2019. It might not have the same ring to it as 2020, but that does not make it any less important. On November 5, Virginians will vote in state elections that could impact people in every other state in this country on issues ranging from women’s equality to the political makeup of our Congress to the proliferation of guns in our streets. During the Obama administration, the Republican Party focused an exceptional amount of time and resources on state elections, while the Democratic Party failed to turn out state election voters at a competitive rate. The GOP seized this opportunity and now controls thirty state legislatures. It’s time for Democrats to give state elections the focus they deserve, and it starts by people across the country committing themselves to carrying the 2018 blue wave into Virginia politics this November.
We are so close to securing a Democratic majority in the Virginia House and Senate. In 2017, the election was a historic moment for Democrats who gained 15 seats in the House. Yet, we fell short of the main goal. Democrats were two seats away from securing a majority in the House. The last seat needed to gain equal control in the House went to a Republican, his name selected from a hat after a tied election. 2019 is the year to take back that seat.
The conditions are all set up for the Democrats to win the necessary seats. Recent redistricting to get rid of biased, gerrymandered maps puts Democratic candidates on a much fairer playing field. Six districts have switched from having a majority of Republican voters to a majority of Democratic voters, which means victory is in our grasps if these races get the national attention that they deserve.
There are a number of ways that the Virginia elections will impact the entire country, with one of the strongest being the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). Virginia is primed to be the 38th and final state to ratify the ERA, with polling demonstrating that 81% of Virginians support ratification. In the most recent legislative session, Republican Senators— fearful of the blue wave that almost flipped the House in 2017—responded to the power of their pro-ERA constituents by passing the ERA 26-14 this past spring. But in the state House, the ERA came just one vote away from advancing. If we flip both bodies, we can be confident that a pro-ERA Democratic majority will champion the Amendment. At a minimum, we must take the House to oust the Republican leadership that held us back and keep pressure on those Republican Senators who voted yes.
Almost one hundred years after the introduction of the ERA, we have yet to constitutionally ban discrimination on the basis of sex. The ERA is a necessity in a governmental system that was never set up to treat women as equals. As we elect more feminist women to office and make strides towards gender equality, we have an unprecedented opportunity to reshape who our government is designed to represent. Women are the main breadwinners in 40% of households yet on average are paid 79% of what their white male colleagues make. The statistics are even more extreme for women of color, as Black women earn $0.61 for every dollar earned by their white male counterparts, Native American women earn $0.58, and Latina women earn $0.53. The passage of the ERA will create avenues to set new legal precedents backed by constitutional legitimacy to enshrine equality in federal, state, and local laws for years to come. Women across the country—not just in Virginia—will benefit from the ratification of the ERA and a system that actually works to prevent and address sex-based discrimination.
Gender equality isn’t the only issue at stake this November. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that political gerrymandering is constitutional, the number of Democrats elected to Congress from Virginia will be heavily impacted by which party controls the state House and Senate after the 2020 census. If the Republicans have control and draw unfair, gerrymandered maps, there is no legal way to challenge them. Congressional representatives work to pass bills for the United States, not just their individual district. The officials elected this November in Virginia will have a direct impact on the landscape of federal policies. Just because we flipped the House in 2018 does not mean that flipping the house in 2020 is a guarantee. It will come down to every last seat to ensure a Democratic majority. With eleven Virginia Congressional seats, the Virginia redistricting maps will be necessary for a progressive victory where people are represented fairly and equally.
In addition to enacting systemic change, the legislature elected in November will be able to implement gun control legislation that will impact the safety of the country. Virginia is touted as one of the “best” states from which to traffic guns. This is not something of which to be proud. A wiretap of a trafficking industry moving guns between Virginia and New York caught a member bragging that “there’s no limit to how many guns I can go buy from the store. I can go get 20 guns from the store tomorrow … I can do that Monday through Friday … They might start looking at me, but in Virginia, our laws are so little, I can give guns away.” When guns are bought and sold between Virginians, there is no permit, background check, or registration requirement. The complete lack of a waiting period or limit on the number of guns that one can purchase makes trafficking guns infinitely easier as buyers can go into shops day after day and purchase dozens of guns. This is unacceptable and Americans must hold elected officials accountable.
What is happening in Virginia is an example and a cause of the gun violence epidemic nationwide. An increased access to guns in one state spreads to an increased access to guns in neighboring states due to the rampant trafficking industry. Right now, major barriers to gun safety include the Republican politicians who are in the back pocket of the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA maintains a rating system that assigns each candidate a letter grade based on how they will vote on gun issues. In most cases, candidates with an A rating will receive an endorsement from the organization and will keep that endorsement in future elections as long as the candidate maintains a “perfect” voting record on guns. In addition, they pour millions of dollars into campaigns through direct contributions and independent expenditures. They propelled Republican Senators Cotton and Gardner into their defeat of incumbent Democratic Senators Pryor and Udall, respectively. Representatives let this control how they act and how they vote. They think that this is how they will win votes and elections but they are out of touch with Virginia voters in 2019. Recent polls demonstrated that 84% of Virginians want mandatory background checks and 76% want to ban assault-style weapons. People need common-sense gun laws that will protect them from the selfish, power-hungry gun industry that funds the NRA. Electing leaders this November who will fight for the safety of their constituents is the first step to creating a safer Virginia.
On November 5, Virginia has the opportunity to make history. Flipping both the House of Delegates and the State Senate to Democratic-control will have a lasting impact on the state and the country as a whole. It is vital that the entire country knows the importance of this election and takes direct action by donating money, phone banking, and canvassing. Every individual will be affected by what happens in Virginia and the future of our country hangs in the balance of what happens this November. One hundred years after the passage of the 19th amendment, the opportunity has come for this nation to finally put gender equality in the Constitution and put individuals of all genders on the level playing field that they deserve.