The MacNeil/Lehrer Report; 2159; Equal Rights Amendment
(Florida State Senate, April 13, 1977.)
Sen. PHILIP LEWIS: Yes, I`ve had a letter from the President of the United States. It was a very nice letter, and I hope he does with my letter to return to him like I`m going to do with his -- put it in my scrapbook. I hope he puts it in his. This morning I had a talk with Vice President Mondale. The weather`s fine in Washington, SALT talks are going along well. He said he wished he had called me earlier. But he did ask for me to give consideration to this at the request of the President of the United States.
President of the Senate: Unlock the machine. Senators prepare to vote. Have all Senators voted? Lock the machine, record the vote.
Clerk of the Senate: Nineteen yeas, twenty-one nays, Mr. President.
President of the Senate: The amendment failed of adoption. Senator Gordon...
JIM LEHRER: Good evening from Washington. The latest skirmish in the pitched battle over ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment is now history, and one of the casualties may very well be final passage of the amendment itself. That`s the most prevalent morning-after assessment, at least, from both sides following the Florida Senate`s twenty-one-to- nineteen turndown vote yesterday. The pro-ERA forces had considered Florida a crucial state in their drive for the required thirty-eight states by the March 1979 deadline. Thirty-five state legislatures had voted yes, and with just three more to go this was to be the cap-off year. But it hasn`t gone well for the pro-ERA people. Three of those thirty-five voted to rescind their earlier ratification. Of the fifteen yet to ratify nine were targeted for fresh action this year, and only one, Indiana, has actually voted yes. It lost in Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia and now Florida. It`s in parliamentary limbo in the other three -- Oklahoma., South Carolina and Illinois.
Tonight, with Robert MacNeil in Tallahassee, a look at what happened in Florida and why, and where the whole process goes from here. Robin?
ROBERT MacNEIL: Jim, the reason why it lost so narrowly here in Florida yesterday is being hotly debated here today. The pro-ERA forces claim that the issue is strongly supported by Florida voters, and until two weeks ago they were pretty confident of victory. They claim that ERA lost here not on its merits but because of a struggle to control this Senate for the rest of the session, that key Senators who had supported ERA earlier changed their minds for political reasons. The anti-ERA forces say none of that is true, that the issue lost fairly and squarely on its merits. Even the letters and phone calls from President Carter, Vice President Mondale and Betty Ford apparently made no difference.
First let`s get the flavor of that debate in this chamber yesterday itself. Florida is one of the state legislatures which permits television coverage. With the help of Florida Public Broadcasting, we put together an edited summary of the arguments, sometimes highly emotional, which preceded yesterday`s vote.
(Florida State Senate, April 13, 1977.)
Sen KENNETH MYERS (D): ...and distortion of fact by an emotion and passion that is virtually unprecedented in the annals of public debate. The opponents are saying that ERA will permit a usurpation of state power by the federal government and that the states will not be able to enact any more their usual domestic legislation regarding marriage and divorce and all the other things that a state legislature has jurisdiction over. Senators, as a Senator in this body I would not support passage of the Equal Rights Amendment if I was convinced that ratification would in any manner -- in any manner -- weaken the powers of the State of Florida. By ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment the states and the federal government are surrendering only one existing power -- only one; and that`s the power to legislatively deny or abridge the legal rights of their citizens on account of sex....
Sen. JACK GORDON (D): The fears of what`s going to happen tomorrow after the passage of the ERA, if one adopts a long-term view of history, is that not very much, but it will take a long time as we chew over these various problems. Look how long it took to get equal access to public accommodations. It wasn`t fifteen years ago but people were arrested across the street at that courthouse for demonstrating for the right to go to the movie theater here in Tallahassee, fifteen years ago. And that`s under a fourteenth amendment that was passed in the 1870`s, I guess. So that let`s take a look at where we are going, and where this country has been -- the slow march toward more freedom....
