What made you decide to run for Governor?
I grew up in Petersburg, Virginia — one of the poorest communities in our Commonwealth. It’s a town that has been left behind. Too many families struggled to get by – including my own, as I was growing up. I was raised by my grandmother, and even though we didn’t have much, she always told me, “If you have it, you have to give it.”
That’s why I chose to attend Virginia Military Institute, become a public defender, and serve in the House of Delegates, putting service first, and it’s why I’m running for Governor now.
We need a leader who understands Virginia’s challenges and is ready to solve our problems, not apply band-aids that get us from one crisis to the next.
I’ll fight every day to ensure all Virginians have the opportunity to get good wages, fair benefits, and a first-class education, because I’ve lived the challenges that too many families in Virginia continue to face thanks to a broken status quo that has left working people behind. I’ll be a Governor who will start a new chapter in Virginia, instead of retreating to the past.
You were one of the first women to attend the Virginia Military Institute, what made you decide to go there for school?
I was in my JROTC class when the Supreme Court ruled that women had a constitutional right to attend VMI. Also, I was inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion and decided that yes, VMI was for me, too. I knew it in my bones – “Yes, I can do whatever my male classmates can do,” and committed then and there to go to VMI, and to graduate. And attending a military college was a natural next step for me, after being raised by my grandmother who always put service above self.
Two other male classmates from Petersburg High went to VMI with me. One of them told me he was going just to watch me fail. In the end, I was the only one of the three of us that went to VMI to graduate. I’ve been told “no” my whole life. Growing up in Petersburg, I was told I would never succeed, much less be one of the first women to graduate from VMI.
What made you decide to run for the House of Delegates in 2017?
The 2016 election hit me viscerally. Seeing Donald Trump win lit a fire in me — I knew I had to give back by running for office. And his win made me think “well if he can win, then I sure have a chance.”
So I got to work. My grandmother taught me to serve others always and I wanted to fight for real change which is why I ran for my House of Delegates seat, even though people told me no, that they had their establishment candidate already. I knocked on thousands of doors, while pregnant with my twin boys, and managed to flip my house district from Republican to Democrat.
What do you consider the most important piece of legislation you passed while you were a part of the House of Delegates?
There are so many! From fighting to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, to expanding broadband access for rural communities, to cleaning up toxic coal ash, I spent my time as Delegate passing legislation to ensure a more equitable Virginia.
But what I am proudest of is leading the fight to work with Governor Northam to pass Medicaid expansion to more than 500,000 Virginians. It has meant that so many of our most vulnerable Virginians — those who are underpaid, veterans, people battling addictions, people with disabilities, etc. — have a fighting chance. Virginians like my neighbors in Petersburg need that healthcare, and it was an honor to work with Governor Northam, who succeeded in his effort to expand Medicaid when others failed. Healthcare should be a right, not a privilege, and I’m proud to have played a role in expanding healthcare to so many Virginians. It’s also why my healthcare plan also focuses on expanding healthcare to even more people, and reduces the cost of prescription drugs and healthcare premiums.
You resigned from the House in late December of 2020, why did you make the choice to resign now before your full term was up?
All of us who love and live in Virginia are facing an especially challenging moment, and it’s going to take everything we have to come out stronger. Change can’t wait. It’s why I’m running for Governor, and why I’m devoting 100% of my time toward building a people-powered movement across the Commonwealth to tackle the problems that impact working families. We can’t wait around for help, only to be let down by the same broken system. It’s time for our Commonwealth to have a new leader with bold ideas and someone who understands the problems Virginians face, as I do.
What do you consider your top three policies for your platform as you’re running for Governor?
It’s all about building a Commonwealth that can bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic. We can’t apply band-aids in this recovery — we need to build a Commonwealth set up for Virginians to thrive long after the pandemic is over. The pandemic has exposed what so many working people have known for years — that too many people are working for far too much and barely making ends meet. That’s what informed my healthcare plan, making sure Virginians can get and afford the care they need. It’s what informed my economic plan, to get people the unemployment benefits they need and the good jobs they deserve.
You’ve taken progressive stances on many issues, but Delegate Lee Carter has also introduced himself into the field believing it was not progressive enough. Why should progressive Democrats back you over Delegate Carter?
I’m excited to share my vision of what the Commonwealth can be with Virginians. I understand the challenges Virginians face because I’ve lived them, and I have the solutions to solve them. I’m proud to have the support of unions that represent thousands of Virginians, grassroots organizations like Democracy for America, Sunrise Virginia, and so many more. These progressive leaders know I’m the only candidate in this race who will successfully fight to create a Virginia that works for everyone.
Some people are concerned that the Democrats could end up with three candidates all from the Northern Virginia area. You represented that area during your time in the House, but what would you do as Governor to make sure everyone in Virginia is represented?
I was proud to represent District 2 in the legislature, but I’m still a girl from Petersburg, Virginia, one of the poorest communities in the state, full of people who have struggled for decades. And one of the accomplishments I am most proud of is my work to expand rural broadband, especially in Southwest Virginia. Everytime I have fought for legislation it was always in the lens of, “How is going to help as many people as possible, especially those in parts of the Commonwealth that are often forgotten?” My policy plans as Governor represent that as well.
COVID-19 has destroyed many small businesses not just in Virginia, but across the entire nation. What is your plan to get people back to work and to help those who lost everything due to the pandemic?
The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated our communities and our economy, throwing hundreds of thousands of us out of work, shutting the doors of thousands of businesses, forcing our children to learn remotely, and, most tragically, causing dire health consequences for the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who have fallen sick, while many Virginians go without health insurance. My administration will work day and night to not only jumpstart our economic recovery, but to drive onward to build a more equitable Virginia where opportunity is available to all, as it should have been in Petersburg.
We’ll fix our broken unemployment system to immediately get help to the Virginians that desperately need it, faster. We’ll boost small businesses by strengthening their access to capital and spurring private investment, making it easier for them to secure the protective gear they need to operate, and cutting red tape. And we’ll boost union apprenticeship programs so that more Virginians have access to skills training that can lead to a solid career and a secure paycheck. By working together to implement effective policies that will save small businesses, create jobs, expand skills training, and lift Virginia families into economic stability, we can build a Commonwealth in which every one of us has a shot to succeed.
It’s your first day in office and you’ve just been sworn in as Governor, what is the very first thing you do?
My focus will be our COVID-19 response — ensuring Virginians have access to the healthcare they need, and the jobs they deserve. That will be the focus on day 1, 2, 3, and beyond.