Interview with Rod Hall, Democratic Candidate for HD-31 in Virginia

Below is the full transcript of my recent interview with Rod Hall. I want to thank Rod for taking the time to speak with me this past Friday. The audio version of this podcast can be found at the bottom of the article, as well as on our Spotify and Apple Podcast networks.

What made you decide to run for delegate?

Well, Joe. Thanks for your question. Listen, service is in my DNA. I come from a family where service was at the core of everything we did. To quote Dr King, the ultimate and persistent most important question is what are we doing for others and I think it is a testament to my mother that she ingrained that in the heads of her kids. My brother, served close to 40 years in the United States Army, retiring with the rank of sergeant. My sister works with the United States Post Office and then it came down to me I was a little adventurous as well and so wanted to come to DC and immerse myself in public service and policy, and establish record of service at the federal level with respect to my service as staff on Capitol Hill.

From there, went on to serve in the, the Obama administration here within state I chair the Commonwealth aviation board was recently appointed by Governor northern to the Virginia passenger rail authority. And so, you know, services, is it runs through every, every vein in my body and is, it is in that spirit that I’m, I’m offering myself as a candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates district 31

You’ve worked for the Obama administration and the McAuliffe administration and the Northam administration or at least were appointed by all those administrations in some form. How did those experiences affect your view of our government?

First off, they were all and then continued to be fantastic experiences, right. For me, there can be no greater the then service I think it is the ultimate measure in which our lives are judged. If you provide time on the hill, working on transportation projects mass transit projects that help people. You know get from their homes to their jobs to, you know, service centers, what have you, to my time in the Obama administration serving as the head of Legislative Affairs for the Federal Aviation Administration, being the administration’s point person, with respect to interfacing with the House and the Senate, advancing the administration’s priorities.

With respect to aviation policy, traveling across the country to communities, both large and small, being able to listen to their concerns about their needs with respect to aviation and economic development. And I think, you know, particularly dad experienced truly helped me to be an effective member of the Commonwealth aviation board was appointed as a regular member. Ultimately, elevated to Chairman, and what I’ve loved so much about my service on the aviation board is that it allows me. It has allowed me to go to every corner of the Commonwealth to visit airport communities with airports with again varying varying sizes, and so honestly for me. Transportation is, It’s not only a quality of life issue but for a lot of communities, their airport serves as their primary principal economic development driver, if you will for corporations looking to come in and potentially establish service and so, you know, our state’s airports are essentially the community’s doorsteps to potential economic development opportunities so it has been a sheer delight for me to get my get my hands dirty and then work if you will with fishermen to passenger rail authority.

Governor Northam has leaned forward into expanding commuter and passenger rail across the Commonwealth so to be able to sit on that board and to have a direct hand in the future of passenger rail within the state, particularly for this district as a number of folks, you know, prior to, you know, pre pandemic. Utilize VRE to get to work to and from to and from work and what we’re doing with that the Virginia passenger rail initiative to, you know, increase efficiencies along the eastern seaboard to allow for more efficient freight and passenger and commuter rail traffic is just going to be phenomenal it’s going to increase the service options, multi directional service options. It all comes back to improving improving the quality of life. I’ve always been a big fan of the adage, when done right when done equitably when done to, you know, from a, from a standpoint, ensuring that the proper stakeholders have been involved policy can serve as a very, very effective tool to change the trajectory and the quality of life for for communities across the board.

What did you do to first get involved in Virginia politics?

Yeah. Well, one of the first things I did, I mean obviously having worked on the hill, had a great appreciation for just the, local grassroots nature of democracy. I guess I would I would back up and sort of point to my grandmother, she’s since passed away. You know she grew up on sharecropper lands out in out in East Texas, and her husband, my grandfather, you know, when they attempted to engage and democratic process had not only their economic, livelihoods threatened but their what their actual livelihoods, threatened for wanting to be participants in the democratic process. One thing led to another to purchase their own land, so on and so forth and so when I think about, you know, some of the, the indignities suffered by foreigners and particularly folks like like my grandfather and grandmother that that suffered the indignities with an eye towards one day their children and their children’s children being able to be able to participate in the democratic process is one of the things that has always propelled my interest in service and being involved in policy and politics and so once I established roots here became very active in my local democratic committee began to, obviously, you know, becoming engaged with a host of community. My Alumni Chapter of my fraternity, we are have a very big mentoring presence here within the community and so obviously that led to interfacing with a host of elected officials here at the local and state level, and one thing led to another and I look up in here I am running for running, running for office.

So, what would kind of be your plan to fix the transportation issue in Northern Virginia?

