Two Democratic legislators and the head of a nonprofit organization advocating for LGBT rights in Virginia held a press call Tuesday to condemn the anti-LGBT records and rhetoric used by the GOP's statewide candidates, specifically Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, candidate for governor, and lieutenant governor nominee E.W. Jackson.
Virginia's only out member of the General Assembly, Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax Co.); Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), chair of the state Democratic Party; and James Parrish, executive director of LGBT-rights organization Equality Virginia Advocates, held the conference call to focus attention on the ''extreme and dangerous agenda'' of the GOP nominees, chosen over the weekend at the state Republican Party's closed convention.
''Even as we make progress on these important issues around the country, what we have seen in Virginia is a continued resistance by many Republicans to treat all of our citizens equal under the law,'' Herring said. ''What is unique about this Republican ticket, however, particularly when it comes to Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson, is the ferocity and blatant offensiveness of their rhetoric when it comes to gay and lesbian Virginians.''
Throughout the call, the three sought to portray Cuccinelli and Jackson's rhetoric as not just hurtful to LGBT people and unnecessarily incendiary, but dangerous to Virginia's business-friendly reputation.
''Virginians can have earnest disagreements about policy issues, but the manner in which Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson have demonized fellow Virginians who happen to be gay is divisive, dangerous and mean-spirited,'' Herring said. ''It is also damaging to our commonwealth's reputation as an inclusive and results-oriented place to live, work and do business.''
''Why would a business that values nondiscrimination in the workplace bring their companies to a commonwealth whose governor and lieutenant governor have made a career leveling vicious attacks on gay and lesbian Virginians?'' she continued. ''This shouldn't be what our government should focus on. But it will be if Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson get elected.''
Ebbin said that in the short time since the GOP convention there's been an amazing amount of attention paid to the nominees' previous comments, adding that members of the LGBT community who have contacted him are particularly concerned – even ''frightened'' – about the possibility of a Cuccinelli governorship, and have asked how they can help defeat the GOP nominees in the fall. He also brought the issue back to economics, citing the 2010 decision by aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman to relocate to Virginia. which he said was almost derailed by Cuccinelli's efforts to eliminate nondiscrimination protections at the state's public colleges and universities. It was only after Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) intervened that the deal was saved, Ebbin said.
''The truth is that Ken Cuccinelli and E.W. Jackson's cruel comments don't just represent the biases of the past, they represent a threat to Virginia as a welcoming place to do business,'' he said. ''In this century, it matters to business whether a state is welcoming to all. And Cuccinelli, Jackson and Obenshain set the wrong tone and are far from welcoming. Cuccinelli's divisive bias is wrong, but it also hurts Virginia and our ability to attract the businesses of the future to the commonwealth.''
Ebbin warned that the GOP nominees will likely try to avoid social issues during the campaign and distance themselves from past comments.
''I know these people, I know their tricks, I know their schemes, and we will not let them get away with them,'' Ebbin said. ''Their ticket will try to run from their extreme agenda and distract voters with empty rhetoric, but their record speaks for itself.''
Parrish also put the Republicans' past statements and records in a larger context of economics.
''This language affects the image of Virginia when employers see our attorney general or our nominee for lieutenant governor pushing such a divisive agenda,'' he said. ''As long as Cuccinelli and Jackson are so focused on divisive social battles, they don't put their energy into the mainstream economic issues that we all care about.''
Parrish said actions by McDonnell and Cuccinelli once they took office help reinforce that LGBT groups and allies are not simply ''crying wolf.'' He promised that Equality Virginia Advocates, and its sister organization, Equality Virginia, would be working hard over the next five-and-a-half months to educate voters and make sure they are aware of the candidates' records.
(Photo by herringfordelegate.com)
All three speakers on the conference call acknowledged one of their biggest challenges is targeting presidential-year voters who are less likely to vote in an off-year election.
Herring, speaking for the state Democratic Party, said the party has already begun a field program aimed at turning out those who vote less frequently.
''The reality is that the voters are there,'' Herring said. ''The complexion, the temperament, the political leanings of the state showed in 2008 and 2012 that Virginia is becoming more 'purple' and, indeed, on the verge of 'blue.' The electorate wants a moderate candidate as their governor, and, I think, straight down the ticket, down to the House of Delegates. It's going to take a lot of shoe leather, but we're ready and we've already started.''