Sen. DAVID McCLAIN (D): Let me tell you this: if the ERA is ratified, we`re going to have some real problems on our hands. You`ve got problems with separation of the sexes in the prisons; you`re going to have problems with your athletic programs, particularly your NCAA athletic programs. Did you know in Florida we make a distinction based on sex that a pregnant woman or a woman who has a child fifteen or or under, if she asks, can be excused from grand jury duty or petty grand jury duty. There again is a perfectly logical distinction based on sex. Yet if the ERA is ratified, we couldn`t make that distinction. In Florida, Senators, we give a widow -- not a widower -- an additional $500 exemption. Senators, that is a distinction this body has made and our predecessors based on sex. This would be unconstitutional.And I don`t care what you say about all the equality and everything written about it, when it comes to physical strength, the man has got it. The man has got it; it`s a fact of life. And let me tell you, gentlemen, if you want to get down to the basic fundamentals of life, God decreed that. I didn`t, you didn`t. And God decreed that women would have the children and not us. And we had nothing to do with that.
Sen. BETTY CASTOR (D): Thirty-eight-point-five million women in the labor force today are single, separated, divorced, widowed or have husbands who earn less than $10,000. But employed women today are still heavily concentrated in the low-paid occupations. Over the last twenty-five years unemployment has averaged thirty percent higher for women than for men. And if you look at the statistics for minority women it`s drastically worse than that. This is in spite of the Equal Pay Act of 1963, this is spite of Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. How many of you have ever had a complaint before the EEOC? Their backlog is tremendous. It`s a piecemeal approach andthey are not doing the job. They arenot handling complaints. We have thousands and thousands of complaints which have been generated and passed on to the EEOC, and they are left completely unresolved. Let`s try an approach where we havea clear statement of equality and equal opportunity, equal rights.
Let`s have one statement where any woman in the work force knows and feels a guarantee of equal rights.
Sen. ALAN TRASK (D):I don`t think we should ever pass any law anywhere in this state or in this nation that could be contrary to the teachings of God. And I know there`s no thing in this amendment per se that says that we`re going to condone homosexuality, but I do believe that with the broad interpretation of this thing that`s likely to come that you are opening that door. Let me quote for you Leviticus 20, the thirteenth verse in the Old Testament: "The penalty for homosexual acts is death to both parties. They brought it upon themselves."
Sen. DAN. SCARBOROUGH (D) : ...Now, the draft.The truth of the matter is, Senator Barron, that if we have a third World War the safest place to be would be on the battlefield. And the most dangerous place to be would be in a large metropolitan city in America, Russia, Europe, China, Asia or whereever. And I want to remind you that atomic fallout and atomic radiation will be non-discriminatory; and it won`t recognize sex, and it will kill equally. And of course you`ve heard the rhetoric -- and that`s the only way I could describe it -- about communal baths. Lord have mercy! I`ve been enjoying one of those things in my home for twenty years and I didn`t know it was so bad.
Sen. DEMPSEY BARRON (D): If you ask people today how they feel about the ERA amendment in a national poll just completed April 11 by a prestigious polling organization in California, in forty-eight states the question was asked if the ERA means that if a war were to occur would you draft women and send them into combat, sixty-one percent of the people said no, that they wouldn`t vote for it if that`s what it meant. If the ERA means that the final power of marriage, divorce, child custody would be transferred from the state to the federal government, would you favor it or oppose it? Sixty-five percent said they would oppose it. If it means that every school or college, including all their activities, must be coed, would you vote for it or oppose it? Fifty-one percent said they would oppose it. And if it means homosexuals can marry, would you vote for it or oppose it? Sixty-six percent of the people said no. It will never be ratified.
I hate to have to tell you ladies in green net, but it will never be ratified because it`s not needed and it takes away virtually all the state rights having to do with men, women, boys, girls, support, service in the military, privacy. And nobody really wants to give that up.
Sen. LORI WILSON (Independent): I think the good of boys in the Southern legislatures traditionally -traditionally -- do not consider people issues like ERA on their merit. They consider only what it might do to their own manliness or their own manpower. Now, on this last remaining issue of human rights, civil rights, people rights and equal rights, the good of boys are summoning all their remaining power for one last hurrah.