I appreciate that and before I take that let me go back to, I made reference to my brother at the at the top of the interview, I just want to get his, make sure I get his rank right he retired with the rank of sergeant major so I don’t want him to particularly hear this and come in come after me his, his nickname is Warhammer. I don’t, I don’t want to feel the wrath of my older brother, at some point. But going back to your question on Transportation and Infrastructure yes most of my professional life has been immersed in transportation policy and funding and I have a great appreciation for how smart and equitable transportation investment can transform communities, improved quality of life jumpstart economic development, all of which I touched on earlier.

And so, you know it’s it’s interesting to see sort of the, the federal folks sort of grapple with the issue and I think obviously until they figure out what they’re, what they’re going to do. I feel strongly that states are going to have to take a stepped up leadership role and providing forward leaning transportation solutions that are one sustainable to equitable, and three, expand transportation choice within communities with the greatest need for example here in our area, there’s no weekend mass transit service and so obviously I think we need to sort of reimagine sort of what the 21st century that the next level transportation system looks like right, folks, you know, still need a means to get to work. You know pass, you know, the traditional weekend day of Friday, if you will, until examining ways that states could enable localities to be able to invest more operational funding into their mass transit solutions to expand services for people that that are in need of particular transportation service to get the work again to get to services within the community schools, what have you, is something that I would obviously be taking a look at right out of the gate, increase investment in mass transit. I think the ultimate goal for us here within this part of Northern Virginia is absolutely the key prize for us we’ll be at some point, an extension of the natural blue line down into further down into our area but that is not going to be a cheap endeavor.

If you will, you know, when you think about, on average, I think I read this out of one of their reports on the Federal Transit Administration, you know, per mile of light rail could cost anywhere between 100 to 500 million per mile, if you’re looking at the stations involved, that could average anywhere between 80 and 300 million for stations, and then the actual trains themselves, anywhere from 17 to 22 million so it’s not going to be a cheap proposition, if you will, but I think from the state level there are things that can be done to expedite things on the front end. I think that I am I am well suited to be very much a key contributor to the overall movement to ultimately get, you know, additional mass transit service and natural light rail down into our region. I mentioned the exciting developments on the horizon, with respect to VRE hopefully constituents with within the area will soon be able to realize some of those increased services. So, you know, those are just those are just a couple of things.

I would also like to take a look at the Virginia transportation infrastructure bank revolving loan fund obviously, you know, with respect to the transitioning away from more carbon heavy intensive infrastructure to more clean, sustainable energy projects ensuring that we have the necessary financing tools to construct these projects is going to be imperative and to the extent that we can leverage both traditional and non traditional financing mechanisms. That’s certainly something that I will also be championing as delegate, as well so I guess the long story short, you know, my goal would be to ensure we’re leveraging every dollar we can. I know the importance having, you know again worked in both the federal level as well as in a congressional office, working with local constituency groups and local governments, you know, the time, you know, I feel that I have the temperament the know how, where with all to be an effective to be a very effective, competent, delegate for for 31st district.

Do you support Medicare for all, or do you think health care reform should go down another route?

You know, for me I view it as a fundamental right. And as delegate I would work to ensure that every resident of the Commonwealth has access to quality, affordable care no matter their, their means, or the zip code, in which they reside. I was talking to someone the other day, during Black maternal health week and was just given, given an example, because I’m sure the questioner was like well what what goes wrong hold the weight and standing to discuss maternal health, and my response was, Well, it’s because I’ve lived it. I almost lost my wife and my daughter she’s down to your two year old daughter.

During her delivery, it was very complicated delivery which long story short, ended up with both my wife in the adult ICU because she had lost a lot of blood, and my new baby girl being in the NICU because she had some complications during the procedure as well. So for the next five days which is usually a joyous occasion with respect to the arrival of a newborn, and the mother is usually bonding with her newborn, I spent pacing from one wing of the hospital to the next, you know, checking in with, with the very dedicated teams, you know, working to save their lives and all the while, could not help but to think, if we did not have, the proper health insurance, proper health encourage ensure coverage could things have turned out differently. Thank the Lord, they are both healthy and and up and about, and, you know, completely moved on from that from that episode but for me that that episode really crystallized. For me, it’s just that the vital importance and necessity of some baseline level of health coverage for, for folks here within the Commonwealth.

You are running in a primary. And in that primary does include the incumbent delegate, Elizabeth Guzman. Do you think you’re a better fit for this district than her?

So, I appreciate that and there, there are a couple of folks that we’re all competing to have the honor to represent the constituents of the of the 31st district, then I would just, just make a point to say that, you know, this is the very first proceed is the fate of the people, and they will have an opportunity to decide early early voting as is currently underway and the ultimate person date is June 8th. I feel that based on my collective set of experience, experiences, my track record with respect to issues that you know folks care about with respect to quality advisory issues transportation and infrastructure being one of them as we as we discuss my having established a good working relationship with a host of area leaders here within the area and across the Commonwealth whom I’m proud to call endorsers I feel that I am as a result of that best suited to lead the charge on behalf of the representation of the constituents of the 31st House District.

