There’s been a lot of strum and drang about my support for the filibuster lately. A lot of my Democratic colleagues have been giving me the side eye in the halls of Congress while my friends across the aisle have been patting me on the back and then snickering when they think I’m out of ear shot. Mitch McConnell even offered me his parking space and a spot on the Supreme Court if I switched parties, but I’m not going to do that because I don’t like to break with tradition. Loyalty counts for something where I come from.
We West Virginians don’t trade tradition for political expedience and there’s no better tradition than the filibuster. Filly, as I like to call her, and I go way back. I’ll never forget the day I met her. It was a crisp October Saturday in 1978. My beloved Mountaineers were playing No. 1 Alabama in Morgantown. My dad and I cheered on our boys through the first half; we trailed the mighty Crimson Tide, 14-10, but before the teams could return from the locker rooms, we saw the coaches meeting at the middle of the field. Alabama’s Bear Bryant looked really steamed.
“What’s going on, daddy?” I asked.
“Maybe we invoked the filibuster!” he said.
I waited with wide eyes as he opened the official NCAA rulebook, which he kept under his seat for just such occasions, and flipped to Section 36 A-2. The rule stated that in order to begin the second half, the leading team had to score at least 60 percent of the points in order to resume play and since Alabama only scored 58 percent of the points, they couldn’t continue the game without approval of both teams.
“They call that ‘cloture’, son!” my dad said to me. “Now we’ll see if Alabama is willing to negotiate a bi-sportsmanship solution.”
Frustrated, Bear Bryant pulled his team off the field and Alabama forfeited. That was the greatest win in West Virginia history; I get teary-eyed even now thinking about it.
I used the filibuster during a charity golf outing a couple years ago. I was playing with Susan Collins, Kyrsten Sinema, and a guy named Chuck; he was a late sub after Matt Gaetz dropped out suddenly. Something about owing the bar cart girl money. Anyway, we were in a four-person best shot at a club near Wheeling. We were way behind when I hit one into a pond on the 17th hole. It was unclear if the creek was a lateral hazard and I refused to play without clarification on the rule. The group behind me was pretty mad, as were the people behind them, and the other 16 groups on the course. But I knew the United States Golf Association rules allowed me to use as much time pleading my case as long as I kept talking without rest. I held forth for nine hours and then, shortly, after midnight, realized I was the only person still on the course.
That was four years ago. Last I’d heard the ball was still there, though I haven’t been invited back to that club.
But my fondest memory of the filibuster came from an unlikely place. My son, Kevin, and his wife, Lindsey, were going through a rough patch when they decided to get a divorce. They sat their kids, Aiden and Chloe, down to tell them the news. My precious Chloe, who was just nine at the time, folded her arms and said “No! I filibuster this divorce.”
“Have you been talking to grandpa about procedural shenanigans again?” Kevin asked her. And with her lower lip stuck out, she nodded ‘yes’.
With Aiden by her side, the family was deadlocked 2-2 and, therefore, unable to move forward with anything according to West Virginia law. Chloe saved her family that day. She’s 17 now, and Kevin and Lindsey live in different houses and rarely talk, but the point is Chloe knew her rules and acted within them to achieve a goal while stifling the will of others. Someday, she’s going to make a great senator.