I had a dream that a Southern boy could grow up and become President. I have a dream -- that our good of boys in the South can grow up to be men. Thank you.
MacNEIL: Well, that`s the flavor of some of the debate that took place here in the Florida State Senate yesterday. With me now in the Senate chamber in Tallahassee are two Senators you saw in that debate. First, the pro-ERA side. State Senator Betty Castor of Tampa was elected last November and she helped organize the ERA campaign here. Senator, why did it lose -- politics or substance?
Sen. BETTY CASTOR: I think it lost for both reasons, some politics and some substance. Certainly there were those Senators who voted no yesterday who had felt that they were going to vote no all along. There were a lot of politics, and I say that not in a terribly negative sense. When you have the leadership of the Senate opposed in the person of the President, in the person of the past President, Senator Barron, when you have probably the new leader in the Senate opposed and voting no, when you have the minority leader voting no, when you have the past minority leader voting no -- to get nineteen votes in a Senate of forty is pretty good.
MacNEIL: Did you on the pro-ERA side fail to make this an important enough political issue here to have it pass?
CASTOR: That`s a very interesting question, because I believe that what has happened here in Florida is no different from what has happened in many other states recently, particularly the Southern states. We all have our agendas in politics. For women, the passage of the ERA is a top agenda item. For those men who also supported us and who spoke so eloquently yesterday I really don`t know that the ERA is their top agenda item. I think the real test of the ERA in passage is going to come when women move up the ranks -- and they are; they`re moving rapidly.
MacNEIL: What are your tactics now? Do you still think you could make it here in Florida before that 1979 deadline?
CASTOR: We have another election, and that`s the key. The trend, of course, of women in politics is moving very rapidly. In my own area, the Tampa Bay area and St. Petersburg, just three weeks ago the voters went out and elected three women to the City Council and the Mayor.
MacNEIL: Could you elect enough women in 1978 to make a difference here in time to get this through before that deadline?
CASTOR: All you have to do is look at the statistics. There are two women here out of forty. In North Carolina, where the Senate vote was twenty-six to twenty-four, there are four women out of forty-six. In Virginia, where it also failed by two votes, there are thirty-nine men and one female. I think that the vote being so close in those states means one thing: you get some more women and women who consider this their top agenda item -- and when I say this I speak for women in public office, not for all women but for those women who are in public office -- and it`s going to make a tremendous difference.
MacNEIL: Thank you. Charges that the Florida State Senate is tightly controlled by a leadership group usually focus in on one man: State Senator Dempsey Barron. A Democrat from Panama City, Senator Barron is past President of the Senate. He coordinated the opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. Senator, was this a vote about ERA here or was it a vote for control of the Senate?
Sen. DEMPSEY BARRON: No; of course, the control of the Senate has already been decided in the selection of the leaders -- Senator Brantley, as Senator Castor has indicated, is President of the Senate and he is opposed to it. Had it been a leadership-type vote, it wouldn`t be near as close as it was. It was merely people voting their consciences, not unusual -- all you`ve got to do is look at what`s happening to the ERA in this country. This year eight states have rejected it. One state has approved it -- Indiana, I believe. One state, Idaho, has rescinded it. In the beginning, the first nine months, twenty-one states approved it. In 1973, nine states; in 1974, three; in 1975, one; 1976, none.
MacNEIL: So you think the pendulum has swung the other way.
BARRON: The pendulum has swung. The mail itself is most indicative of it. The mail that we receive was considerable; I received 2,448 letters against it and 261 for, in my district. The people are opposed to it.
MacNEIL: Senator, ten of the twenty-one Senators who voted with you yesterday are up for reelection next year. Do you expect, as Senator Castor does, more women to be elected, and could that make the difference before the deadline here?
BARRON: No, I really don`t. I disagree with Senator Castor about that. The interesting fact is that something like fifty-six percent of the people in this country are women. If they wanted women in the legislature women could vote for women and we would have all women in the legislature. Women in the legislature vote for ERA because they`re activist type. But all those mothers and housewives back there are opposed to it; and I don`t think that really will make any difference and I don`t see any difference as a result of the election except to pick up support against the amendment in Florida.
