ERA advocates send 40,000 postcards to voters in five Virginia House districts

By Davis Burroughs

October 27, 2019

VAratifyERA Campaign Coordinator Kati Hornung thought she would be out of a job by now.

“We’re actually trying to put ourselves out of business,” she said of the campaign to make Virginia the 38th — and theoretically the last — state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. But business, to her dismay, is good. That’s unlikely to change until voters replace a handful of powerful men in the statehouse, she said.

The grassroots group has tested many tactics over its past three years advocating for the gender-equality bill in the Commonwealth: Billboard ads, lobbying, and even holding a 24-hour vigil in House Speaker Kirk Cox’s (R-66) Capitol parking spot on the eve of a critical vote.

This year they’ve turned to a more personal but tedious and expensive approach–pen and paper.

“The old fashioned way that women used to make sure that their voices were heard was handwriting,” Hornung said.

Money and sore hands be damned, the group announced Thursday it had mailed at least 40,000 handwritten postcards to voters in five battleground districts over the last two months.

The notes seek voters’ help in fulfilling a promise Democrats made after Republicans killed their effort to pass the ERA in February, revenge at the ballot box. Each card identifies the candidates from both major parties and their publicly held position for the ERA.

ERA advocates send 40,000 postcards to voters in five Virginia House districts

One postcard might not make a difference, but in a state where margins of victory have been so slim that names have had to be drawn from a hat to pick the winner, 40,000 might.

Take, for example, two of the postcard campaign’s target districts, HD-27 and HD-28. In the former, Republican Roxanne Robinson is again defending a challenge from Democrat Larry Barnett, who lost their first contest by just 128 votes. In the latter, Republican Paul Milde, a first-time candidate, is running against Democrat Josh Cole. In the 2017 election, Cole lost by 82 votes.

Thousands of postcards have also landed in mailboxes located in districts represented by the lawmakers most responsible for keeping the ERA off the floor in the House, Hurnong said. That crowd includes Speaker Cox, who is fighting in unfamiliar terriotory as a result of redistricting, and two of his GOP colleagues, Doug Jones (76) and Tim Hugo (40).

The ERA bill has passed the Senate six times since 2011, but it has never made it to the House floor for a full vote. As in past years, GOP leaders funneled the bill into a subcommittee last winter, where it died by the votes of just four Republican lawmakers. 

Equally as frustrating for advocates, some of whom have been in this fight since the ERA regained traction in the 70s, is that a majority of Republicans in both chambers signed on as cosponsors to the measure during the last session. Hurnong and others believed 2019 was their year until it became clear that the “fundamental extremism” of a few lawmakers would again suppress the will of the many. More than 8 in 10 Virginians support approval of the ERA, an October Washington Post-Schar survey of Virginia voters found.

Democrats need to flip just two seats to win control of the House in 2020, which would all but guarantee safe passage of the ERA, a prospect that has attracted national attention and money from outside groups.

VARatify ERA, while based in Virginia, has likewise turned to volunteers from all 50 states to help with the postcards. Outsider influence, in this case, is more than appropriate, Hurnong said. “When the 38th state ratifies the ERA, that impacts every woman and girl in America, so when our House obstructs democracy and popular legislation, it’s not just impacting women and girls in Virginia, it’s impacting women and girls in America.”

Though advocates are optimistic about the ERA’s chances next year, particularly in light of a Supreme Court ruling undoing racial gerrymandering in the state, they’ve been here before.

“We’ve been pushing really hard and are hoping to be out of business in 2020,” Hornung concluded.

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