I strongly support programs and initiatives that protect women’s rights including reproductive rights.
Although our country and culture have made significant progress in expanding the rights of women during my lifetime, women continue to lag behind men in wages, employment opportunities, access to health care and representation in our legislatures.
The increase in women elected to office provides a greater perspective of women’s issues in our legislative process and is crucial to the broad understanding of the array of issues that uniquely or predominantly affect women. The state needs to address the lack of paid family leave, universal child care, wage inequality and access to maternal and reproductive healthcare in order to increase opportunities for women and balance out these inequities.
One issue that must be addressed is domestic abuse which abuse falls mostly on women and is a symptom of the inequality of power in our culture.
Companies should be banned from requiring “forced arbitration.” This prevents women to maintain silence in the face of workplace sexual harassment, and, in turn, allows this culture to continue.
Of course, no discussion of women’s rights is complete without discussing a woman’s right to control her own body and health care. Abortion has been one of the most controversial and vexing issues in our culture and country for my entire adult life. Americans are no closer to consensus on this issue than they were when the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade and provided women with the Constitutional right to seek an abortion.
I understand that opposition to abortion is often grounded in strong religious beliefs that no law or litigation is likely to change. However, a woman has the right to her bodily integrity, and decisions about her body should not be in the purview of any legislative body but, rather, should be left to the woman and her doctor. The state needs to enact clear, strong legislation that will provide all the protections of Roe v Wade for every Virginian, regardless of any decisions of the United States Supreme Court.
The discussion about women’s healthcare needs extends beyond abortion. It includes the explicit and implicit bias in medical research and treatment, maternal mortality which disproportionately affects people of color, and the treatment of people who are are non-binary or transgendered as well as cisgender people.
In short, we need to reform our healthcare system so that it is reflective of and responsive to all.
America loves cars. Our dependence on automobiles for transportation has stimulated our economy and provided each of us with great flexibility and convenience. It has also led to expensive highway systems that are often clogged and never wide-enough. In Northern Virginia, transportation is the largest source of the carbon pollution which is threatening our planet. Carbon pollution negatively affects our health, our environment and our communities.
Before the Covid pandemic, the General Assembly approved an ambitious plan to address these challenges by championing an efficient, environmentally-friendly transportation system that included an increase in funding for public transportation, increased funds for maintenance and a new rail authority. These projects would largely be funded by an increased gas tax. Currently Virginia’s gas tax is in the lower half of taxes in the nation and lower than any surrounding jurisdictions. These projects may be delayed due to competing priorities for funding due to Covid. We must get this plan back on track.
In 2021 and beyond, the legislature should redirect the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) away from old models and practices and towards a more holistic approach to transportation that knits together concerns for our planet, the needs of people without access to vehicles and improved technology rather than defaulting to paving our way to a brighter future.
Health Care on the Brink
Our entire health care system – from what we prioritize to how much it costs for treatment and how we pay for it – needs resuscitation.
That’s because health care in the U.S. is really sick care. We focus on treating people after they become ill rather than working toward keeping people as healthy as possible. We must turn this around.
Equally important, we must consider racial, gender and economic equity when writing health care policy.
Diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and asthma, as well as maternal mortality, impact people of color and the poor at higher rates – and take a bigger toll – than they do the white middle class.
Women must retain control over their own bodies and health care. This goes beyond reproductive rights to include the explicit and implicit bias in medical research and treatment.
And far too many people cannot afford good health care.
By emphasizing preventive medicine, access to affordable nutritious food and dental and vision care for all, we will have a stronger, healthier population.
At the same time as we are looking at our priorities, we must look at the economics of health care.
Even for people with health insurance and in relatively good health, medical expenses can be a drain, and the cost for a procedure can vary radically. Just ask anyone who’s been prescribed a routine test. Taking that test at the hospital versus a free-standing laboratory can add hundreds of dollars to a co-pay. And if someone does end up in the hospital, they can look forward to reams of confusing, conflicting (and scary) statements and bills.
Ironically, those without insurance are often charged much higher fee than those lucky enough to be covered by an insurance plan. Imagine walking into a store, picking out a tube of toothpaste going to the cash register and being charged $47 while the person in front of you was charged $4.57. That’s how our health care pricing works.
While the discussion at the national level has focused on the big picture, here in Virginia we have the ability to make changes that will have immediate benefits. A system where the cost of medical procedures, including dental and vision, is open and transparent will promote equity and lower costs overall.
Gun Violence Prevention
The United States ranks seventh in the world in the number of deaths per thousand caused by gunshots. From suicide to domestic violence to terrorist attacks, easy access to firearms increases the potential for deadly violence. And the prevalence of automatic weapons, and how they’ve been used in recent years, creates a culture in which our communities, schools and public spaces are not perceived as safe.
The Second Amendment to the Constitution gives citizens the right to bear arms, although the Amendment itself links the right to bear arms with the need for a well-regulated militia. However, no Constitutional right is absolute.
To our detriment, the Second Amendment has been co-opted and exploited over the past 50 years by a radicalized National Rifle Association, and now it is the rallying cry of fringe groups on the right. They have used their lobbying power and campaign donations to drive the political conversation so that legislators have been paralyzed and unwilling to pass sensible firearms reform even in the face of the mass slaughter of school children.
