Legislative Persistence and Character

Del. Frank Hargrove, Sr.

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

Twenty years ago, a senior member of the House of Delegates introduced a bill to abolish the death penalty. The introduction of such legislation was unusual in itself; even more unusual was the patron: Frank Hargrove, a Republican delegate from Hanover County.

Hargrove, who had been in the General Assembly for 18 years by that time, seemed an unlikely candidate to introduce a bill to abolish the death penalty. He was a staunch conservative and had even introduced a bill years earlier to bring back public hangings. However, regarding his prior beliefs about the death penalty, he told a reporter, “My stand was one of significant uncertainty. My own logic told me it wasn’t right, but it seemed to be what the general public wanted in terms of dealing with these criminals. But [my stand] was very shaky.” He explained that his bill on public hangings was motivated by his feeling that the public had become too comfortable with executions. 

Every legislative session from 2001 until he retired after the 2009 session, he introduced the bill. It never got out of committee. In fact, there was only one year in which his bill received even one vote in favor of it in the committee. Beginning with the 2006 Session, there was no recorded committee vote; the record only says “Left in committee.” I suspect that his colleagues were trying to save him the embarrassment of unanimous “no” votes in the committee to kill the bill.

Despite the lack of any possibility of getting the bill out of committee, much less of passing it, Hargrove persisted. It says something about a legislator’s character that he would continue to push for an issue that he believes in on principle, despite its unpopularity with the rest of his colleagues and probably his constituents.

Frank Hargrove will be 93 years old this year. He must have smiled at the announcement by the Governor that he will be advocating repeal of the death penalty.