House Republicans endangering themselves by opposing fully inclusive GLBT equality in the workplace

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As 2009’s General Assembly session gets underway, I thought it might be an appropriate time to offer a few thoughts on GLBT related bills that may be introduced in this year’s session, most especially an expected bill relating to statewide non-discrimination for all public or state employees. As things are, there is an executive order, instituted late in Mark Warner’s term and renewed by current Governor Tim Kaine in 2006 that prevents such discrimination in state workplaces. It would do this legislature well to seriously consider this bill this year as the latest research confirms that about 90% of Virginia voters firmly support an inclusive non-discrimination bill for Virginia.

Equality Virginia’s non-profit research & education arm conducts polling every few years to measure the electorate’s mood on issues relating to the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in the state. The latest polling during the 2008 Presidential election reveals that 90% of Virginians support the right of GLBT persons to work in public state employment, and 87% support a law that would codify Governors Warner & Kaine’s executive orders.

Interestingly, the Virginia legislature has always been light years behind the general population regarding these common sense workplace discrimination protections. The legislation has such broad support among all Virginians, including 81% of Republicans, that it pits most of the obstructionist wing of the Virginia House of Delegates squarely against the clear preferences of voters. This is a curious position for them to take heading into the 2009 elections.

The conventional wisdom for the past decade in Virginia politics has been that the obstructionists and religious zealots could do no wrong with Virginia’s electorate and continue to win election, particularly even in moderate, exurban, pragmatic districts in the outer suburbs of Northern Virginia. My, how times, they are a changin’?

The Democratic resurgence in Virginia, which seemed at one time to be centered in Northern Virginia, has certainly gone statewide. Districts from Blacksburg & Radford, to Martinsville & Danville, suburban Richmond, and Virginia Beach shifted significantly toward a more Democratic performance. A few southern districts did worse with Obama, but most of the state saw marked shifts to Democrats. Even Speaker Howell’s district in the Fredericksburg area, once considered as safely Republican as could be, was won by Barack Obama in 2008. All told, close to 20 House districts currently occupied by Republican members were either won by Obama, or were much more competitive than expected.

Although there are politically competitive House districts all over the state in 2009, those who are most vulnerable to criticism from socially moderate voices (which clearly support non-discrimination laws and even more relationship recognitions) seem to be in the northern part of the state, or urban and suburban areas. And that is not to say that there are no districts downstate in which this issue will not play well in Democratic efforts to pick up Republican seats, although in this environment certainly the name of the game there will be jobs, jobs, and more jobs.

Curiously, it has become apparent in the last week that one delegate who had indicated some willingness to be one of the bi-partisan chief patrons of a statewide non-discrimination bill, the 42nd District Republican Dave Albo, has backed out of that sponsorship. It is probably a safe bet to say that this will not help Dave Albo fend off a second strong challenge from Greg Werkheiser, who by all reports seems to be preparing for another run at the increasingly Democratic 42nd District.

Apparently, the reason Delegate Albo has backed out of this sponsorship involves his concern over the inclusion of transgendered persons in the non-discrimination bill, and the possibility of there being transgendered teachers in the classroom. Well, there is certainly a lot of ignorance out there about transgendered people that is mistaken and irrational, just as their used to be about gay & lesbian people. But regardless of this seeming excuse for Delegate Albo not to disappoint his core right-wing supporters, he has made a politically risky calculation. As the bi-partisan research conducted by The Schapiro Group Inc and the Fabrizio, McLaughlin & Associates points out, Virginia voters do not distinguish any difference between the rights of gay or lesbian and transgendered persons:

As it turns out, Virginia voters respond equally favorably to the rights questions for "gay, lesbian, and transgender people" as they do for "gays and lesbians”….. Voters' support for protection against workplace discrimination is equally as strong when the question is about the rights of transgender people as well as gays and lesbians.

Virginia Republicans, particularly the party’s regressive obstructionist wing, are facing a strong challenge from moderate and pragmatic Democrats across the state for control of the House of Delegates. This issue, although certainly not likely a centerpiece of Democratic messages, will not help those Republicans who need to seduce slivers and pockets of socially moderate voters to retain those seats when voters know that they’ve stood in the way of common sense progress. It’s because they’ve stood in the way of common sense progress on a number of fundamental issues regarding transportation, education, and health care, as well. These delegates have a common theme that will weigh them down: “no!”. This issue reinforces that theme.

Will we see any “moderate” Republicans rethinking their steadfast opposition to legislation that 90% of Virginians support? Perhaps, or perhaps not. But we are definitely likely to see more than one Republican House member lose their reelections in November because they’ve displayed a pattern of disdain on an array of issues that large majorities of Virginians support.

Albo needs to ante-up & get behind this bill

Or Greg Werkheiser is going to clean his clock....not solely on this basis, but because all they know how to do is stand in the way of progress that the people want...