The Equal Rights Amendment only needed two Republican votes to pass the House of Delegates.
And two Republican delegates signed on as co-patrons to the ratification resolution that passed the Senate, where the chief sponsor was also a Republican.
So what happened?
After the ERA failed in subcommittee, where four or five members of the majority party can kill legislation, the only way it could get a full vote on the floor of the House was through a rules change.
That’s what Democrats tried — twice — on Thursday. But when it comes to procedural votes, the Republican caucus is known for toeing the party line.
“I don’t believe that we change the rules in the middle of the game,” said Del. Roxann Robinson, R-Chesterfield, one of the two Republican ERA co-sponsors with Del. Chris Stolle, R-Virginia Beach.
“That’s the bottom line. Bills live and die here all the time, and when your bill doesn’t go the way you want it, you don’t just change the rules to make it happen.”
Does she consider her votes to be against the ERA?
“I voted against the rules change,” she said. “Definitely I voted against the rules change.”
Whether voters appreciate that distinction in November remains to be seen, but political observers say they doubt it.
“That’s unlikely to hold up in an election contest,” says Bob Holsworth, a longtime political observer and former political scientist at VCU.
“Political insiders and people who pay an enormous amount of attention can understand these kinds of arguments, but it’s very difficult in a campaign to use procedure to defend what your opponent will characterize as a substantive vote on the merits of an issue.”
Ultimately only one Republican, Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, sided with Democrats on the rules change, leaving the measure one vote shy of ratification.
Yancey, who, after a tie vote in 2017, won election through a random drawing, is the most endangered Republican going into this year’s elections. Last year Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine won his district by 19 points.
Robinson and Stolle also face uphill battles, with Kaine winning their districts by 10 and six points respectively.
Democrats have already begun ramping up the campaign rhetoric around the ERA vote, which public opinion polling shows is supported by more than 80 percent of residents.
“#NovemberisComing #BlueWave19,” tweeted the Senate Democratic caucus after the vote.
Republicans in the House defeated the last-ditch push to make Virginia the final state to ratify the ERA Thursday in a series of procedural votes that blocked the measure’s consideration on the floor.
Democrats had proposed two potential changes to House rules that would send it to the floor despite the fact that it failed in subcommittee.
Both proposed rules changes also failed, one on a party-line vote, another on a 50-50 tie, in which Yancey joined with Democrats.
The defeat prompted light applause from opponents of the measure and jeering from supporters.
“Shame on Virginia,” shouted one advocate in the House gallery.
“I’m disgusted,” shouted another as she was led out by police.