A Virginia state lawmaker who went to jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and later married his 17-year-old victim is running in a special election to replace a congressman who died late last year, according to Federal Election Commission papers filed Tuesday.
State Sen. Joe Morrissey’s entry in the race to succeed Rep. Don McEachin has raised eyebrows in a state where Democrats have battled the perception that they are soft on the sexualization of children, following controversies including the Loudoun County rape and efforts to bring graphic sex education to young schoolkids.
Morrissey, a twice-disbarred lawyer, was indicted in 2014 on a slew of charges resulting from his alleged affair with a 17-year-old staffer. Charges against Morrissey, who was in his fifties at the time, included four felonies: supervisory indecent liberties with a minor, electronic solicitation of a minor, possession of child pornography, and distribution of child pornography, NBC-12 reported.
The girl worked as a part-time clerk at his law office and had listed her age as 22 on her job application, but prosecutors believed that Morrissey knew she was younger when they had sex, the outlet said. He took a plea deal that resulted in a conviction for one misdemeanor count of contributing to the delinquency of a minor and six months in jail, the outlet reported.
The girl became pregnant and she and Morrissey got married.
Morrissey’s brush with the law won’t be the only issue to give pause to conservative parents. In 2020, he was the only Senate co-sponsor of a bill that could have caused parents to lose custody of their children if they did not “affirm” their transgender identities. It redefined the term “abused or neglected child” to include one whose parent “inflicts… mental injury on the basis of the child’s gender identity or sexual orientation.”
This year, its House of Delegates sponsor, Elizabeth Guzman, described her intent to try again with a similar bill, explaining to local news that it would make it a crime not to affirm gender identity. Guzman told WJLA that “It could be a felony, it could be a misdemeanor.”
David Gordon, a Republican political consultant who founded the Virginia Project, said the prospect of Morrissey receiving a promotion shows that “child exploitation is not an obstacle for Democrats.”
“Given his history, I was very surprised to see him double down on the sexual exploitation of children by cosponsoring the notorious Guzman child abduction bill,” Gordon told The Daily Wire.
If Morrissey wins the congressional seat, it would not be his first special election victory. Following his conviction, Morrissey resigned his seat as a state delegate, triggering a special election–then entered that race as an independent and won, casting votes in the General Assembly while still serving time on work release.
In the 2019 election, he won a state Senate seat as a Democrat, and “has since made criminal justice reform a signature part of the legislation he has introduced,” the Richmond Free Press reported. Former Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam pardoned Morrissey as one of his last acts in office this year, the paper said in January.
Morrissey did not return a request for comment.
Virginia’s Fourth Congressional District, centered around Richmond, is a heavily black and Democrat area where the winner of the Democrat primary will be the presumed winner of the congressional race. The Democratic Party will choose its nominee through a “firehouse primary” run by the party on December 20, where Democrats can vote at one of five locations, such as a union hall and a Baptist church. The special election will be February 21.
Alexsis Rodgers, chair of the Fourth Congressional District Democratic Committee, did not return a request for comment about Morrissey’s history.
Morrissey is known for being a maverick not only for his unconventional personal life, but also for his refusal to vote according to party orthodoxy, making him one of the more moderate Democrats in the Virginia Senate.