Ben Cullop


Why are you running?

I’m running because I was born here, I was raised in Virginia, and I’m raising my family here. The people of this district are my friends, my relatives, and my neighbors. When I see someone struggling to find a job, or struggling to get access to high quality and affordable healthcare, or struggling to provide a good education for their children, that is personal for me. I’m also disgusted with the outsized influence of corporate money in politics. Washington can’t solve problems like gun control and high drug prices when they are in the pocket of corporate special interests. When Congressmen like Tom Garrett vote, they’re not thinking about us - they’re thinking about their large corporate donors. I want to bring the voices of the people in the 5th District to Washington with me. I will work tirelessly and do everything I can to make their lives better.

How well do you think Congressman Garrett has represented the 5th district during his term so far?

I don’t think Tom Garrett understands the true role of a Congressperson. A Congressperson’s job is to be accessible to his constituents, and Tom Garrett has refused to spend time in areas where he believes he is unpopular and refuses to hold in-person town halls where his constituents can express their views. He has voted to take away their healthcare and he voted for the disastrous Trump tax bill that was a feast for big corporations while leaving crumbs for the middle class. He has done this in service of his divisive ideology and in the interest of his corporate backers. He does not represent our values and he refuses to be our representative in Washington. I’ve promised my future constituents I will hold an in person town hall in every locality in our District (23 in all) during my first year in office.

Millennials make up roughly one third of the voting age population. In what way(s) can your policy proposals help millennials?

I speak from a position of experience on this topic - I am a millennial. We need to advance policies that give all people a brighter future. A new generation is entering the workforce without the proper skills to find employment and evolve in our rapidly changing economy. We need to invest in programs that will make vocational training and career and technical education (CTE) available to those who want it. We need to find solutions to the problem of massive student debt; I would support student debt being dischargeable in bankruptcy. As millennials take jobs that require mobility, plans like Medicare X will allow for citizens to maintain transferable health benefits and allow them to move in the economy without the concern of losing their healthcare. And lastly, I think the millennial generation has seen enough of corporate money in politics. That’s why I’ve pledged to not take a dime from corporate PACs during my campaign or during my time in the House. This is a leadership issue, and if a new generation of leaders can get elected without this dirty money, we can make real change in Washington.

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?

We need to stand against the hatred being pushed by alt-right and neo-Nazi groups. We need a representative who will speak out against hate groups and protect our communities from their violent rhetoric. Tom Garrett simply invites hate groups into his Congressional office in DC. The contrast could not be any clearer, and it is time to elect someone who is on the right side of history.

Strategy-wise, do you think Democrats should focus more on turning-out existing Democratic voters, persuading Independent and Republican voters, or do both equally?

In this District, I don’t think we can choose between turn out and persuasion. We need to do both. Anyone who does not both turn out existing Democrats and persuade some independents and Republicans is going to lose. We have to stand for our progressive values and maintain our focus on the issues that matter to people in this district. These issues are issues like jobs, healthcare, and education. Other Democrats might want to just talk about Donald Trump, attacks on the press, or the latest offensive tweet. That kind of politics is off-putting to many voters because it doesn’t deal with the issues facing their day-to-day lives. My values are my values wherever I go. I’m going to share my positive vision for the future with voters of all stripes, and I think they’ll appreciate that and know they can trust me. I’m from here. When I go talk to groups of folks that may not always support Democrats, they’ll know they can trust me because they’ll know I’m trying to look out for my community and the stakes are uniquely high for me.

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?

The most pressing issue facing the people of this district is access to quality, affordable healthcare. My story on healthcare is intensely personal. My daughter Elizabeth was born severely premature. She received the best care available thanks to the nurses and doctors at the UVA Hospital. When we got the statement of charges for her two-month stay in the hospital, it was north of half a million dollars. That can be absolutely devastating to a family. We were fortunate - we had insurance - but it shouldn’t take good fortune to be healthy in this country. That’s why I support Tim Kaine’s plan for Medicare X - a public option that could be inserted into the marketplace immediately, especially in areas of high need like the 5th District. But for too long, corporate special interests have stood in the way of real change. I don’t believe you can talk about any issue without acknowledging the deep impact corporate money in politics has on our officials.

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?

When I worked in finance, I used my knowledge of the economy to invest in companies that would create jobs. There are really two ways a congressman can help create jobs. The first is with hard power. As a congressman, it will be my job to use the power of the federal tax code to incent companies to create jobs in the 5th District of Virginia. This also includes using the array of federal agencies to find funding for constituents who want to use a federal grant to create or expand a business in our district. In terms of soft power, it will be my job as this district’s representative to be a chief negotiator for jobs in our district. There is no reason that any business owner or job creator in our district shouldn’t have my cell phone number. If there is ongoing drama in Washington, but there is a negotiation for a new business going on in Danville or Madison, rest assured that I want to be in that room negotiating to bring economic development to our district.

Americans need a raise. I will push for a Living Wage Tax Credit for small and medium-sized businesses that increase the wages of their employees from around the minimum wage up to a living wage. Businesses that increase employee wages to a living wage would get a one-time tax credit worth three-quarters of the total increase in wages paid out to these employees. This increase helps put more money in the pocket of consumers and gives them a better quality of life, but also incents businesses to do the right thing. Paired with a federal minimum wage increase, this will help put more money in the pockets of working class Americans.

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?

I believe federal funding should play a part in economic development here in the 5th. We have infrastructure that needs repair - our schools, roads, bridges, and airports all need significant investments. We should also be incenting the growth of clean energy through federal grants. I believe rural broadband extension is the prerogative of the federal government, and broadband policy would require federal funding. Just because we don’t depend on federal funding in the way other regions do doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be getting our fair share of the money we pay into the treasury.

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?

The job of a representative is to voice the concerns of his or her constituents and to make decisions that will benefit those constituents. I believe it is incumbent on the voters of any particular district to elect a representative that shares their values so that the conscience of the representative aligns as closely to the constituency as possible. I was born here, raised in Virginia, and am raising my family here. Because I’ve spent my life living and working in this community, I know the problems it faces and the values it holds. When the voters of the 5th District elect me to go to Congress, I’ll carry those values with me to Washington.

In one sentence, why should voters come support you at the upcoming caucuses?

I’m proud of my deep local roots, and I know we can do so much better than Tom Garrett; if you send me to Congress to fight for our values and our community, I’ll make you proud.