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Putney was the lone independent in the House for many years and has served as chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
Del. Lacey Putney,I-Bedford, addresses the House session at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012. Putney is chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and gave the delegates a preview of the budget amendments. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
After more than half a century of service in the Virginia House of Delegates, Del. Lacey Putney, an independent from the 19th District, has announced his retirement.
“When first elected in 1961, I had no plans to seek a second term,” Putney said in a news release on Wednesday. “Now, after 52 years of service, I have reached one of the most difficult decisions of my adult life.”
Putney, of Bedford, served Alleghany County, part of Bedford and Botetourt counties and the cities of Bedford and Covington.
An attorney by profession , Putney was born and raised in Big Island. He received his bachelor’s degree and law degree from Washington and Lee University, where he was a baseball star while pursuing his degrees. He also served in the Air Force from 1950 to 1954.
In Putney’s first run for the house seat, in 1961, he ran against incumbent Charles Green and used the slogan “time for a change” in his campaign, according to a Roanoke Times article from that year.
After being elected, Putney again made headlines for being one of 15 conservative Democratic members of the General Assembly to oppose Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.
In January of 1966, Putney was placed on the appropriations committee, where he served for many years. He became the chairman of that committee in 2008. He also served on a variety of other committees over his 52 years in the general assembly, including privileges and elections.
In 1967, he broke from his party and ran for re-election as an independent. He remains an independent. Putney, according to a Roanoke Times article that year, decided to run as an independent just a week before the filing deadline for the Democratic primary because he didn’t want to sign a “loyalty oath” to the party stating that he would vote for and support only the national and state level Democrats.
“I couldn’t sign that loyalty oath in good conscience,” Putney said in a 1992 Roanoke Times article looking back on his decision to go independent. “But the way I look at it, I didn’t leave the party. The party left me.”
Several other people who ran for various county offices in Bedford in 1967 also followed Putney’s lead and ran as independents. But Putney was the “lone independent” in the House for many years.
Many different newspaper articles through the 1970s show that his refusal to align with a political party became a topic of discussion every time he ran for re-election. While he remained an independent, the Republican Party endorsed him as an independent in several elections because of his conservative principles . A Republican PAC also donated to his campaign, along with that of other conservative independents and Democrats, in 1983.
He ran unopposed between 1979 and 1987.
According to a Roanoke Times election profile of candidates in October 1987, Putney’s major issues were supporting the Virginia Horse Center in Rockbridge County and supporting area economic development.
“I like to think that everyone who seeks public office has a genuine feeling of a duty to render a public service, to give something back to your state,” Putney said in that article.
In 1990, Putney helped pass a $525,000 flood prevention project in Buena Vista.
In 1992, Putney saw the writing of the state’s budget move from a closed committee to the House floor.
Putney was an early and long supporter of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford.
In 1998, Putney joined the GOP caucus as the House’s power shifted toward the Republicans. This left the House with 50 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and Putney, who aligned with the GOP.
Hanging in that power balance, Putney was a major contender for the Speaker’s seat in 1999, but the job went to Del. Vance Wilkins, R-Amherst.
In 2005 Putney suffered a personal tragedy, as his wife of almost 55 years died of Alzheimer’s disease.
But in 2007, Putney married Carmela Bills, who was also widowed, in the House chamber. Bills worked as the primary visitor contact for the House. The wedding was the first ever inside the House building.
He was the chief House sponsor of a 2008 bill authorizing $1.5 billion in bonds to finance state and college building projects. The package included funding to build the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine.
Putney, who is now 84, suffered a stroke in January of this year but returned to his duties in the legislature. He was also treated for throat cancer last year.
Putney’s statement on Wednesday said he decided to announce his retirement now because “I know other potential candidates are waiting to know my plans.”
“Through the years, I have tried to represent my constituents in a manner to which they are entitled,” Putney said in his statement. “It is my plan to actively work full time for the remaining nine months of my current term, especially in providing leadership as chairman of the appropriations committee in crafting the state budget and setting fiscal policies which will continue to make Virginia the best state in which to do business.”
In an email statement, current House Speaker Bill Howell said, “for the past 52 years, Lacey Putney has served Virginia with distinction. It has been an honor and privilege to serve alongside of him and we will miss him and his leadership greatly. Words cannot express the impact Lacey has had on the Commonwealth. On behalf of the entire House of Delegates, I wish Lacey all the best in his retirement and thank him for his many years of service.”
Putney said the friendships he’s made during the past 52 years “will remain forever a rich and rewarding part of my life.” He said he considers himself “especially blessed and honored” for having served for the past 52 years.
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