MacNEIL: You apparently don`t agree with that.
CASTOR: I`m a mother and a homemaker and a wife and a former schoolteacher, and no, I don`t agree with that. I think you have to put it in historical perspective. The State of Florida has never been among those states ratifying an amendment to the Constitution. The Southern states, where the battle is being fought now, have been awfully slow to ratify the amendments. So I think you have to put it in perspective. All you have to do -- and I told Senator Barron this yesterday -- is take a look at the number of women who are entering politics. Four years ago I was elected to the County Commission as the first woman. Two years later there were two of us. On our City Council in Tampa fifty percent are women; on our school board fifty percent are women. We are just now getting to the stage where we`re ready to risk running for higher office.
MacNEIL: How long can you hold out, Senator, against this irresistable tide that Senator Castor talks about?
BARRON: Of course, we`re not attempting to hold out, it`s just a fact of life. I`ve been in the legislature twenty years. We`ve had one or two women in the Senate for the past fifteen years and there`s been no change in that. Of course, men vote for women; I think men are more apt to vote for women than women are apt to vote for women. But here in Florida, I disagree again with Senator Castor, because we have taken care of the problems of equal rights in Florida. We have a Constitutional provision that says that all natural persons are equal before the law and have inalienable rights to enjoy, defend life, liberty, pursue happiness. In addition to that we have a little ERA in Florida that says no person shall be discriminated against based on sex, marital status, race, loaning money, granting credit, providing equal pay for equal services. And we provide that you have a right to go to court if you are discriminated against and receive punitive damages.
MacNEIL: Can I ask this: a lot of publicity has been given to the fact that President Carter and Vice President Mondale intervened here. Do you think that their intervention harmed the cause by raising states` rights emotions here?
CASTOR: I do not believe that it harmed the cause. Neither do I believe that it added in a positive way. The people that I have talked to have very mixed emotions. Some have said, "I`m happy that the President sent letters." Others, who voted against, said, "I resent it." So it`s a double edged sword and people can use it in any manner that they want to. But I think the way the vote came out I know Senator Barron predicted the vote before it occurred; I had predicted the vote also. I think it was a vote basically on the merits and where people were on the issue and that the President`s letters did very little.
MacNEIL: Did it show some weakness in President Carter`s political clout in something like this, or is just irrelevant?
BARRON: I think it`s irrelevant. We have a very independent legislature and a very progressive legislature in Florida. We are, as you probably know, rated among the top -- we`re number one now in independence, and we`re number two or three in effectiveness in the nation. We`re probably number one in all three now; this rating was made about four years ago. This legislature feels that it can stand on its own feet without any advice from the government, which is the executive branch of office and which violates the separation of powers doctrine, nor any advice from the executive branch in Washington.
MacNEIL: Could I ask you each very quickly: the rest of the country was watching this yesterday. What message do you think Florida sent to those states which have yet to ratify?
CASTOR: I think the message is that it`s a very tight issue, but I think that it came across to me so well -- the level of debate, the seriousness with which this is being discussed. A few years ago there were state legislatures who laughed at the debate. You have had a flavor of the debate yesterday. It was a real quality debate; it was one in which I look back at the positions of the proponents with a great deal of pride. It`s a serious issue, and it`s going to become more serious. And all of the other state legislatures -- and we are going to have another opportunity here -- are going to have to deal with women in the legislature. If this had been voted upon in the Florida House yesterday it would have passed.
MacNEIL: What message, briefly, do you think you sent to the nation yesterday?
BARRON: I think that we indicated -- as you know, twelve states are trying to rescind what they`ve already done; three already have rescinded -- I guess we encouraged those people who are taking it up that desire to defeat it. Minnesota called us yesterday, and they`re in the process of rescinding. I think the message is that the ERA has very little chance of passing within the time limit.
MacNEIL: Let`s see how that looks from Washington. Thank you both very much. Jim?
