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Landes and Bell discuss redistricting and Equal Rights Amendment

This article originally appeared in the News Virginian on December 12, 2018.

STAUNTON — During Wednesday’s Greater Augusta Regional Chamber of Commerce (GARCC) 2018 Legislative Breakfast, Delegates Steven Landes (R-Weyers Cave) and Richard “Dickie” Bell (R-Staunton) took questions from the attendees of the event.

Two key questions drew the most interest during the question-and-answer session, which was moderated by John Bowers, the senior vice president of commercial lending of First Banks & Trust and the Voice of Business Chair on the GARCC Board of Directors. The questions were about the potential for Virginia to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) and the possibility of redrawing the districts for electing new delegates.

“Virginia has a historic opportunity in 2019 to pass a Constitutional amendment, the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Bowers. “Can you discuss your efforts to bring this about?”

The ERA was passed by Congress in 1972 and would guarantee equal rights for citizens of the United States regardless of their gender. So far, 37 states have ratified it, and Virginia could be the final one needed to ratify it at the federal level.

Landes expressed his skepticism about the usefulness of the ERA, believing that the laws that serve to protect those rights are already “on the books.”

“The fact is, according to the Supreme Court, the timeline that can be placed on amendments has expired on the Equal Rights Amendment,” said Landes, referring to the 10-year deadline placed on the amendment by the 1972 Congress. “So whether we pass it or not, it doesn’t do anything. I have a hard time voting for something that doesn’t do anything.”

However, Landes is not against the concept of the ERA, and said that it needs to be “reapplied.”

“It expired in 1982,” said Bell. “The Supreme Court says, ‘That’s it.’ I’m not prepared to try to override a Supreme Court decision.”

Bell also said that the campaigners for Virginia ratifying the ERA “are looking for Constitutional protections that probably already exist in the Constitution.”

Bowers also asked the delegates about their opinions on the potential for equitable redistricting, given that Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.

Bell admitted that, while Republicans are guilty of gerrymandering, they “didn’t invent it.” He directs blame back at the Democrats.

“The Democrats controlled Virginia for almost a century,” Bell said. “And they gerrymandered, too — the victor always claims the spoils.”

Since the current district map was passed under Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Bell finds it odd that it is being contested now.

VA Ratify ERA, which is the primary group pushing for support of the ERA, meets regularly on Fridays to show their support by appearing at protests near the offices of politicians. Other events by the campaign can be found at varatifyera.org/events. A federal court will hold a hearing on the issue on Jan. 10, after reviewing a proposal that found 11 Virginia districts to be racially gerrymandered.

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