"But most recently Mrs. Waddell accepted another big donation from a wealthy homosexual businessman active in the lobbying efforts of the homosexuals' advocacy group, Equality Virginia.
"That donation was for TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!"
I am the "wealthy homosexual businessman" attacked in Marrs' letter. On the surface, Marrs' attack is disturbing because he does not criticize Waddell's policy positions, which are conservative and mainstream. Nor does he attack my policy positions. He simply attacks me, a constituent and taxpayer in his district, because I am gay and because I support Equality Virginia.
Marrs' letter has been almost universally criticized (only Victoria Cobb of the Family Foundation came to Marrs' defense) because it implies that my money is "tainted," and that Waddell should be condemned simply by association. Marrs' letter treats gay citizens as modern-day pariahs, attempting to stir hatred and demonize gays in order to raise money and win elections. Marrs' letter follows in the footsteps of others who have demonized gays to raise money, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who blamed the 9/11 attack on gays.
Some have said that below this callous and casual demonizing of gays lies a layer of hypocrisy. The top donors to Marrs are trial lawyers, a constituency often demonized by conservatives. In addition, one of Marrs' own donors is a board member of Equality Virginia, the "homosexuals' advocacy group" smeared in Marrs letter. (As of this date, Marrs has not offered to refund this money).
There is also, however, a bigger story to be told regarding Marrs, Waddell and me. Although Marrs' letter implies that I represent views outside the mainstream, the fact is that Marrs knows almost nothing about me or my views. This is particularly noteworthy because in December 2004 I requested a meeting with Delegate Marrs in order to share my views with him, and he refused to meet with me. His refusal was not based upon any perceived disagreement with me, because at this time he did not know anything about me other than that I was a Republican auto dealer who lived in his district. He did not know that I was gay, or anything else about me.
In a Dec. 7 telephone conversation, Marrs explained that his refusal to meet me wasn't personal. "I don't meet with constituents. I have 70,000 constituents," he said, "and I cannot meet with all of them." In addition, he related that in past meetings with constituents, "all they wanted to do was argue."
I explained to Delegate Marrs that I did not want to argue and that my meetings with other elected officials were always quite pleasant. I stressed that I was not a lobbyist and that I represented no special interest group; I was simply a citizen in his district who wanted 15 minutes of his time. He again firmly declined to meet with me.
To say that I was surprised at this phone conversation is an understatement. I was astounded, thunderstruck and completely at a loss. I thought about how my representative to the Virginia House of Delegates, elected to represent Virginians in my district, refused to talk to the people he represents. Is Marrs from Mars? Knowing now that he was not inclined to converse with his constituents, I wrote a letter to Delegate Marrs, very politely expressing my dismay and regret. "You cannot represent people when you do not talk to them," I wrote. Delegate Marrs sent a letter in reply repeating his fears of talking to argumentative constituents who disagreed with him.
Waddell, by contrast, readily agreed to meet with me when I called her. We agreed on some things, disagreed on others, but she listened with respect. At the time she met with me, she, like Marrs, did not know much about me and did not know if I would support her. She simply met with me because I asked.
There are many lessons of harsh politics in this story: the callous demonization of gays for political gain, the use of hatred and fear to gain votes rather than substantive policy discussion and the casual condemnation of a constituent by his elected representative. But perhaps the most disturbing thing is an elected official who says, "I don't meet with constituents." The taxpayers of our state are not safe when elected officials shut their ears to our concerns. It is time for a change in the 68th District, time for a candidate like Katherine Waddell, who listens to all voters, not just a select few. S
Mac Pence, owner and president of the Pence Auto Dealerships in Richmond, lives on Monument Avenue in the 68th District, represented by Delegate Brad Marrs.
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