This past week I got the chance to interview Delegate Elizabeth Guzmán. She is running for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor this year. I want to thank her for taking time to speak with me. You can find the full transcript of the interview below. The full audio interview located at the end of the transcript as well as on all our podcast providers, like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Why did you decide to run for Lieutenant Governor?
I think the position of Lieutenant Governor is a promotion for someone who is an effective legislator. Someone who is a believer in the promises that we have made to our constituents on the issue of criminal justice reform, public education, the environment, and protecting workers rights. I am proud to announce that I already have 19 pieces of legislation for the special session. They are on the issues I described. And I also see the position of Lieutenant Governor for someone who is a proven leader.
Since I was elected, I was elected chair of the class of 2017. At the national level, I represented Virginia at the National Latina Leadership Conference for the Biden-Harris ticket. I also represented Virginia at the Democratic National Committee. So professionally I think that my career in local government will definitely help me be a successful Lieutenant Governor. And, in the event the seat opens up, I’d step up to be a good Governor. I think many of the progressive views that I have in the House are killed in the Senate. So I want to go to the Senate to be the voice of the voiceless communities, the voice of the working class. I really want to represent and understand these issues, because these are all my constituents.
You were part of a massive blue wave in Northern Virginia in 2017. What made you decide to hop into that race first?
It was a few things. I would start by saying it was for my children. Once Trump got elected, I had my son tell me we had to go back to my native Peru because the President did not like those who spoke Spanish. So I decided that I owed it to them. I wanted to show him that Guzmán is an American name and we don’t have to go anywhere. Another was that we needed better representation. I was elected as the first Latina immigrant to the Virginia House. I though Virginia was getting better at representation in the state house, but that did not happen.
It was the same thing with female representation. When we got elected, there were only 16 women serving in the House of Delegates and now we’ve grown those numbers to 30. As a working mom I wanted to show other females that this job could be for a working mom, that we can multi-task and deal with multiple responsibilities. That’s crucial when we’re talking about legislation to improve the life of families in Virginia.
You fought hard to expand Medicaid in Virginia and were a major player in that. But do you want to go further if you are elected Lieutenant Governor?
I believe that healthcare is a human right, not a privilege. My goal is that everyone in Virginia should have access to healthcare. Right now, as you mentioned, we did a very good job through expanding Medicaid. But there are so many communities that are left behind. Something we did during the special session was expand dental coverage for senior citizens. We are also tying to extend more protections to pregnant women. And those pregnant women include undocumented women. Right now in Virginia, undocumented individuals do not have access to healthcare. I think that’s we need to consider, as we have to do the right thing in a legislative way. If we invest a certain amount of money, the federal government will double that. There are children also that are being left behind and I would like to expand coverage so you can care for your child after birth.
There are many more things I would like to do to make Virginia a place where everybody can get healthcare and people can have the time to spend with their families when they get sick as well. I think that goes along because if we are fighting to provide healthcare for all, but we do not provide the means to stay home and see a doctor, then what do we have healthcare for. I think that’s the way we need to go. This is also one of the reasons I decided to run for Lieutenant Governor, because there are 1.2 million Virginians who do not have access to pay them off and it’s extremely necessary.
Energy and environmental issues are becoming more and more important in Virginia, what are your goals as it pertains to those issues?
I would say I am the only candidate in this race who has gotten an award from the league of conservation voters and the Sierra Club, along with an A+ rating. Virginia is going in the right direction and I’m very proud of the Virginia Environmental Clean Act, where we pledge to be 100% renewable by 2035. But we have the means to do even better. That’s where I think we need to go. Protecting the environment is something I’m passionate about. That’s why if you check my legislative packet, I could introduce legislation where Virginia would become the first state to declare a climate emergency. And we have to make sure we act as representatives of this country by acknowledging human activity contributes to global warming. So we have to do that as well.
And we just need to do more to protect the environment. Solar farms, we’ve had conversations with those farmers. We have to talk about what we can do for areas closer to water on the eastern shore as well. All of that I want to do.
Your background as a social worker has been apparent in your campaign, can you detail some of your plans for criminal justice reform?
Yes, and after being a social worker I was also a child advocate. I’ve seen how our black, brown and Muslim brothers and sisters have been profiled in the criminal justice system. I’ve made that an issue of my campaign. Raising the age of minors for trials, providing compensation to wrongly incarcerated individuals. Also, decriminalizing marijuana, having a public defenders office in Prince William County, and diversifying the benches across the commonwealth.
That is only the beginning, and I think some extra steps include legalizing marijuana and having more opportunities for ex convicts. We are the country of second chances and we have to look at giving more second opportunities. These issues are incredibly important to Virginians. When I was knocking on doors and I was talking to people you hear this. I have constituents who have Masters Degrees and PHDs, they can not work for a school or the government because they have a charge from when they were young. So doing this is the right thing to do going into that direction.
Lots of the favored candidates for Democrats in the statewide races this year come from Northern Virginia. Are you at all concerned about a possible geographical imbalance if all three statewide candidates come from Northern Virginia?
Well, I would say that my candidacy is unique. Number one, I’m the only immigrant on the ballot. I would say also that I represent a majority-minority county in Prince William which is unique to the commonwealth. I also represent parts of Farquier County, which is more rural. So, I would say I have experience as a legislator representing diverse areas and I have delivered for both of those areas. I think that’s what really makes my candidacy different.
