By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
None of the Democratic House or Senate members of the Hampton Roads legislators will attend a July 30 observance in Jamestown of the 400th anniversary of the convening of the first legislative body in an English Colony – whether President Donald Trump attends or not.
State Senator Lionell Spruill, who represents both Norfolk and Chesapeake, after conferring with a number of area lawmakers, confirmed their intentions with the GUIDE July 23 during a phone interview.
Initially, late last week, four of the top House and Senate leaders announced they would not attend because Trump had been invited.
House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax; Senate Minority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax; House Caucus Chairwoman Charnel Herring, D-Alexandria; and Senate Democrat Caucus Chair Mamie Locke, D-Hampton tweeted their intentions to boycott the event on July 19.
“We will not be attending any part of the commemorative session where Trump is in attendance,” the Virginia House and Senate Democratic leaders tweeted July 19. “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.”
“We offer just three words of advice to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation: ‘Send Him Back,’” the tweeted statement continued, referring to the “send her back” chants shouted at Trump’s Greenville, North Carolina rally on July 17.
The Virginia commemorative event slated for July 30 in Jamestown is part of a week-long celebration of the area’s colonial history.
Although Trump’s attendance has not been confirmed Spruill said that local lawmakers will not be present, even if he does or does not.
Spruill said that organizers of the event extended the invitation to lawmakers late, assuming they would accept it late and then be locked into attending Trump Speech.
This angered his fellow Democrats, too, Spruill said.
“He (Trump) is not fit to be President and he is not fit for me or other lawmakers to sit in the same room with him,” said Spruill. “The governor and the Republicans should not have invited him. This is especially true a week after he used tweets to attack the four Congresswomen of color last week and his suggestion they leave a country where they are citizens.”
Senator Locke said thus far only 19 state lawmakers have confirmed they will attend the event.
“This is a celebration of the idea of democracy, “ said Locke. “This man has no respect for the idea of democracy and has made a mockery of it during his presidency and his entire life.”
Locke said that her stand was bolstered a week after Trump’s twitter attack against four Black Congresswomen, he claimed hated America and told them they should go back to the country of their origin.
“I could not being in the same place with him,” she said. “This man has no respect for humanity, women or African Americans.”
According to the “Richmond Times-Dispatch” which first broke the story July 19, an individual familiar with the planning of the event said Trump is scheduled to speak at the ceremony at the Jamestown Settlement on the morning of July 30, the anniversary of the day in 1619 when the Virginia General Assembly first met.
But organizers for the “American Evolution” – part of the state’s Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation – have not immediately confirmed Trump’s expected attendance at the event.
Nor has the White House, according to media reports.
Much of the angst about the potential presidential visit was triggered when it was learned that Gov. Ralph Northam (D), joined state GOP lawmakers to invite Trump.
Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) both received invitations last year from Northam, House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and state Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City).
“Speaker Pelosi’s office declined the invitation within the last two weeks. The White House has made no announcement regarding the President’s plans,” event organizers said in a recent news release.
Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, according to the POST, said she declined due to an unavoidable scheduling conflict. He said she was unaware the president also was invited to attend at the time she turned it down.
Northam’s office said July 19 the event’s organizers had drafted the letter more than a year ago and asked the political leaders to sign it.
“Governor Northam strongly condemns President Trump’s continued attack on immigrants and the diversity that makes Virginia and America who we are,” his spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said.
Northam is not scheduled to speak at the same event that Trump would potentially attend, the spokesman said. The governor is slated to make remarks at an early-morning ceremony on July 30, while the president has been invited to something later in the day.
Yarmosky said the governor is not weighing in on whether Trump still should be invited but added that “it’s ironic the president would attend, given his recent attacks on immigrants.”
The story of Jamestown, she said, highlights how immigrants built today’s America.
The event is organized by American Evolution, a public-private partnership established by the General Assembly.
Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax announced on Monday, July 22 that he will attend the event. (See GUIDE page 5A.)
The White House on July 19, according to the Washington Post, declined to comment on the invitation.
Various political analysts and watchers say with Virginia now leaning blue and anti-Trump, inviting him to such a high profile event has stirred angst among Democrat ranks.
“I sure hope this is just an awful rumor. Surely there’s a better voice for such an occasion,” State Delegate. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, said in a tweet.
The letter to Trump, dated Aug. 16, 2018, and obtained by The Washington Post, said it was “our honor and privilege” to extend the invitation.
“Your presence and remarks on this important anniversary would be most appropriate,” the letter continued. “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.”
Similar language was used in the letter to Pelosi. Her office confirmed she received at least two invitations to the event – one from Northam and the state lawmakers, and a separate one from the state’s bipartisan congressional delegation.
The July 30th event will include ceremonies, tours and an evening concert by the Richmond Symphony at Historic Jamestown, according to the organization’s website, americanevolution2019.com.
Leading up to that, there will also be tours and special events throughout the region on July 27-28, including interpretive programs and military exercises at the Jamestown Settlement.
Fort Monroe will host a commemoration on Aug. 23-25 marking the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to English North America.
Political watchers will be watching to see if the political drama will play on when this event is held.