February 14, 2018

Virginia Senate Votes NO on Equality for Women

By Carol Smith Catron, Cathy Kaelin and the EME Team

We at Equal Means Equal are saddened to report the bad news out of Virginia.

Below is an indepth eye witness report from Virginia ERA Activist Carol Smith Catron.

“Early this morning I went to a meeting of the Senate Rules Committee, which is heavily stacked with Republicans. The room was PACKED with ERA supporters wearing buttons and sashes. Kasey Terrill was wearing a complete suffragette outfit. Her son wore a shirt that read, “Men of quality fight for equality.” Eastan Weber, a Powhatan girl, was there with her mother, wearing the same dress and boots as the Fearless Girl statue on Wall Street. (Eastan is on the “Not one more genERAtion” billboards, postcards, and buttons.) The doors to the room were closed before the meeting began because it was so full, and a security guard kept stressing that we needed to keep an aisle clear (which we did, just barely).

The committee spent a good while going over comparatively insignificant bills before finally bringing up SJ4, which would ratify the ERA. The committee, led by Sen. Ryan McDougle lumped SJ4 in with four other bills that were completely unrelated to the ERA. McDougle intended to pass this block of bills by as one, with no vote or public comment. He cited a federal archivist who states that this amendment is not properly before the legislature because the deadline for ratification has passed. McDougle went on to call the ERA a “failed amendment.” He stated repeatedly that “this committee does not memorialize…”

Senator Scott Surovell presented SJ4, beginning by stating that the ERA was ratified last year in Nevada. McDougle shot back, “Do we live in Nevada?” Surovell pointed out that Attorney General Mark Herring has written a 12-page opinion indicating that Congress could extend the deadline. Surovell pointed out that states have ratified Amendments way after the deadline, and Virginia was one of the last states to ratify the 19th Amendment in 1952 (over 30 years after it was ratified by other states).

Sen. McDougle replied to Surovell’s comments, beginning, “While I am certainly sympathetic to the cause…” The audience jeered. Surovell pointed out that it is not an archivist who decides what the law is, but the courts. The audience applauded loudly. Surovell then asked for all who were there in support of the ERA to stand. Every single person I could see stood. McDougle countered by asking those who were not in favor to stand. Only one man behind me stood up.

McDougle then tried to continue on with the other bills in the block. Senator Howell interrupted, saying she was troubled that the committee did not vote. The crowd called, “Vote!” Nevertheless, McDougle continued on with the next bill, which had to do with recognizing Pakistani people, and then recommended that the block be PBIed (passed by indefinitely). Sen. Noment made a motion to PBI all the bills in the block. Sen. Janet Howell said that she would like SJ4 taken out the block. The committee voted to PBI the other four bills, and then McDougle called for a voice vote on SJ4. The crowd erupted with calls to “Record the vote!” McDougle insisted that SJ votes are not recorded and tried to move on. People called out “Show of hands!”, “Vote him out!”, “Pack your bags!”, “This is disgusting and embarrassing!”, “You work for us!”, and “This is America!” Ignoring us, McDougle moved on to another bill.

At that point, the crowd started singing, “We Shall Overcome.” The committee tried to continue with other business. The singing got louder and louder. Security guards moved to the front of the room, but looked puzzled about what they should do. The stand-off continued for several minutes, with McDougle threatening to empty the room. Many stood up and continued to sing even louder. Finally, a staff member announced, “They will take a vote.”

McDougle insisted on dealing with other bills first. Eventually, public comment was permitted. Pat Fishback with the League of Women Voters spoke about how she has been fighting for the ERA for 40 years.

Sen. Howell moved that the vote be recorded. McDougle asked for speakers who were against the ERA to come forward, and again threatened to empty the room because we were using our voices.

Sen. Saslaw pointed out that in the past, votes on SJs have been recorded. McDougle said he would allow 3 minutes for comments.

Julia Tanner, and attorney, said that the archivist had offered an opinion, not a certainty, and that the Supreme Court never said a deadline could not be moved.

Marty Davis spoke next, adding, “I find it hard to understand why you don’t want to have your name on this historical legislation.” He added that we will be back next year, and if the ERA is not passed then, the year after, and we will be looking at different faces. There was huge applause.

Although McDougle said the three minutes was up, seven more women insisted on speaking. One was Kati Hornung, a self-described “4th generation Republican” who would like her party to take leadership on this issue. An Air Force veteran also spoke, saying that although women in the military defend the Constitution, they are not protected by it.

McDougle asked again for anyone against the bill to come forward. No takers.

Howell moved that the vote be a show of hands. This was permitted. Senators Senator Janet Howell (D), Mamie Locke (D), Dick Saslaw (D), Richard Stuart (R), & Jill Vogel (R) voted in favor of the bill. Senators Mark Obenshain (R), Frank Ruff (R), Emmett Hanger (R), Frank Wagner (R), Ryan McDougle (R), Steve Newman (R), Bill Stanley (R), Charles Carrico (R), and Bryce Reeves (R) ignored the will of the people and voted no.

The Virginia Senate is fairly evenly split, with 19 Dems and 21 Republicans. However, having that majority of 1, Republicans get to appoint committee members. And do they do it representatively, say 8-7? Certainly not. On this committee there are 12 Republicans and 3 Democrats. In recent years, the Virginia Senate has passed the ERA 5 times. Had this bill made it out of the committee to the Senate floor, it would have passed again this year.

We voiced our dissent loudly and then went across the hall to another hot, crowded room for the House Privileges and Elections Committee meeting. Again, we had buttons and sashes. Many held signs that which read, “Equality deserves the dignity of a floor debate” and “Dads 4 daughters.” After about 20 minutes, the ERA bill came up. Del. Sam Rasoul spoke well for it, and then one member of the public, Pat Fishback, was permitted to come forward and speak. As soon as she finished, the Chairman of the committee, Mark Cole, concluded the meeting, refusing to allow a hearing or vote. The delegates who oppose equality for women quickly left the room, and the crowd was very vocal about the fact that they should be ashamed of themselves and looking for new jobs.

Afterwards, we stood outside on the sidewalk with our signs, chanting, yelling, and singing. Most of the time, we recited the words on the banner we held: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of sex.” Anyone going in or out of the Capitol had to pass right by us. Some smiled and gave hugs and expressed appreciation, and others marched quickly by without making eye contact.

96% of Americans support the ERA, and this legislative body is ignoring our voices. We will be back next year, and in 2019 we will vote out those who stood in our way.”

With love,

Carol Smith Catron, Cathy Kaelin and the EME Team

PS. From the EME Team – stay tuned as WE ARE NOT GOING ANYWHERE – except maybe to Arizona, Illinois, North Carolina, Georgia… WE WILL NOT BE STOPPED.

WE WILL ACHIEVE EQUAL RIGHTS FOR AMERICAN WOMEN IN THIS NEXT YEAR. THAT IS OUR COMMITMENT, OUR MISSION AND OUR SOLEMN DUTY