You had a very good fundraising quarter for first time candidate but your main opponent again Delegate Guzman. she dropped out of lieutenant governor’s campaign, and will be able to transfer her funds from that campaign to her delegate campaign. Do you think you will be able to keep up with the amount of money that it seems will be spent in the remaining months of this primary?

So to your point, yes, my campaign had a very good first quarter. I think it speaks to the very positive substance based campaign that we have run all throughout since announcing back in mid January. I do not expect that to expect that to change. I am most thankful and grateful to all of our friends and supporters and contributors that have supported me today, and expected that that level of support will continue to be strong on through primary, primary election day on, on Chairman, on June 8 And you know and you know I want to underscore, you know I did not, you know, get to, you know, intentionally seek out an opportunity to challenge the incumbent I am I am in this race because the incumbent announced that, you know, they were running for lieutenant governor, and no longer intended to, to, you know, represent this, this area. So, you know, as a result, here I am.

I want to know what’s your view on criminal justice reform in Virginia?

Absolutely. Thanks for the question. It is, it’s it’s it’s a, it’s a loaded one for me right. As black man, as, as a father of two, two young sons, it has been. I’ll just be honest with you, it’s been a roller coaster of emotion for me, if you, if you will. My oldest son is now 11. He understands that in a very meaningful way that keeping up with current events as part of his his dad’s job and so, you know, the Florida incident last year, really caught his attention really sparked a lot of questions. And so, as a father, I had to have some very serious, substantive. Just bear conversations with with my boys about, you know, the strain history off, you know, oftentimes between African Americans, particularly Afro American men and law enforcement. And, you know, I remember. I remember one, one day last year, after having a conversation with with my son about, you know, how do you what you should do with respect, you know, have you ever, you know, involved in law enforcement, you know, stop or stop something like that and we had a very long conversation, you know, I went for a run afterwards and it just became so much just a moment of days, you know, with the video of George Floyd on the ground and the ensuing, you know, peaceful protest, you know, went for a run and just just hopeless.

I just broke down it just it just became became so heavy on me, if you will. And so, you know the other week I was, I was delighted to see what is hopefully some form some modicum of justice the Floyd family feels as a result of that. As a result of that vary but I think, you know, just being completely open and transparent here, you know, I still had in the back of my mind. Okay, this could, this could potentially go, another, another way, thankfully, you know, Justice was, was, was, was ultimately achieved but it’s been emotionally emotionally draining. For me, if you and I think it I think that underscores the amount of work that will continue to need to be done, not only within the Commonwealth but across the contrary to ensure that there is a meaningful level of trust between law enforcement and the communities and the communities they serve. I fully appreciate fully appreciate that the Commonwealth is now the first state within the South to have to abolish the death penalty that is something that we should know certainly herald, but at the same time, I think we, we should not lose sight of what appears to be inhibiting from, you know, individuals being digitally digitally treated and killed on death row relative to what appears to be black man still, you know, being killed and for routine traffic stops and so I think, you know, speaks to more, more work, more work needs to be done.

What do you think would be the first bill you would look to propose on the floor of the House of Delegates?

absolutely, a bill with respect to expanding universal pre K, that would probably be my first first first piece of legislation. The bat, I tell you, I’ll tell you why. You know my mother was a teacher’s aide for more than three decades, the father of two kids in public school, and I just feel within every fiber of my core, that all kids deserve an opportunity to benefit from a great public education regardless of their zip code, socioeconomic status, what have you. I lost my father at the age of four due to, due to a massive stroke and I can only imagine what must have been going through my mom’s head at the time, thinking, Lord, I’m now a widow. How do I keep this young kid on the straight and narrow and out of trouble, and thankfully there was a pre K strong pre K program in my community that she was able to leave, you know, drop me off at and not have to worry about whether or not I was being left in a nurturing environment there was preparing me to read and count, before I entered the door of kindergarten

And so, I think, currently the Commonwealth ranks in the middle of middle of the pack amongst states with respect to pre K access for third and fourth graders, I think there’s been, you know the past couple of years to go into northern ministration some some significant gains some significant gains made, but to the extent that we can ensure we cover all goal three and four, you’re deserving during four year rolls and universal pre k, that is something that I most definitely want to be a champion for not only will it benefit their, their educational development, but will also provide a level of economic economic security for the families.

Joe is a college student studying Public Administration at George Mason University while also minoring in Journalism. Joe is the Head of the Interviews Team at Elections Daily, while also Deputy Director of the Elections Team. If you would like your candidate to be interviewed by Joe, you can DM him at his Twitter account @JosephSzymanski or email him @[email protected]

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