How has it been running a statewide campaign during a pandemic, when you cannot do many of the things you would for a statewide race in normal times?
I would first say that it is not new to me. I’ve been campaigning statewide before since I was chair of the class of 2017. I did it in person and saw everyone in that class get re-elected. Also, I was the chair of Bernie Sanders’s campaign, I travelled with the Senator across the state as well opening offices. And then the Covid world came and in the COVID world I was. elected as a DNC member in the middle of the pandemic holding listening sessions. Then as part of the Biden/Harris team, I’ve been campaigning all over virtually.
What I would say is I am better at being in person and with shaking hands. But I will say a good thing is I can be virtually in Jamestown in the morning and then Williamsburg in the afternoon. Then the next day I can be in Tidewater and in other areas of Virginia. Being virtual made that possible. And as a campaign we have pledged to reach out to every part of Virginia and I am proud to tell you we have probably reached more than 20 towns already. I’m planning to do more in the coming days. But to your point about this race in Northern Virginia. There are so many democrats up there that I would like to share my message of progress with. I’ll be virtual with them and I think it will be like that through the primary. We just have to keep working and giving our message to the primary voters.
Do you think Virginia is ready for an individual as progressive as you running for a statewide position?
Well, I would say that the Democratic Party was built by unions and it will take union members to rebuild it. Do I have progressive values, yes, but those are Democratic values. We believe that everyone should have access to high quality public education. We believe that climate change is real, we believe in woman’s reproductive rights, we believe in criminal justice reform. So I would say to those individuals that I am optimistic about the future. You have trusted your members in the House of Delegates that we are a progressive majority. And we did not have a hard time getting re-elected. We grew our membership to 49, then to 55.
So, I think Virginia is ready and I’m optimistic because we have delivered on every issue we said we’d do. I think that will be taken into consideration. The future is about energizing young voters, it’s about giving them a reason to come out and vote in the elections. We need to recognize that for many years people were disenfranchised. When we go and talk to voters and we have a message that includes the needs of every Virginian, we will have a trifecta for years to come. Let’s look at what just happened in Georgia, where we spent time registering disenfranchised voters in black communities. We got them to turn out and we have to continue to do that in the coming years. I’m not worried at all because here in Virginia, it’s number one for business, but we have to be number one for workers as well.
If you don’t end up getting the nomination, would you return to running for your seat in the Virginia House of Delegates?
What I can tell you today is that I am running for Lieutenant Governor and working hard to get my message out. I am also serving as your delegate in the 31st district through December 31st. That is what I am focused on right now. There is no deadline that I have to think about right now. So, we don’t know what’s ahead of us, when the elections are going to happen and I don’t want to be making decisions prematurely. My constituents in the 31st elected me to work on concerns I want to improve in my term. Right now, I am running for Lieutenant Governor and I am focused on that at the moment.
After the events at the capitol last week, do you believe that any of your colleagues should be removed from office because of supposed support of efforts that helped perpetrate the eventual violence?
I think that we as elected officials, we should set an example right? We are elected in a democratic process. So, we should respect that democratic process and respect the law. When these individuals show behavior that is not acknowledging that it was the will of the people and are agitating individuals because they couldn’t win? I think that is wrong. And I think if they are in this job for a reason, I think they should step down.
Is there anything that you personally want to do to help calm tensions and bring some unity back into our politics after 2020?
Three days from now, (note: this interview was recorded before the inauguration) we are going to have a new President. That President has pledged to heal this country and appeal to unity. I can tell you as an elected official, I represent a Republican area, Fauquier County. They may not like me, but I will continue to serve my community, I will continue to show up to events. I will serve with dignity and respect.
I will not deny that there have been people who vandalize my yard signs. That have written nasty emails. At the same time, the majority of people believe in me, have voted for me and got me elected. I want to think about that and when I was re-elected I pledged to serve all of my constituents. Anyone who reaches out to my office gets an answer from me and I think as we look into the future, we have to think about respecting each other. We might disagree on a lot, but that doesn’t mean we have to disrespect each other has human beings. I would like to see us, as we move on, to agree to disagree on the issues. To respect each other and for violence to not be taken into consideration at all.
What would be your day one issue to fight for if you are elected as Lieutenant Governor?
First thing if I am elected is I will put a call to the Majority Leader and say that I will be a voice for the people. I want to be a voice for the voiceless who believed in me. I said I want to be part of the conversation. What are going to be the goals for the Senate, how can I contribute to that conversation? Representing the communities I represent and proving I’ll be fighting for working people.
After that, I’ll be looking to how the economy is going to look. My next step will be working with the administration and planning the next step. Like I said earlier, I’ve been working in local government for 20 years. I oversee a budget of 20 million dollars and a workforce 200 staff. So working in local government and knowing what to do, I would like to bring my expertise. I have a masters degree in public administration and specifically in social work. I think I can bring my educational and professional experience to help the administration provide the right steps. After that I want to develop a policy that sees more investment in public education that will see funding moved in the right direction. Protecting the environment, moving Virginia to a place that isn’t just number one for business, but also for workers. That will continue to be my agenda.