Four hundred years ago colonists representing each of the twenty or so plantations in Virginia met together in the church at Jamestown Island to take care of the business of the new colony. The upcoming meeting of the General Assembly which will convene in the Jefferson-designed Capitol in Richmond at noon on Jan. 9 is likely to be historic as well with the enormity of the issues before it. These issues will be taken up in view of the election in November of this year when all members of the House of Delegates and State Senate will be on the ballot.
Ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment illustrates what I mean. For forty years the Virginia General Assembly has refused to pass a resolution supporting the ERA. This year is different in that Virginia would be the 38th state to ratify the amendment and barring court challenges would be the final state needed for making the ERA a part of the Constitution. Some public opinion polls show popular support of the amendment as high as 80 percent, and supporters of the amendment have never been better organized. A large demonstration of supporters has been planned for the opening day of the session.
A recent story posted on www.fauquier.com about three delegates who spoke before the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce about the issues in the upcoming session illustrates the challenges facing the legislature. The story reported the ERA score as “one for, one against, and one undecided.”
The one against is Del. Mark Cole who chairs the Privileges and Election Committee to which the bill has been assigned and which has defeated or refused to hear the resolution in past legislative sessions. There is little surprise that Cole who is one of the most conservative members of the House would continue his opposition. Whether he can refuse to have the resolution taken up to keep vulnerable delegates from having to vote on it will be part of the drama of the session.
Supporting passage of the ERA is Del. Elizabeth Guzman who is in her first term and who was part of the defeat of 15 Republicans in the last election. She has shown herself to be a progressive and effective leader who will not allow opponents a way to duck the issue.
Attempting to stand in the middle as undecided is Del. Michael Webert who in the past would have been counted as an opponent. The report says, “he needs to study the proposed ratifying legislation.” More likely is that he needs to study the changing demographic of his district to see if he could be re-elected after voting against the ERA. Webert also has a record of helping defeat commonsense bills to prevent gun violence as part of a subcommittee that defeats all such bills. He will need to explain his votes to the new constituents in his changing district.
All 140 members of the legislature will be measuring their re-election prospects after voting on the ERA. Constituents need to continue to let legislators know their support of the ERA. As for me, I will be supporting the ERA as I always have in the past.