Senator Chase becomes just the sixth person in Virginia history to be censured by the body
RICHMOND-Once again, Virginia State Sen. Amanda Chase tried to avoid the censure vote Wednesday. This time, it didn’t exactly go as planned. Instead, by a 24-9 vote with several Republicans abstaining, the Virginia Senate did censure the senior senator from Chesterfield during a hearing that stretched for over two hours.
“I think the need to protect the honor of this body is what compelled me to proceed,” said Sen. John Bell (D-Loudon). “I want to make it clear. This is not an issue of Democrats vs. Republicans. For me, this is an issue of right vs. wrong.”
That was a theme echoed throughout the hearing, as multiple senators stood up and spoke against Chase. They pointed out she could have simply apologized, as Bell asked her to last Friday, and the resolution would have been dismissed. They also argued that this wasn’t a case of free speech.
“This is not a First Amendment issue with me,” said Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City County). “It is about hypocrisy and integrity.”
He pointed out that last week, while arguing against the censure, Chase said she could have filed a similar complaint against Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), but chose not to. That was a lie. Chase in fact did try to censure her colleague, who had been arrested while taking part in a Black Lives Matter protest last summer.
State records show that Chase filed the complaint at 11:49 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 20. However, she had already exceeded her limit on bills to file this year, so it was rejected. She tried again at 6:08 p.m. that same day and it was rejected again. To have her stand there and lie to everyone’s face, Norment said, was inexcusable.
Time to Move On From Chase
While the members spoke up against Chase, they also pointed out how rare the step was that they were taking. Wednesday’s vote marked only the sixth censureship since the Commonwealth came into existence. There were four between 1796 and 1926. Then you had one more in 1987, when the Virginia Senate censured Peter Babalas for a financial conflict of interest.
A censure is basically a formal statement of disapproval. There are no penalties, no one is removed from office. It’s just a document saying at least a majority of the group disagree with your actions.
The alternative is what’s called expelling. In order to make that happen, however, you need a two-thirds majority of both the House and Senate. Unsure if enough lawmakers would support that option, Bell went with the censure.
Members of both parties said they had lost trust and faith in Chase. They were also tired of having to deal with the backlash from her actions.
“She has long ago exhausted any remaining reservoir of trust and credibility with most of her colleagues, if not all of her colleagues,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham). “I’m not sure if she can claim a single member of the General Assembly as an ally.”
Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Franklin) looked at it a different way. He pointed out multiple bills Chase had filed when she first came to the Senate and how much promise she showed.
“But greed and ambition have taken over,” Stanley said. “The truth does not fit her well. Nothing could be more disappointing.”
Did It Follow Procedure?
The hearing was paused several times, as legal questions came up. Sen. Steve Newman (R-Bedford) argued that this was too early. He felt the resolution needed to go back to the Privileges and Elections Committee because of the multiple changes.
The original censured Chase “for fomenting insurrection against the United States”, as well as failure to uphold her oath of office and conduct unbecoming a senator. Bell said Tuesday that some of his colleagues convinced him to remove the insurrection line, to protect Chase’s right to free speech.
The amended resolution expands the complaint. Rather than focusing only on what Chase said Jan. 6, it details a series of “incendiary events” involving the senator, dating back to 2019. And that, Newman said, was the problem. He pointed out that Senate rules require the Elections Committee to investigate each claim and then report on them. They didn’t do that for the additional changes in the amended version.
After multiple discussions, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax agreed that the resolution was out of order and should go back. However, the President of the Senate’s decision can be overruled by a majority vote. Nearly the entire Senate voted to overrule the decision, pushing forward with the vote.
Some Republicans Refuse to Take Part
Several Republican members refused to vote for or against the censure. As a personal principle, Stanley and five others said they couldn’t support it because Chase has free speech and should be allowed to say whatever she wants, even if we all disagree with it. But at the same time, none of those nine wanted to support her.
“As soon as I put this microphone down, I’m walking out of this chamber until we’re done,” Stanley said. “I will not vote no because it’s a reward for her bad behavior. I cannot support this resolution but I understand why you bring it.”
Those besides Stanley who refused to vote included Obenshain, Sen. Jen Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach), Sen. Ryan McDougle (R-Hanover), Sen. Todd Pillion (R-Abingdon) and Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County).
In addition to Chase herself, eight other Republicans voted against censure. They included Sen. William DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach), Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake), Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico), Sen. Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta), Newman, Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg), Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) and Sen. Richard Stuart (R-Montross).
Afterwards, the Republican Caucus released a statement, saying while each member made their own decision, the group condemned Chase’s actions.
“Senator Chase’s selfishness and constant need for media attention, with which the Senate Republican Caucus is keenly familiar, brought us to the situation in which the Senate found itself today,” the statement said.
“Republican senators were guided by their consciences on Senate Resolution 91, with each member making their own determination and judgment on the best course of action,” it added. “All, however, are united in their disappointment in Senator Chase and their disdain for her actions.”
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Chase Denounces Groups
When it came time for her testimony, Chase started out fiery. She condemned what she saw as a double standard and started listing all of the times different senators had been accused of committing illegal acts. However, she said, none of them were ever censured.
The difference, Chase’s colleagues had argued throughout the hearing, is that she stood accused of supporting an open insurrection against the U.S. government. In the original resolution, Bell references the multiple Facebook videos Chase filmed and then later deleted once a censure vote was brought up.
In a Facebook video, Chase said “I support peaceful protests but I’m telling you when you back people in Virginia and across the United States of America into a corner, you end up with a revolution. And I believe that’s what you’re starting to see.”
The resolution also cites this quote from another of Chase’s Facebook videos on Jan. 6. She said “whenever a government comes after your constitutional rights, we have every right and reason to resist. When you back good people, law-abiding citizens into a corner, they will push back when you give them no other options. When you cheat them of their elections, when you take away their constitutional rights and freedoms, you’re backing patriots like myself into a corner.”
Comments like those, the original resolution said, prove her intent and support of the insurrection.
Chase said she didn’t support anyone who attacked the Capitol. She denounced white supremacists, saying “there’s no place for them.” She denounced white supremacy, saying “there is no place for that. And I condemn anyone who committed violence or broke the law. And anyone who broke the law should be arrested and I support that,” Chase said.
Warns of a Lawsuit
Chase told the rest of the Senate anything she said was politically protected free speech. She warned the Senate not to censure her or there would be consequences.
“I really don’t want to do this, but if the Senate chooses to humiliate me, I will not be without remedy to clear my name,” Chase said.
Immediately after that, the Senate voted to censure her.
Brian Carlton is Dogwood’s managing editor. You can reach him at [email protected].