Change in the Old Dominion

Adam Ebbin's campaign to join the state Senate could be a new breakthrough for Virginia

State Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, the Arlington Democrat who is both progressive and pragmatic, likes to say that Virginia is an ”incremental” state. Change comes, but not quickly.

It took, for instance, 44 years after Lyndon B. Johnson’s national landslide for a Democratic presidential nominee to carry Virginia again. That this was accomplished by an African-American nominee in a former capital of the Confederacy only made Barack Obama’s triumph sweeter.

As then-Gov. Tim Kaine, an early Obama supporter, said the day after the 2008 election: ”Old Virginny in dead.” That thesis was tested severely in 2009 when an anti-gay, anti-choice, hard-right Republican ticket swept into power in Richmond, including the rampaging troglodyte Ken Cuccinelli as attorney general.

But on Tuesday, Aug. 23, an important group of Virginia voters can show that, in the long arc of history, both Whipple and Kaine were right: Change can come to the Old Dominion, and the state’s backward, discriminatory past can be packed off to a museum of justifiably lost causes.

To accomplish the next big political breakthrough for Virginia, voters in the 30th State Senate district (most of Alexandria and parts of eastern Arlington and Fairfax counties, all the way down the Potomac to Gunston Cove) can support Adam Ebbin in the Democratic primary. If successful, Ebbin, who was the first – and is still the only – openly gay member of the Virginia House of Delegates, would become the first openly gay member of the Virginia Senate.

Although Ebbin is wildly qualified by virtue of legislative experience, tenacity and unwavering adherence to progressive values, it would be worth electing him just to see the look on the faces of right-wing Republican legislators and their sometimes vicious, off-the-wall supporters as Adam is sworn in.

Ebbin has a solid record of progressive activism, including appointment by then-Gov. Mark Warner as chief deputy commissioner of the Department of Labor and Industry. Adam was a founder of Virginia Partisans Gay & Lesbian Democratic Club. In 2003, Adam was campaign manager for Jay Fisette, the first openly gay member of the Arlington County Board.

Adam was elected to the House of Delegates in 2003, succeeding the progressive stalwart Karen Darner, who retired. He advanced to the post of senior whip in the Democratic caucus. And, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch has said: ”When he takes the floor to speak, his colleagues listen.” Neither of his opponents in the Democratic primary has any experience as a state legislator.

The Democratic primary will probably be the decisive race in the heavily Democratic district, which running against the state trend in the 2009 gubernatorial race split 58 percent for Democrat Creigh Deeds and 41 percent for Republican Bob McDonnell, according to the Virginia Political Access Project.

Barring a legal challenge, absentee voting is expected to begin in early July, as new boundaries for the state’s legislative districts were cleared last week by the U.S. Justice Department under the Voting Rights Act, a remainder of Virginia’s discriminatory past. Early voting will be crucial, as Election Day almost certainly will be a hot and muggy – a recipe for a low-participation election.

Ebbin has been endorsed by key Northern Virginia progressives who are his colleagues in the House of Delegates, including Bob Brink, Patrick Hope, Eileen Filler-Corn, Kaye Corey, Mark Keam, Mark Sickles and Scott Surovell.

Adam is best known as an advocate for Virginians who do not have a cadre of high-priced lobbyists in Richmond. He fights for human rights, including those of domestic partners, and against Cuccinelli’s extremism. The state would be in much better shape today if Ebbin’s proposal to sharply curtail Cuccinelli’s ability to file civil actions had been enacted.

Ebbin would be a refreshing voice – and vote – in the Virginia Senate.

Cragg Hines’, who for 35 years was a correspondent, bureau chief and columnist in the Washington Bureau of the Houston Chronicle, is a writer living in Arlington.

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