Equality Virginia PAC Releases First Wave of State Delegate Endorsements
Equality Virginia PAC (EVPAC), the political action arm of the commonwealth’s major LGBT rights organization, released its first wave of endorsements yesterday, backing candidates in 30 of the 100 races for the House of Delegates that will appear on the ballot alongside the races for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general this November.
"This is a critical election," James Parrish, the executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement. "The House of Delegates is the only thing standing in the way of full equality. If the right candidates get elected, the next few years could move Virginia into the 21st century and could be a real turning point for Virginia’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community."
As part of the endorsement process, Equality Virginia sent every candidate in all 100 House races an election questionnaire that asked candidates to answer or provide written responses to questions about their views on ending workplace discrimination, supporting the freedom to marry, extending adoption rights to same-sex couples - under current law, only LGBT single are allowed to adopt, and may still be rejected by adoption placement agencies that are allowed to discriminate based on religious, moral or personal views opposing homosexuality - and protecting LGBT youth from bullying and harassment. Copies of the returned questionnaires for all candidates were posted to the Equality Virginia Advocates website for the public to read and educate themselves on candidates’ positions.
In an interview with Metro Weekly, Parrish explained that any incumbent delegate with a 100 percent rating was immediately endorsed. Incumbents with lower scores or non-incumbents were not endorsed unless they had returned and answered EVPAC’s questionnaire, and supported both the repeal of the Marshall-Newman Amendment - Virginia’s constitutional ban on recognizing any form of same-sex relationship - and a nondiscrimination bill. Parrish said EVPAC’s board also looked at candidate viability and the competitiveness of the race in
addition to candidate’s responses to the questionnaire before deciding whether to issue an endorsement.
In 23 of the 30 races, EVPAC endorsed Democratic incumbents, 17 of whom received a 100 percent rating from Equality Virginia Advocates on the organization’s 2013 legislative scorecard, which tracks voting records on LGBT-related pieces of legislation. Of those 17, nine from Northern Virginia, one from Charlottesville, four from the Greater Richmond area and three from the Hampton Roads area.
The six other Democratic incumbents received scores of 75, but had perfect scores in 2012. The downgrade was due, in part, to confusion and conflicting points of view - in both the House of Delegates and Senate - over a bill giving student groups leeway to restrict membership, possibly barring LGBT members. Five of those House incumbents, all from Northern Virginia, voted for the bill. The sixth, Rep. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton), was penalized on the 2013 scorecard for missing a vote to confirm Tracy Thorne-Begland as Virginia’s first out judge.
EVPAC also endorsed Republican incumbent Joseph Yost (R-Radford, Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski counties), a co-patron of a bill to prohibit discrimination in state employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Yost received a score of 75 on the 2013 scorecard.
In his response a questionnaire EVPAC submitted to all 2013 candidates, Yost wrote: "I believe marriage, whether gay or straight, is a conservative institution. The recent Supreme Court decisions in June 2013 have provided the Commonwealth the opportunity to revisit the marriage amendment enacted into the State Constitution several years ago. As we move forward from these decisions, it may be of necessity to recognize said relationships for taxes, insurance, and other purposes whether it be under the auspices of marriage, civil unions, etc." That statement makes Yost the only Republican delegate so far to go on record as being supportive of some type of relationship recognition for same-sex couples, though he’s stopped short of endorsing marriage equality.
The six endorsed challengers, all Democrats, are challenging Republican incumbents who generally oppose LGBT rights, often vehemently.
Five of those incumbents - Dels. Michael Watson (R-Newport News, Williamsburg, James City, York counties), David Yancey (R-Newport News), Ron Villanueva (R-Virginia Beach, Chesapeake), Bob Marshall (R-Manassas Park, Prince William Co.) and David Ramadan (R-Loudoun, Prince William counties) - all received scores of 50 or less on the 2013 legislative scorecard, and of zero in 2012. The 2013 scores were helped by votes in favor of a general anti-bullying bill. All except Yancey, who was absent, voted against Thorne-Begland’s judicial nomination. Villanueva and Yancey later voted to approve him for a six-year term in 2013.
The sixth incumbent, Del. Barbara Comstock (R-Fairfax, Loudoun counties), voted for Thorne-Begland’s nomination to the bench in both 2012 and 2013, and supported the anti-bullying bill, but has not supported Equality Virginia’s chief legislative priority of passing an employment nondiscrimination bill. When asked if she would sign a statement pledging not to discriminate based on those characteristics in her own office’s hiring practices, Comstock refused, placing her well to the right of some of her fellow Northern Virginia Republicans. Her challenger, Democrat Kathleen Murphy, has appeared at LGBT events, supports employment nondiscrimination and marriage equality, and wrote in her response to EVPAC’s election questionnaire that she has been a supporter of Supporting andMentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL).
"In addition to supporting the rights of LGBT Virginians, the candidates endorsed by EVPAC understand that alienating the LGBT community bodes poorly for the well-being and achievement of our children, the business community, and the future success of the Commonwealth," Parrish said in a statement announcing the endorsements. "We will do everything we can to make sure these candidates win the vote in November."
Parrish told Metro Weekly he expects EVPAC to issue about five to 10 more endorsements before the election. He added that candidates have received several follow-up calls and emails asking or reminding them to complete the questionnaires.
"No one can say they didn’t get or didn’t know about the questionnaire," he said.
The list of endorsed candidates is:
District 12 - Del. Joseph Yost, R (Radford, Montgomery, Giles, Pulaski counties)
District 13 - Atif Qarni, D (Manassas Park, Prince William Co.)
District 21 - Susan Hippen, D (Virginia Beach, Chesapeake)
District 34 - Kathleen Murphy, D (Fairfax, Loudoun counties)
District 35 - Del. Mark Keam, D (Fairfax Co.)
District 36 - Del. Kenneth Plum, D (Fairfax Co.)
District 37 - Del. David Bulova, D (Fairfax Co.)