(Illustration by: Victoria Borges)
One of the quirkier stories to emerge out of early 2016 was a vote in the Virginia Senate to make the eastern garter snake the state reptile of Virginia. This might have gone unnoticed if not for the vocal dissent of Sen. Dick Black of Loudoun County, a far-right Republican who proposed instead the timber rattlesnake, the symbol of the Tea Party movement.
Black’s objection to the garter snake, which was suggested by an 11-year-old boy, is that it is “lowly and common.” He added that it is “a fearful creature. When it’s confronted with danger it runs immediately. It scrambles. ... It slithers, if you prefer.” It also gives off a terrible odor when scared, “something like a cross between a soiled diaper and a skunk.”
Senators rejected Black’s argument and passed the bill. Thank goodness they did, because evidence suggests that the eastern garter snake is indeed the perfect reptile for Virginia.
If an eastern garter snake were to run for president, how would he go about it? Given his attention-shunning nature, he likely would lie low, concealing himself under rocks, logs and 15 or so other candidates. He would avoid predators and personal appearances, emerging only briefly to sun himself at a rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal. Jim Gilmore or eastern garter snake? You decide.
Virginia conservatives were doing the Snoopy dance when former Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli was nominated to fill the vacancy on the Virginia Supreme Court. The fiercest of the fierce, the staunchest of the staunch, The Cooch, revered by conservatives and feared by progressives, is the Defender of the Constitution and Coverer of Symbolic Breasts. I imagine that when he walks through a door, Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” is playing. When protests from liberal groups started mounting after his nomination, a brutal fight seemed likely — just the sort of thing Cuccinelli seems to savor. And yet, he promptly withdrew his name. Slithered away, if you prefer...
On the flip side, Virginia liberals — specifically its gun-control advocates — were overjoyed that they had a staunch ally in Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who proudly touted his F rating from the NRA while running for governor. But when McAuliffe compromised with pro-gun Republicans and passed bills that expand concealed-carry gun rights, well, you could say gun-control advocates were muttering some adjectives that would suit both the governor and a certain reptile perfectly: cowardly, fearful, scrambling…
The eastern garter snake may not be bold or majestic like the timber rattlesnake, but it is outstanding at one thing: hiding. It doesn’t want to be exposed and doesn’t want your attention. If one made its way into, say, city government, it might thwart any efforts that would expose its movements — maybe like Richmond’s Interim Deputy Administrator for Operations John Buturla, who is fighting City Councilman Parker Agelasto’s proposal to post city documents and contracts on a centralized website. Buturla argues that it would be far too costly to build and maintain the kind of website your niece could slap up by next Thursday.
Or perhaps the eastern garter snake gets elected to the Virginia Senate. Let’s just say for kicks that he is the majority leader. He would rather you not be looking over his shoulder, especially if you are the predator he most detests — reporters. He’ll be much more comfortable if he can remove you from his habitat, the Senate floor. This is what happened in January when Sen. Thomas K. Norment, Jr. banned reporters from the floor, from which they had been covering the chamber for decades, banishing them to a cramped, upstairs corner with limited view of chamber proceedings. Well-played, eastern garter snake.
If the eastern garter snake were the mayor of Richmond and pastor of a large church, he might scurry away from questions about possible improper dealings between the city and his church and try to hide under the cover of “separation of church and state.” But Mayor Dwight Jones is going to need a little more cover than that now that the State Police have been cleared by a grand jury to investigate. They have flashlights.
And what about that awful stench the eastern garter snake emits when it’s fearful? Well, I don’t know about you, but after 355,960 Virginians, who had been whipped up to fear immigrants, Muslims, Latinos and the government, handed Donald Trump the win in the Virginia primary, I swore I could smell something that was like a cross between a soiled diaper and a skunk.