Together, We Can Do Better
It’s okay. We can admit it. Our politics are broken, and Richmond no longer works for all of us. Too often, the folks down in the Capitol make decisions that benefit the special interests that keep them in power with little regard for the people who trusted them and put them there.
Well, it’s time that changed because we can do better. We have to do better. Look, I’m not a career politician; I’m just a teacher who’s out to do what’s best for his community and who’s out to create a better future for our children. This means:
funding our schools and making sure our educators are paid
making sure we steward our planet
fighting for our first responders, our small businesses, our farms, and the working class
avoiding partisan gridlock
fixing our broken election and campaign finance system
taking on Dominion and other powerful lobbies
I believe deeply in the value of public education, and my experience as both a student and a teacher--as well as the son of two teachers--has driven me to make education the centerpiece of my campaign. I will advocate for and work to strengthen our public education system. Yes, this means supporting career and technical training, but it also means looking at where education starts, with preschool. I believe every child should attend Pre-K. From an empirical perspective, it makes sense: studies show how Pre-K pays for itself over time. However, more than that, it is just the right thing to do for children and families. It helps with childcare, and better readies children for the learning that will take place over the rest of their lives.
I also believe that we need a complete review and, possibly, a complete reworking of our SOL system. There is a reason that most teachers will tell you that they hate SOL’s, and the reason is obvious to those who are in education: a test does little to demonstrate knowledge or mastery, especially when it comes to skill development. A more qualitative or portfolio-based system is more equitable and, ultimately, accurate.
Lastly, I believe that we need to pay our teachers what they deserve. Virginia teachers make, on average, almost $9,000 less per year than the national average. This is in the state with the #12 economy in the nation. Over the past 15 years, in inflation adjusted numbers, teachers have had their pay cut by about 10%. All of this has taken place as they have been asked to pay more for their benefits. This must end, especially if we want to attract the best people to teach our children. We should not be taking advantage of the fact that many men and women feel a profound calling to do this work.
There are few things better than being outdoors. From coaching soccer to camping in the Blue Ridge to simply pushing my son on a swing, there is something wonderful about being in nature. However, we are at a critical time in history when climate change threatens much of what we hold dear in the Commonwealth. We are lucky to have our natural wonders, and we must fight to preserve them for our children and our children’s children. This means that we must aggressively invest in green energies, and it means that we must decrease air and water pollution.
Energy independence is good for the planet and good for our economy. Solar usage and job growth has exploded in the Commonwealth. We must continue to make it easier and more efficient for consumers, businesses, and our utilities to use solar. While we have finally started to invest in offshore wind, we must continue to do so, albeit more aggressively. We also must examine our water reclamation policies as well as our land use policies. Choosing between growing our economy and protecting our planet is a false dichotomy; green jobs are good jobs, but it means that we may need to invest in worker retraining.
Climate change is real, and we are already seeing its effects. A move towards a green economy is an investment in everything from the future of the Commonwealth to our own health.
Our First Responders
It takes a special kind of person to run into danger when the rest of us might run away. Perhaps nowhere is this more true than when it comes to those who choose to run towards fires and accidents in order to protect us and our things. That is why we need to be sure we are taking care of these folks. This means reworking the current Cancer Presumption legislation to include all forms of cancer. It also means placing the burden of rebuttal on the state, not on the responder. Lastly, it means we are also taking care of our responders’ psychological health. When we ask people to do dangerous things in order to keep us safe, we need to be sure that we are also supporting them.
The key to economic success is creating a viable, vibrant economy that is both long-living and local. Such an economy retains dollars in the community and also preserves our agricultural heritage. In order to do this, we need to continue Virginia’s good work on regulatory and credentialing reform, especially since we know that burdensome barriers to entry in a profession disproportionately disadvantage the most vulnerable amongst us. We also need to keep people in the community by working to make sure the that cost of living (including housing, childcare, and many other components of a livable community) is affordable. Communities are strongest when people are able to live where they work. Next, promoting agri-tourism and our beautiful landscapes will help draw people out to us. This means helping businesses, especially small businesses with burdensome fees and taxes. It also means helping our farms sell direct to consumer. Lastly, we need to incentivize our landlords to keeps their properties rented and in good repair.
It is impossible to talk about the rural economy and rural living without talking about access to internet and phone service. Access to both of these are, at their core, public safety issues. But, more than that, they are essential for providing economic and educational opportunities in our area. Farmers, small businesses, students, and everyday citizens all increasingly rely more and more on the internet. We must be sure they have access to it.
Of course, all of this is set against the ways in which the globalized economy has altered the employment landscape for many Virginians, from those who farm their land to those who work in factories. The American promise has always been: if you’re willing to do the work, you should have work to do. Leveraging our schools and community colleges for worker training and retraining is of critical importance and is certainly a first step in this process.