LEHRER: Yes, Robin, another view of what the Florida action does to the national effort from Rosalyn Baker, chairman of the steering committee of ERAmerica, an umbrella organization representing some seventeen groups pushing ratification. Ms. Baker is an assistant director of government relations for the National Education Association, one of those seventeen. First, Ms. Baker, what is your candid assessment of what the Florida loss does to the national effort for ratification?
ROSALYN BAKER: Obviously, we were very disappointed that Florida chose not to ratify in the Senate, but I don`t think that this has killed the Equal Rights Amendment ratification effort nationally. I think we will move forward; we still have till March of 1979, and I think we will persevere. We, if anything, perhaps got a little more committed, and perhaps we`ll get a little bit tougher and we`ll see ratification through.
LEHRER: All right. What`s your basic strategy? Are you going to do anything differently as a result of what happened in Florida?
BAKER: Well, we`ve been very nice up until this point. We`ve tried to argue logically and present the issue on its merits. I think in fact we`re going to have to get tougher and our strategy will be to do more for the `78 elections than we`ve done in the past.
LEHRER: In other words, you would agree with Senator Castor`s view that you`re going to go out and try to elect women in these various states?
BAKER: I think we`re going to try to elect women; I think we`re also going to try to elect pro-ERA men, and have the legislators who in the past had voted in favor of Equal Right`s Amendment, who had committed themselves publicly as pro-ERA and then in the first week of the session had voted no or changed their minds -- I think we`re going to show them at the polls in `78 that this is a serious issue and that their constituents will not allow this kind of flip-flopping; that it is more than just a backing off of a commitment on the Equal Rights Amendment, but it`s a poor quality of representation that they`re giving their constituents.
LEHRER: What about Senator Barron`s point, that the pendulum has actually swung, and all the things that I mentioned at the beginning of this program, that the pendulum is swinging against ERA? How are you going to combat that? Getting people elected to the legislature isn`t going to do anything about that, is it?
BAKER: I think it will. I think one of the things that we have to do is perhaps be a little bit more vocal in a variety of different places to talk about what the issue really is and to make it well-known that -- in fact, in Florida they did a poll last week, the Cambridge Survey Research, and showed that sixty-two percent of the electorate in Florida was in favor of ratification and believed that Florida ought to be one of those that had ratified.
LEHRER: Betty Friedan, the feminist leader, said in Tallahassee yesterday that the pro-ERA organizations like the one that you`re connected with may try an economic boycott of various kinds against those states that have not ratified ERA. What`s that all about? How would that work?
BAKER: A number of organizations -- sixteen national organizations, to be exact -- have adopted positions or resolutions that state that they will not hold their national convention in a state that has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment. For the National Education Association, who has a convention every summer of about 12,000 people for about five days, that means a loss in revenue of six to seven million dollars. And you couple all of these conventions together in a state that is looking for convention business, that could severely hurt them, I would suspect.
LEHRER: Let me ask Senator Barron, does that scare you, Senator, or does that bother you?
BARRON: No, you`re asking the wrong person. I don`t scare very easily. I think that that`s a terrible strategic mistake. The Florida legislature, as I`ve said before, is independent. You cannot keep people from Florida; more people want to come to Florida than any other place in America, and they will continue to come here, because of the climate, because of the water, because of the scenic beauty, because of the temperature; and we will not be threatened. We might fail to send many of our people to many of those conventions -- teachers, and so forth, making preparations for that -- if we should get into that kind of fight. But I don`t anticipate that we will.
LEHRER: All right. Senator Barron, thank you very much. And my thanks also to you, Senator Castor. Good night, Robin. Ms. Baker, thank you. Robert MacNeil and I will be back tomorrow night. I`m Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good night.
- The MacNeil/Lehrer Report
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- Equal Rights Amendment
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- The main topic of this episode is a battle in the Florida State Senate over ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. The guests are Rosalyn Baker, Betty Castor, Dempsey Barron. Byline: Robert MacNeil, Jim Lehrer
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