Through the efforts of many, and the force of public opinion, the grip of the NRA on our nation’s political class has loosened. Recently, Virginia has passed several control measures. They include:
waiting periods before a firearm can be purchased
background checks for private sales
red flag laws that allow the temporary seizure of firearms people who may be a threat
prompt reporting of lost or stolen guns
limiting the purchases of handguns to one per month.
These actions are a start – and a good one. Now we must find a way forward that tamps down the rhetoric and unifies people. We must balance a Constitutional freedom with the real and significant cost that an unchecked right to bear arms has on human life.
Equity for Immigrants
The 38th District is home to people from all over the world. This is our strength, beauty and pride. As a world community we’ve been damaged in the past several years by the Muslim ban, forced separation of children from their parents at our border, the increase in ICE raids in our immigrant communities and most recently, the scurrilous, pervasive verbal and physical attacks on Asians.
American culture has shifted dramatically in its tolerance for racism and hate. What was once horrific, but mostly tucked into the dark corners of our culture, has now been given permission to come out into the open by political leaders, media and iconic personalities. This is negating the slow growth we have experienced in recent years toward tolerance, acceptance and pride.
The headlines bring trauma every day, not just to the victims but also to the child in a classroom who isn’t sure if, when she goes home, her parents will be there or will have been deported; to the Asian woman walking down a street, worried she will be assaulted, or to the Muslim man shopping in his neighborhood grocery, looking over his shoulder as he feels suspicion and judgement merely for the way he looks.
How do we ensure our communities have zero tolerance for hate, ignorance and racism? First, every elected official, influencer, teacher and neighbor needs to become an ally to immigrants. We need to challenge ourselves to learn techniques for confronting others while being respectful of the victims. We need to find ways to celebrate the vibrant, significant and hopeful experiences we all share as a result of living in a thriving immigrant community. We should shop at their stores, eat in their restaurants and help them and their families when they are hungry, unemployed or in need of health care.
Unless we are Native American, all of us are immigrants, usually people fleeing war or famine hoping for a better life. And there has been hate for or prejudice against each new group of immigrants. But our country was built by immigrants, and every patriotic American should celebrate the courage, tenacity and love of our country that these new neighbors bring to our lives and culture.
Other than climate change, perhaps no other issue is as complex or all-encompassing as racial and ethnic equity. It is imperative we address this openly with the intention and determination to make the systemic changes that will ensure equity in the broadest sense.
For too long we’ve skated along the edges of change without creating space to listen honestly and have the uncomfortable conversations. We can’t go forward without understanding the injustices of our collective past and acknowledging how they pervade our social fabric today.
Our government has a long, intentional history of bending its grace and benefits to favor whites. Of course, this started with slavery, but we are all aware it didn’t end there. And it didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. From SAT scores to housing to medical treatments to criminal justice to the daily micro-aggressions people face, our culture is filled with the trauma of making our neighbors feel “other” based solely on the color of their skin.
It has had a profound emotional, legal, and economic impacts that has lasted generations. Correcting these injustices should not be the responsibility of the victims. It is the responsibility of a civil society.
Government, at all levels, must dig deep to become allies with people of color and all minorities. We, as a society, need to encourage people to understand the harm that has been done in the past and move forward. Then we will be on the path to truly becoming “one nation with liberty and justice for all.”
Protecting Our Planet
Climate change is a threat to our very existence. Past inaction and compromises, made despite scientific evidence to the contrary, have brought us to the brink. Now we must:
consider the health of our planet in each decision we make and every action we take
implement robust policies to produce clean and sustainable energy while reducing demand
move away from unfettered consumption of our resources and toward a healthy relationship with our environment
embrace recycling of our resources
preserve and protect our natural spaces
include the well-being of other species in our plans
This challenge demands action from all segments of society - individuals, communities, corporations and, especially, government. Analyzing and prioritizing the environmental cost and benefit of each budget decision the legislature makes will yield the fastest and most significant impact. Investment in public transportation or highways? Green roofs or flat? Open space or parking lots? Clean energy or a continuing reliance on gas and oil?
This approach means disrupting the forces that create roadblocks to slow or deter the expansion of solar and other alternative fuels. It means prohibiting after-market devices that alter vehicle emissions and increase pollution. It means giving the environment a seat at the table when we consider how best to spend Virginia’s $46 billion annual budget.
By tipping our decisions in favor of protecting the planet and shifting spending patterns, we will see clearer air and water, a more sustainable economy and healthier, more livable communities.
Employment and Unions
While we are debating the minimum wage on a national level, there is another debate going on in Virginia, the repeal of the misbranded “Right to Work” law. This law has kept unions from effectively organizing in Virginia and has played a large part in destroying our middle class.
These laws began as racist policies in the late 1940’s. In the heyday of unions, in the past century, most middle-class Americans were secure knowing that if they worked a 40-hour week, they could buy a home, support a family, occasionally go out to dinner or a movie and take a vacation. That reality has now vanished.
