Why are you running?
Donald Trump and Tom Garrett inspired me to run for office. When I first thought about running, I was scared. I was scared for what it might mean for my family and what it might mean to put myself out there. But, I realized that I was more scared of a world led by Tom Garrett and his mentor, Donald Trump. I honestly believe that the future of our country is at great risk, and I decided that I needed to stand up for my two boys. I never thought I would run for Congress, but I never thought we would be in as much jeopardy as we are. I am running to champion the values that we all share because I believe that the things that make us all similar bind us together and are much greater than any perceived differences that are being peddled by the other side.
I believe that I am the best candidate to take on Tom Garrett. Much of the 5th district is rural, with an R+6 tilt. I’m a Democrat, but I’m a rural Democrat. I grew up on my family’s farm, which has been in my family for five generations. My mother still farms that land land to this day. And I would still be on that farm now, but farming has changed dramatically and the economic opportunity isn’t the same.
I can speak to people that a typical Democrat can’t speak to. I’m a hunter and grew up with guns- I can speak to gunowners about common sense gun legislation. I can speak to farmers about changes in agriculture and how Trump’s 2016 proposed budget would do away with 36% crop insurance, and how allowing wind turbines would allow you to have two crops as opposed to just one. I can speak to small business owners about tax incentives. I believe that I can be an honest broker and will work hard every day to make sure I am representing all constituents in the 5th district.
How well do you think Congressman Garrett has represented the 5th district during his term so far?
When asked about his constituents demanding he vote no on the House healthcare bill, Tom Garrett responded that none of "those people" voted for him. He does not feel responsible for all the people in his district because he does not care to represent them. Part of this is because gerrymandering gives Garrett the security to ignore some people without any consequences. Concurrently, though, Tom Garrett has missed almost 15% of votes in Congress -- even if he was representing the views of his constituents, he doesn’t show up in Congress to actually vote!
Right now Tom Garrett does not believe his seat belongs to the people of the 5th District or to Virginians. I am running to be a true representative for my community, and that means holding open, in-person and live town halls, engaging directly with all of my constituents (not just those who voted for me), and meeting continuously with those who have input and ideas on legislation, nominations, or interests in the community. My offices in D.C. and throughout the District would actually listen to the people I serve.
Millenials make up roughly one third of the voting age population. In what way(s) can your policy proposals help millennials?
In the past few decades, we have ceased prioritizing trades, unions, apprenticeship programs, and community colleges degrees. Instead, we have pushed for all students to get four-year degrees, regardless of whether or not they can afford it (and therefore push student loans on them), and regardless of whether or not they would actually benefit from them. Right now, one cannot claim bankruptcy from student loans, which I believe is one of the main reasons for this push to four-year institutions. We need to expand higher education to all citizens with free community colleges, but we also should return to a reverence for the trades and for our unions. Additionally, we must work to reform student loan debt by going after unregulated for-profit higher education institutions, expanding federal aid, working to reduce tuition and fees at colleges and universities, and fixing a broken loan system. Further, we must ensure expansion of early childhood education and universal pre-k programs to put all young folks on a fairer starting platform.
We must also work to tackle youth unemployment rates, which specifically disproportionately affect minority communities and perpetuate income inequality early on. I believe it is important to invest in youth employment as a means of equalizing opportunities in the workforce. Youth employment programs encourage budding employees to explore their interests, build savings, and to spend their free time in productive and safe ways, all while preparing them to enter the workforce.
Finally, we must protect Dreamers and DACA students. DACA supports those who have been in the United States for years- people who are getting or have an education here, who have jobs and support the economy here, who pay taxes here. They came to the U.S. through no fault of their own. We need to provide these millennials a fair path to citizenship, not kicking some of the brightest minds in our country to the curb. I fully support preserving DACA and looking for better solutions for comprehensive immigration reforms in the future.
The University of Virginia has been the epicenter of a debate over the limits of hate speech. To what extent should hate speech be regulated, especially on college campuses like UVA’s?
The 1st Amendment is one of the most important protections Americans have to speak out and hold their government accountable, and we must protect the right to free speech, especially conflicting viewpoints. People must be allowed to voice their opinions, even when those opinions are reprehensible to me or others. However, the 1st Amendment is not absolute, and speech that incites violence, targets members of our community, or inflicts undue harm is not permissible. The Supreme Court has held that "advocacy of the use of force" is unprotected when it is "directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action" and is "likely to incite or produce such action". This is a difficult area of the law and one that the Courts constantly grapple with mainly because of the difficult balance between an individual’s right to free speech and all of our right to be safe. For me, that’s where the line should be drawn.
Strategy-wise, do you think Democrats should focus more on turning-out existing Democratic voters, persuading Independent and Republican voters, or do both equally?
We know that when Democrats turn out to vote, Democrats win. I am committed to turning out Democrats in this election who might only vote in Presidential years or who have been turned off from the system because of gerrymandering or voter disenfranchisement efforts. To do this we need the right candidate for this district, someone who is rural and progressive, and who has a positive platform on energy, the environment, the economy, bringing jobs back to our communities, and single payer healthcare.
But it’s not enough just to have Democrats supporting me; in a district the size of the state of New Jersey that reaches all the way from the D.C. suburbs down to Danville, we have to win votes where Tom Garrett does not believe he could lose them. With the right message, and as someone who has lived in these rural communities before and understands what so many Americans are going through here, it’s time to show that Democrats can win here. But I find it offensive when people use the idea that “rural Americans are voting against their own self-interest.” It is Democrats who have failed parts of this country on that message, and instead it is time to prove that we are the best party for all Americans, not the other way around.
