on the other hand, is deeply divided.”

There are, you see, dueling racial angles. The 17-year old Morrissey “corrupted” is African-American. This leads some African-American delegates to insist that Morrissey cannot be permitted to sit in the legislature. White “master” preying on black subordinate, and all that.

But wait! Morrissey’s constituents are predominantly African-American. Thus, some contend it would be “paternalistic” for mostly white legislators to deny these folks the representative of their choice. Disenfranchisement of blacks, and all that.

Cornel West, call your office.

There was a time when racial politics were straightforward. And before that, there was a time when Democrats didn’t need to pass straightforward questions of basic decency through the filter of race.

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