On April 8, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to all Democratic candidates running for the 45th House of Delegates district (Alexandria, south Arlington) seat being vacated by Del. Rob Krupicka. The candidates are Larry Altenburg, Craig Fifer, Julie Jakopic, Mark Levine and Clarence Tong. I told the candidates that I’d post their interviews in the order I received them. The first one I received back, on Monday, was from Larry Altenburg. Last Thurday, I received responses from Clarence Tong. Now, I’ve gotten back Julie Jakopic’s answers, which you can read below – thanks! As soon as I receive the remaining two candidates’ answers, I’ll post them. Finally, please note that the primary for this nomination will take place on June 9, so if you’re a Democrat who lives in the 45th, make sure you vote!
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, and specifically, what in your background and/or temperament makes you the best qualified of the Democratic candidates to represent the 45th House of Delegates district in Richmond.
I have a clear vision of where government can create opportunities andmake a difference in people’s lives. I’ve led commissions and nonprofit boards nationally and here in the 45th district, fighting for early childhood education, economic opportunity, social services, and housing. I’ve also built a business that helps governments and organizations throughout the nation improve the effectiveness of their services. As a delegate, I want to bring this experience to Richmond to help us find ways to give every child and family real opportunities to reach their potential.
My mom raised my brother and me by herself, after my father took his own life. I saw firsthand how hard it was for families to make ends meet and provide all of the opportunities they want for their children, and it taught me the importance of access to quality education, access to healthcare and mental health care, and economic opportunity on a level playing field.
2. What three issues are you most passionate about and why? What specifically have you done to further those issues? What would be the first bill you’d introduce in the House of Delegates?
Expanding children’s access to safe, quality preschool education
Early care and education has lasting impact. We can already identify differences in brain development for low-income or traumatized children as early as 18 months of age. These differences can have longterm ramifications throughout schooling and well into adulthood. As chair-elect of Hopkins House PreSchool Academy, where I have helped expand our programs to two additional schools, I understand the need to strengthen safety requirements, such as background checks, for child-care providers as well as set quality learning standards to ensure that all children start school ready to learn.
Expand access to health care and mental health care.
We need to find ways to get Medicaid expansion done. That will take winning back the Senate and working with HHS, but it is a must. Published estimates vary on the number of Virginians who could be covered by Medicaid expansion from a high of 400,000 (http://havcoalition.org/medicaid-expansion) to a current estimate of 195,000. According to the Commonwealth Institute, nearly 200,000 Virginians – 2,500 here in the 45th district – need us to close the health care coverage gap. We have already lost more than $1.8 billion in federal funds for medical care in Virginia. It’s unacceptable. Furthermore, as a former chair of the Alexandria Community Services Board and because of my own family’s experience, I understand that we need meaningful mental health reform. That means changing regulations, streamlining the business processes, and providing adequate funding, not moving money back and forth from substance abuse treatment to mental health treatment. We also need to address the housing needs of those assisted by the Community Services Boards, those struggling to rebuild their lives after mental illness or substance abuse, and those who live with intellectual or developmental disabilities. That’s why in Alexandria, I led our board to work closely with the community to invest in nearly $15 million in affordable housing.
Ensure a level playing field to give all Virginians better economic opportunities.
I joined and chaired the Alexandria Economic Opportunity Commission because I know how important a level playing field is for each of us to be able to succeed and for our communities to thrive. We worked hard to increase regulation of predatory payday lenders, provide better protections for utility consumers, and strengthen workforce development programs to assist job seekers. These are issues that matter to voters here in the 45th and across the Commonwealth. In Richmond, we can do even more. I’ll continue the work we did in Alexandria on payday lending, utility rates, and workforce training programs to help even the economic playing field for all. I’ll also work to make sure our minimum wage is a living wage. You shouldn’t have to borrow money to heat your home at rates that are multiples of what wealthier individuals pay just because you can’t get access to a job that pays a fair wage. We have to help end that cycle of crushing debt.
First Bill – Make access to quality education a high priority.