Finally, turnout is a measure of those who even have access to the polls to begin with. In Congress, I will oppose any measure intended to reduce access to a person’s right to vote. We should be in the business of easing access to participation, not the other way around. I will support legislation that expands early voting initiatives, that protects secured voter identification information, that encourages automatic, simpler, and same-day registration, that prohibits the use of restrictive tactics such as voter identification laws, and that ensures adequate voter protections to include greater oversight of jurisdiction with recent records of voting rights violations and/or voter disenfranchisement.
Many of the candidates running for this seat share similar policy positions. However, you may prioritize these issues differently. What is your top policy priority if elected?
Healthcare, no questions asked. Insurance companies can no longer be trusted to make health and wellness decisions when profit incentives are their number one priority. It remains a travesty that the United States has the highest out-of-pocket healthcare costs per person (at just under $6,000 of income/person) and spends more of its GDP on healthcare for poorer outcomes than any other developed nation. This is also the most important issue to members of my district. No matter how rural or urban the areas I have visited, every person I have talked to has mentioned rising premiums, long wait times, and in many areas a lack of access to quality care. I am a strong proponent of single payer healthcare, but I believe it must be done in a pragmatic approach. This begins with offering a public option on the exchanges, which I fully believe Americans will move towards quickly. Additionally, I want to introduce legislation to revamp our rural hospitals and funding structures to ensure that smaller hospitals and physicians aren’t driven out of their localities.
Jobs and the economy are consistently top priorities for voters. How do you intend to use your position in congress to grow jobs and pay, specifically in the 5th District?
Congress can incentivize the economic behavior we want to see. We need tax policy that favors small businesses. I am committed to strengthening trades, empowering tradespeople, and fueling economic growth in Virginia’s 5th district by developing new programs that connect constituents to new employment opportunities and help business owners capitalize on existing opportunities like Worker Retraining Tax Credits. In addition, I believe that it's time to use the anti-trust policy we have on the books to break up the biggest monopolies, buyers and retailers to give local players a chance to compete
Further, we must support our union brothers & sisters, and support the right for all workers to unionize. Virginians deserve the right to work for a wage that can support a family and a real voice on the job. Unions not only built this country but the middle class itself. As we have assaulted and reduced the unions, we have also assaulted and reduced our middle class. When companies force state governments like Virginia to compete in a race to the bottom, our workers lose out. I'm proud of our union families and what they've done for Virginia, but Democrats have been too willing to leave unions out to dry. We need to fight back against right to work legislation passed across the country, and support federal legislation that evens the playing field for companies that recognize the value of organized labor.
Additionally, clean energy is a wonderful opportunity to support an expanded economy in the 5th District. We must stop with the false choice of either the environment or jobs. With properly placed investments, we can have both: clean energy & technology ARE the job creators of the future. A positive vision of clean energy and how investment in green technology benefits communities, spurs economic and job growth, and will ensure a better environment for future generation is a way to build the economy here at home.
Finally, expanding access to higher education in rural Virginia is a critical investment we must make. The University of Virginia provides thousands of jobs and opportunities to our Commonwealth and we must ensure that federal funding continues to be made available to our research institutions. But it is community colleges, not just flagship universities, that represent much of the future of Virginia's higher education. Community colleges and trade schools are agile and therefore well-positioned to respond to opportunities in the local job market. They can also deliver necessary education to more people at a lower cost than traditional four-year schools. Making community colleges tuition free for programs preparing students for high-demand industries will make sure rural Virginians get the education they need where they need it, not where they can afford it.
The 5th district, unlike areas in NoVA or Hampton Roads, does not depend as much on federal funding. Do you think making the 5th a destination for federal funding should be among our top economic priorities?
Absolutely. As discussed, the 5th District is in a prime position to use a positive energy plan to bring in federal dollars to spur economic development and protect the future of our environment. I'll be fighting to expand federal funding through initiatives like USDA's Rural Utilities Service Loan (RUS) Program that helps rural Virginians not only to weatherize their home and invest in residential renewable opportunities, but fund exactly the kinds of community energy projects that local farmers want. I also support the infrastructure plan proposed by Senate Democrats that directly funds infrastructure programs via the federal government and ensures that taxpayers, not corporations, remain in control of our critical infrastructure. I will also fight to ensure those in rural communities are the first hired on projects that impact our region.
If there comes a time when your own personal opinion differs from that of your constituents, how will you vote: in line with your conscience, or in line with your constituents?
In a district the size and with the diversity of ours, there is no possibility that my opinion is always going to align with all of my constituents. In fact, it probably never will. In every situation, however, I will endeavor to hear from all my constituents, those with whom I agree and those who I do not. I will attempt to educate myself on not only their positions but will view each issue from every possible angle. In the end, I will pursue positions that I believe will help the people of the 5th the most. I will fight to improve the lives of working people even if that means losing votes because the decision was a hard one. In short, I would do what Tom Perriello did when he voted for the ACA: I would put the lives of my constituents above my own political career.
In one sentence, why should voters come support you at the upcoming caucuses?
I am the candidate who is most like the largest part of our district, and as such, give us the best chance to beat Tom Garrett by taking votes away from him where he doesn’t believe he can lose them.