I believe that every person should be able to access quality, affordable healthcare. Virginia took a significant step toward this goal last year when we expanded Medicaid. Now, fewer people have to choose between putting food on the table and getting the treatment or medication that they need. We need to continue to fight to protect access to healthcare, including women’s healthcare. We can also do more, especially in terms of dental care. In Virginia, Medicaid Dental only covers emergency services for adults. We should follow in the steps of other states and expand it to include preventative care. Doing so would not only help fight the opioid epidemic, but would benefit the Commonwealth in innumerable ways including increasing employability for the patient and increasing savings for the state.
Beyond this, one of the most exciting things we can do is invest in tele-medicine. The future of this kind of medicine is bright, and it has been proven to help keep costs down while providing treatment.
Equality in Virginia
It is the right of every American to worship, speak, vote, and love as they please. Virginia has taken incredible steps forward in this regard, but we can continue to do better. We must pass the Equal Rights Amendment as soon as possible. Another way we can do better is by continuing to add workplace and housing protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. This means we must prohibit discrimination in state and local government public employment based on sexual orientation or gender identity; add discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity as an unlawful discriminatory housing practice; and prohibit discrimination in employment, public contracting, apprenticeship programs, banking, and insurance on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. We can also do more when it comes to healthcare by adding sexual orientation and gender identity under the list of protected classes. We can also build safer communities by adding gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the categories of those whose intentional selection results in a hate crime.
Lastly, it is time to repeal the statutory prohibitions on same-sex marriages and civil unions I will always be a fierce advocate for equality, and a strong opponent of any assaults on marriage equality.
Voter Rights & Good Governance
Virginia has the oldest continuously operating representative assembly in the Western hemisphere. This is something of which we should be deeply proud. Embedded in this is the idea that we each have the right to engage in the political process. While we have come a long way from 1619, there is more that we can do make sure people across the Commonwealth can have their voices heard.
First, voting should be easy, not hard. This means that we should have no excuse absentee voting and that we should have same day registration. Election day should be a holiday, and workers should get paid leave to vote. I will also be sure to fight against voter roll purges and other attempts to limit the vote. Every election should be fair and fully auditable.
Second, we need to work to get money out of politics. Citizens United was a disastrous decision, and it paved the way for special interests to control the General Assembly. Most obviously, members of the General Assembly should not be allowed to take money from Dominion or other utilities that they help to regulate. We should also have a campaign contribution limit, for both individuals and PACs (along with party committees).
Thirdly, you should choose your legislators; your legislators shouldn’t choose you. I will vocally and fully support non-partisan redistricting. Also, this means that your representatives should be easily accessible to you. I will hold regular town halls, and I will publicize well in advance where and when they will be.
Lastly, I support the effort to allow localities to use ranked-choice voting.
Virginia’s 27th district is home to many veterans, both those just returned from war and those who served many decades ago. I am not a veteran, so the first thing I have done is form a Veterans’ Kitchen Cabinet to help me with veteran-specific issues because, frankly, we need to be sure that we are helping to take care of those who defend our freedoms. One of our primary goals needs to be making sure our veterans get efficient, timely care close to home. This means working to get federal matches for funding for veterans’ healthcare. It also means working to create a state task force to monitor veterans’ care. Moreover, veterans’ care necessarily means making sure our warriors have access to effective mental health services. Lastly, we need to be sure that we are tackling the opioid epidemic, as many vets have been exposed to it. *military images and information do not imply endorsement by DOD or service branch*
Criminal Justice Reform
Over the past two years, the General Assembly has taken some steps forward on criminal justice reform. However, as is often the case, we can--and need to--do more. We can look at continuing to raise the felony larceny threshold. Doing more also includes ending mandatory minimums and civil asset forfeiture. It means that we need to reform our criminal discovery process. It also means that we need greater oversight for our jails, and we need to do a better job monitoring recidivism.
As a state, we need to look at bail reform because our jails should not be full of people who are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford to be released. We also need to eliminate our private prison. We must be sure we are treating addiction, especially opioid addiction, as a public health problem and not just a criminal justice problem. We must also work to decriminalize marijuana and then revisit past convictions for possession. We can also do more to interrupt the school to prison pipeline, including by examining how we treat students, especially students of color, both in school and in our justice system. Lastly, we should be sure that our punishment and sentencing guidelines are fair and that we have reentry programs in place.
I love being outdoors. Yes, that means hiking and camping, but it also means shooting. While I prefer a 10/22 rifle, I recognize that from sports to hunting, everyone has their firearm of choice. However, I also realize that we need basic, common sense rules for firearm ownership. This is why I support the need for a permit when concealed carrying. This is also why I am for universal background checks. I want to make sure that we keep guns out of the hands of people who do harm. I also want to be sure that, when I buy a gun, my seller is someone I can trust. Background checks protect everyone.
We also need to do a better job when it comes to educating for gun storage. Guns should be stored in a safe, they should be unloaded, and they should not have ammunition in the chamber. These same guidelines should apply to daycares, which is why I support legislation requiring daycares to lock up their guns.
Finally, Virginia should not be subject to the gun laws of other states. This is why I will fight against concealed carry reciprocity. Visitors to Virginia should be subject to our laws.