Fact Checking Bill Leighty

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

In my review of Bill Leighty’s memoir, I quoted at length an incident that was supposed to illustrate Leighty’s deal-making skills, as well as how things are often accomplished in state government. One of this blog’s alert readers, “how_it_works,” pointed that the timing of the events related in the story just did not work out, thereby casting doubt on the story.

I thought the objection was valid and serious enough to warrant investigation. Because the story involved legislation enacted in the late 1980’s and the on-line Legislative Information System does not have legislative history before 1994, I had to wait until the public agencies with the paper records opened after Memorial Day before I could do any checking. This follow-up article sets out the results of my research.

To recap, Leighty related a string of deals he had made culminating in Del. Leslie Byrne of Fairfax agreeing to introduce legislation “creating a vehicle emissions inspection program in northern jurisdictions of the state.” This series of events occurred between 1986 and 1990, when Leighty was Deputy Secretary of Public Safety and Transportation.

Since the early 1980’s a mandatory motor vehicle emissions inspection program had existed in Northern Virginia. Vehicles registered in those jurisdictions were required to be inspected on an annual basis. There was a provision that the program would be expanded to jurisdictions in the Richmond area under certain conditions. Subject to the requirement were all liquid-cooled motor vehicles with a gross weight of 6,000 pounds or less that were of the eight model years immediately preceding the current new model year. Exempted were Diesel vehicles.

The 1988 General Assembly enacted significant changes in the law. (Chap. 806. 1988 Acts of Assembly). The legislation involved considerable rewording of the affected statutes, but here are the most important changes:

  1. Moved the oversight of the emissions inspection program from the Department of State Police to the State Air Pollution Control Board;
  2. Expanded the maximum size of vehicles subject to the requirement from a gross weight of 6,000 pounds to 8,500 pounds;
  3. Expanded the pool of vehicles subject to the requirement to any that were more than one year old but less than 21 years old;
  4. Deleted the potential for the program to be applicable to Richmond-area localities; and
  5. Changed the frequency of the required inspection from annual to biennial.

The legislation was introduced by Del. Mary Marshall of Arlington, not Del. Leslie Byrne.

In summary, the 1988 legislation significantly expanded the category of motor vehicles subject to  mandatory emissions inspection in Northern Virginia, which could well have upset many voters in the area. However, it certainly did not establish a brand new program as Leighty clearly implied.

The discrepancy in patrons can be plausibly explained. After all, Leighty did not say that Byrne actually introduced the legislation, only that she agreed to do so, which was the key to his deals. After agreeing, Byrne could well have prevailed upon Marshall to introduce it instead. Such trading off among patrons is fairly common. Besides, it would have made political sense. Marshall had a lot more seniority than Byrne, she was on the committee that would hear the bill, she was well-liked, and she was in a safe Democratic seat in Arlington.

Under the Fact Checker rating scale, I would give Leighty “Two Pinocchios” (half true).

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12 responses to “Fact Checking Bill Leighty”

  1. VaPragamtist Avatar

    But to build on the issues raised by reader “how_it_works”, the entire anecdote is built around the filming of the movie Navy Seals. The story is that the production company wanted a permit for a specific scene so Bill went to X, Y, and Z and Z had had what X wanted so everything worked out. But the scene ended up being filmed overseas anyway.

    NOVA’s annual emissions inspections is indirectly attributable to Bill Leighty and Navy Seals.

    The problem is that filming began in September 1989. It was moved overseas in November 1989. There’s no way legislation introduced in January 1988 would have been related to the filming.

    Moreover, there wasn’t even a script for the film until after the 1988 writer’s strike, which ended in August of that year.

    In order for all of this to make sense on the timeline presented, for 1988 legislation the production company would have wanted to get the permit in the fall of 1987. The original director died in that summer and it’s unclear when a new one was brought in, so maybe they’d be making this decision without a director. It would be nearly a year before they had a robust script and a year before filming.


    1. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night. -Marilyn Monroe, actress (1 Jun 1926-1962)

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I know next to nothing about the making of movies. However, it does seem plausible to me that the production company was scouting locations in 1987 for a movie that came out in 1990. After all, Leighty said they had changed their minds about the setting for the opening scene by the time he could assure the permits for the scene in the Chesapeake Bay. Finally, as you point out, there was a writers’ strike in 1988 that would have delayed the production.

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      I wonder why the producers didn’t approach the Navy and use the beach at Little Creek thus avoiding the State altogether?

  2. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    Well, memories of the day begin to soften and fail.

    I can only imagine it gives some solace as night approaches.

  3. Nathan Avatar

    Appreciate your efforts to fact check.

    All in all, the book is too fast and loose with the facts. I’ll take a pass.

  4. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    When the newspaper assigned me to cover state government and politics full time almost 40 years ago, I thought about starting the diary habit. Had I done so, and done a better job of holding onto interesting documents, I could have written one helluva insider account. A bio of Jerry Falwell, too. Few reporters knew him like I did. But doing it from memory now would produce the same problems of faulty details. You wanna hear the good stuff, buy me a drink…I’ll open with my Irish grandma’s favorite line: If all stories are true, this is no lie…

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I’ll take you up on that sometime.

    2. Nathan Avatar

      In my extended family, it was my Aunt Mary who was the best storyteller. Boy could she captivate an audience, and keep them laughing. Having spent much time with her, I found that the stories “improved” with each telling.

      I’m sure you have some good stories about Virginia politics. Jerry Falwell was quite a personality. Jerry Jr. perhaps even more so, but not necessarily in a good way.

      1. Lefty665 Avatar

        I still remember the liquor “ad” about Jerry and his mom…

    3. Super Brain Avatar
      Super Brain

      Not to late to write it down.

      1. Super Brain Avatar
        Super Brain


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