Athwart Virginia, yelling ‘Stop!’

By: - February 21, 2019 5:01 am
The Virginia House of Delegates met Thursday to discuss redistricting, but didn't get far. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury - Aug. 30, 2018)

The Virginia House of Delegates. Delegates voted Monday to pass legislation that will provide protections for residents evicted from assisted living facilities in Virginia. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury – Aug. 30, 2018)

Like most outsiders, everything I know these days about what’s going on at the Virginia General Assembly comes from the news.

And based on that reading, I have to say that it looks like even in the face of recent election losses and declining support, Virginia Republicans are dug in and continuing to dig.

A lot of proposals popped up this year that would have improved the wellbeing of a great many Virginians and the Republicans used their tiny majority to kill most of them, even some carried by other Republicans.

William F. Buckley Jr., who spurred on the conservative movement many decades ago, wrote of National Review, the magazine he founded: “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no other is inclined to do so.” That describes the state GOP as well as any other description.

The Virginia Republicans yelled “Stop!” at the Equal Rights Amendment, killing it in a House subcommittee even though (or maybe because) it might have had enough votes to pass the full House.

The GOP leadership is doing all it can to prevent that from happening. The amendment, should it become law, says: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

They yelled “Stop!” at a bill that would have banned housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identification.

They yelled “Stop!” at legislation to end the practice of suspending driver’s licenses for unpaid fines and court costs, even though having a suspended driver’s license makes it that much harder to get to work to earn the money to pay the fine that caused the suspension.

There are other examples, but the loudest, most sustained red-faced screams of “Stop!” are aimed at anything involving gun control.

Those include a proposal to revive the one-gun-a-month law, which was enacted in the early 1990s and repealed by the Republicans in 2012. It banned, and would again ban, people from buying more than one gun a month. The reason is that certain folks are taking advantage of Virginia’s lax gun laws by buying truckloads of guns and reselling them up and down the East Coast.

They yelled “Stop!” at legislation that would restrict assault weapons, despite the obvious evidence from around the country that assault weapons have made mass murder more massive.

They yelled “Stop!” at legislation that would make it a felony to leave a loaded gun around children.

They yelled “Stop!” at closing the so-called gun-show loophole, which continues to allow private individuals to sell guns without a background check.

Erecting these kinds of blockades is common down at the General Assembly.

Back when the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) was enacted, the Republicans turned down millions of federal dollars and blocked Medicaid expansion. I remember Gov. Tim Kaine, one of the most even-tempered humans on the planet, summoning the GOP leadership to his office and dressing them down. He was angry.

Alluding to Virginia’s past problems with the federal government, he said, “We all know what happens when you shake your fist at Washington.”

Today we have the very same Medicaid we could have had a decade ago.

You don’t have to be a veteran to know how to count cadence. You’ve seen it in the movies.

It goes like this: “Left, left, left, right, left.” We’ve seen a lot of “lefts” in Virginia, beginning with the statewide elections in 2013. We took another left in 2017, and again with the congressional elections of 2018.

State Republicans surely must be looking at another boot coming down toward them, and all they seem able to do is yell “Stop!”

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Gordon Hickey
Gordon Hickey

Gordon Hickey is a lifelong reporter and editor who worked for more than 20 years at The Richmond News Leader and Richmond Times-Dispatch covering law enforcement, courts, and politics. He also served as Gov. Tim Kaine's press secretary and most recently was director of communications at the Virginia State Bar.