Social conservatives aiming high with legislative goals
Story by Chris Graham
Divorce reform, restrictions on abortion and continued funding for abstinence-only sex education. The Family Foundation of Virginia and the Valley Family Forum have a healthy appetite – but whether they can fill their plate in the 2008 Virginia General Assembly remains to be seen given the changes in the composition of the state legislature.
“They will continue to have a battle on their hands. There’s no question about it,” said Dean Welty, the executive director of the Harrisonburg-based Valley Family Forum in an interview on “The Augusta Free Press Show” last week.
“At the same time, as you mentioned, and you call them moderate Republicans, who sat on the Senate Education and Health Committee, killed every pro-life bill that came through from the House, and that committee was chaired by Sen. Russ Potts, who’s no longer in the Senate. And so I’m not sure that the fact that Democrats are now in control of the Senate, and in control of that committee, will make a great deal of difference,” Welty said.
I had prefaced a question on the hurdles that the Family Foundation and the Valley Family Forum – and state lawmakers sympathetic to the social-conservative cause – will face with the Senate now in the hands of Democrats with a reference to the notion that I have that there might not be much in the way of a difference in final outcomes now as opposed to past years due to the fact that moderate GOP legislators like Potts and John Chichester had been in charge of things previously.
That said, the fact that it’s now Democrats standing in between social conservatives and their legislative goals and not Republicans can’t be looked at as anything positive if you’re Welty – for whom legislative goals involving marriage and abortion and the rest are more than mere legislative goals.
“Look back 45 years, and you see a very different culture, a very different society. I’ve been impressed when I do that with how things have changed in the last 45 years,” Welty said, detailing the rise in divorce and the number of abortions performed and children born and raised in single-parent homes from 1960 to the current day.
“We can see some very destructive trends having taken place in our culture over the last 45 years. That’s our concern, and that’s why we are committed to working with our legislators, to working with our churches, to try to rebuild those spiritual and moral and legal walls that are protecting our families over the generations,” Welty said.
Unstated there, of course, is the fact that Republicans were in control of at least one branch of Congress for 18 of those 45 years, and have been in possession of the keys to the White House for going on 28.
Which is to say, changes could have been made to affect those trends by those most sympathetic to the social-conservative cause – and aside from ballot measures in several states, including Virginia, to ban gay marriage, little has been accomplished in that arena.
And the trends politically aren’t looking all that favorable – if Gov. Tim Kaine’s recent pronouncement regarding abstinence education, in which he called for the elimination of state funding for abstinence-only sex-ed programs in the Commonwealth, is any indication of how the political winds are blowing.
Welty indicated that conservatives are more than willing to fight the governor on that one.
“I think the governor’s spokesperson said that they’re abolishing the funding for abstinence education because they want to instead focus on proven methods, methods with a proven track record. In response to that, I can only say that one of his own departments praised the abstinence-education program as recently as last year – and we all know that abstinence is the only guaranteed way to prevent sexually-transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. So for him now to abolish this funding really seems to us to have no merit,” Welty said.
Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.