A women's political action group marked yesterday's deadline for passing the Equal Rights Amendment by targeting a "dirty dozen" state legislators across the country for defeat because of their maneuvers in blocking ERA ratification. One is Virginia House Speaker A. L. Philpott.
The list announced by the National Women's Political Caucus at a Capitol Hill press conference contains the names of some of ERA's most prominent and influential opponents in seven states where the amendment has been narrowly defeated. In Illinois, for example, it includes state Rep. Tom Hanahan, who once enlived the ERA debate by describing its supporters as "braless, brainless broads."
Caucus Chairwoman Kathy Wilson said the list also signifies a fundamental shift in strategy on the part of ERA backers, who plan to reintroduce an ERA resolution in Congress on July 14. In the past, she said, women's groups have concentrated on electing pro-ERA lawmakers in urban and suburban districts.
In fact, the most powerful opponents of ERA have been men "from the most conservative, unchanging small-town and rural portions of their states," Wilson said. "With few exceptions, the legislators we listed come from just such districts."
The targeting tactic was employed a few years back by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) and has been much criticized by liberals as an ominous, destructive force in the political arena. No sooner was the "dirty dozen" list announced than Virginia's chief legislative champion of ERA disassociated herself from the effort.
"Obviously, I do not take any part in this sort of thing," said state Del. Dorothy McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), who has been quarterbacking the ERA forces in Richmond for years. "I don't think it works."
In Virginia, Philpott (D-Henry) so far has no primary or general election opponent in this fall's elections. And the only other Virginia lawmaker to make the dirty dozen, state Sen. Virgil Goode (D-Rocky Mount) is not up for reelection this year.
"We thought it was important merely to name them," said Demetra Lambros, spokeswoman for the women's caucus, who acknowledged there were at least two others on the list who either have no opponents or are not up for reelection this year. "This is a long-range project and it may take a while. But we want these guys to be household names."
Philpott, a crusty, 62-year-old legislative veteran, hails from the tiny town of Philpott in rural Southside Virginia. ERA backers claim he stacked a key committee with ERA opponents and threatened younger lawmakers with retribution, among other things, to block any floor votes on the amendment in the House.
For his part, Goode incurred the ERA backers' wrath in 1980 when, after five years of cosponsoring ERA, he switched to the opposition. "That absolutely gutted the tremendous efforts we had made," said Marianne Fowler, chairwoman of the Virginia affiliate of the women's caucus.
Philpott denied he blocked House passage of the ERA and said the group was looking for a scapegoat by branding him one of the "dirty dozen," the Associated Press reported. Goode declined to comment.