More and more people must try to get by on minimum wage because they can’t organize for their fair share. Many parents live in fear of a child’s illness, because they can’t afford health care. And kids go without basic items including enough food, school supplies and clothes.
This wealth didn’t disappear. It shifted to create a class of ultra-rich corporate executives and stockholders. While CEOs should be well-compensated and stockholders should get a fair return on their investment, this should not be at the expense of a healthy middle class.
The middle class is the backbone of this country. We fight the wars, educate our kids and pay our bills. Unions give us a seat at the table to protect our, and America's, interests. We need to bring back and strengthen our unions.
Championing Public Education
For years – decades – we’ve talked about how education is the key that enables a child to become the person they dream of being. How every child should have the opportunity for a world-class education. Education is the best investment in our youth and in our collective future as a society.
But the reality of education today – in the country and in Virginia - has been far different. For a generation we’ve chipped away at the creativity and individualism in the classroom that could spark interest in a child who would otherwise just fall behind. We’ve focused on teaching kids to test well, even if they aren’t learning how to excel.
In part, that’s the legacy of “No Child Left Behind,” a system that’s more focused on grading the teachers than on inspiring our kids. While the intentions behind the program were good – to create an equitable, measurable educational system – it evaluates students on their ability to take standardized tests and teachers on how well they teach to the test. It negates the ability of the child who learns best by imagining and doing and thwarts the teacher who can inspire.
It can extinguish the spark we want to nurture. We must stop teaching to the test and, instead, teach to the child.
This approach takes resources and a commitment to funding education – from prekindergarten through college and beyond. And that’s a commitment we haven’t been willing to make in recent years. Our state ranks below the national average in spending per pupil at the elementary and secondary school levels.
We’ve also carved away at our collective support for Virginia’s world-class higher educational system. We generate the second-highest college graduation rate in the country, and in 2017 SmartAsset ranked Virginia number 1 for Higher Education. But we rank near the bottom in state support per student. In other words, if you can pay for it, you’ll get a great education, but don’t apply if you need financial help.
If you’re pro-business, you should be pro-government spending on education. A Virginia Business Higher Education Council study shows that the Virginia public higher education system adds $36 billion annually to gross state product, supports more than 167,000 jobs and produces nearly $2 in new state revenue for every state dollar spent. Equally important, it can launch the next generation of kids out of poverty and into good-paying jobs.
We must provide the opportunity for every child, regardless of ability to pay, to continue their education beyond high school - whether it’s at a university, community college or trade school. And we need to prepare our students for this beginning in elementary school.
The money we spend on education is a critical investment in our kids and in our future economic growth.
Criminal Justice Reform
Our criminal justice system is broken. The United States imprisons more people – by far – than any other industrial nation. And Virginia ranks third in the number of people per 100,000 who are incarcerated.
Although prisons do have a role in maintaining a civilized society, in Virginia and most of America imprisoning someone is the default solution rather than one tool in dealing with crime. Ample evidence shows that in many cases where either serious mental health issues and/or drug use are precipitating factors, the perpetrator and society as a whole would be better served by diversionary programs. We should not be punishing our citizens with mental health issues; we should be helping them.
Women face special challenges in prison.
This is especially true for women. Since 1980, the number of women in jail or prison has increased by more than 1,100 percent! These women are overwhelmingly poor, and a significant majority have mental health issues and a history of sexual abuse. They are separated from their children, even newborn babies. They have fewer vocational training opportunities than men and abysmal health care. When women are sent to prison, children often lose their primary caregiver and families crumble. The opioid crisis has made the situation even worse.
Whenever possible, the criminal justice system should provide rehabilitation and training, and not punishment and neglect.
Eliminate private prisons that put profit over care
Re-invent prisons for women that better reflect the unique needs of female prisoners
Provide vocational training for women that is equal to that provided for men
Eliminate solitary confinement
Separate mothers from young children only as a last resort
Prioritize rehabilitation over punishment for offenses involving drugs and/or mental health issues
In Virginia, we have some of the laxest campaign finance laws in the nation. We place no limits on contributions, and we regulate a politician’s use of funds for personal items only when the campaign committee is closing. A friend mentioned to me that, unlike in Illinois or New Jersey, the reason we don’t have politicians going to jail for corruption in Virginia is that we simply don’t have the anti-corruption laws in the first place.
Why is this bad? The corporations with the most to lose from strong regulation and oversight only need to feather the nests of hopeful politicians to watch them thwart regulations to protect their constituents to those that will shield these benefactors from environmental, health and safety, or fiscally responsible legislation.
Some of the Commonwealth’s largest industrial leaders — Altria, Dominion Energy, Virginia Bankers Association— donate huge sums of cash each year to General Assembly members to ensure their candidates of choice are elected. This affects priorities on everything from climate change to criminal justice reform (private prisons) to health care. And corporations don’t need to worry about influencing votes because legislation detrimental to their interests never even makes it to the floor. Year after year, legislators introduce reforms only to have them tabled, sent to study or never discussed at all.
We must not allow corporations to manipulate our political debate through campaign financing.
I will work to pass effective campaign finance reform and will not take campaign contributions from any for-profit corporation.