If I’m elected I will introduce legislation that makes sure we don’t give up on our kids. I’ll introduce legislation to ensure that all kids in Virginia have access to free full-day kindergarten and pre-K opportunities in environments that parents can rely on and find safe, and to ensure that all children start school ready learn, starting with our lowest performing schools. Virginia sends more students through our justice system than any other state. I’ll introduce legislation to provide training for teachers and administrators to address alternative methods to support troubled kids and increase cultural competency in working with students of color and those with disabilities as well as to provide alternatives to suspension and adjudication.
Like Del. Krupicka, I care deeply about education and educational access. I’ll also introduce additional legislation to help students afford college or other training they need to get jobs that pay a living wage and have career ladders to grow and sustain their families and our economy. For example, I’d work to make the Coal Tax Repeal for Higher Education a reality. This bill, this year labeled HB 1877, repeals tax breaks for coal and uses the revenue to expand the Virginia Guaranteed Assistance Program, with fifty percent dedicated to supporting low-income students from coal districts who would otherwise not be able to attend college.
3. How would you describe yourself ideologically – “progressive,” “moderate,” “liberal,” or something else? How does your record of votes, endorsements, employment, and other activities reflect your political ideology?
I’m a results-oriented progressive. I think that we need to stand firm and speak clearly on progressive values. We should not cede our position on matters of principle. However, I also know that trumpeting a position alone doesn’t get us wins in Richmond. We also have to find common ground, build coalitions, and develop and implement winning legislative strategies.
I’ve led four separate commissions and boards of nonprofit organizations operating in the 45th district on a range of critical issues- early childhood education, economic opportunity, social services, and housing – and in each we’ve had to work in exactly this way within the board or commission and with other stakeholders and constituencies. My approach has always been to advocate for those in our community who needed support, and then to work hard to create a process that puts everyone together at the same table to achieve that goal while also ensuring each stakeholder’s interests were addressed. For example, I worked with the Hopkins House leadership to expand the focus of Hopkins House from a focus on geographic location to a broader concept of mission and children in need. It’s also how I first met Rob Krupicka. When I was a Vice Chair of the Alexandria Community Services Board and he was a new member, we worked together to locate and purchase a house to create a program for those re- entering the community after substance abuse treatment. We worked closely with the neighborhood to build trust and address resident concerns. This was the first home I worked with the city and community to develop and maintain. Today, between the CSB and Sheltered Homes of Alexandria, which I currently chair, we have nearly $15 million in housing for those with disabilities.
4. Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
My favorite elected official is Del. Rob Krupicka. We have worked together on our shared priorities for nearly 20 years. During that time, I have learned so much about how to build coalitions to get things done. I’ve also learned how to stay focused on the goal as you bring people to the table, which is what makes it possible to both fight for what is right and collaborate to get things accomplished.
I am torn between two current or recent elected officials who trouble me. First is Bob McDonnell. His actions demonstrate how desperately we need to make sure that we ensure that no Virginian can obtain greater access and influence in government simply because of wealth. I am grateful we are finally speaking truth to power on ethics reform, but it’s tough to see that conversation arise as a result of such a damaging moment in Virginia history. Moving forward, it’s our job to ensure proper reforms remain in place to keep legislators accountable, and I’m glad Governor McAuliffe is seeing that through. And then there is former Delegate Joe Morrissey. I simply don’t understand how an unapologetic convicted child predator not only believes he should stay in office, but is able to do so.
5. If you had been in the House of Delegates at the time, would you have voted for a) HB 2313, the comprehensive transportation package passed in 2013; b) repeal of Virginia’s estate tax, which is costing our state around $130 million a year in order to benefit a few hundred of the wealthiest Virginians; c) the 2011 redistricting bill HB 5001, which gerrymandered the state and helped to lock in a Republican majority in the House of Delegates for the rest of the decade; or d) the 2014 and 2015 ethics reform packages, which many (myself included) have criticized as extremely weak, possibly even a step backwards in the case of the most recent “reforms.”
While the vote on any particular bill depends in part on the context of other options on the table, in general, here is how I believe I would have voted on thesebills:
a) HB 2313 – Yes. While it may not have been perfect, any bill of that size requires compromise. Northern Virginia gridlock is infamous, and this was a critical first step. Now, it’s up to us to continue providing infrastructure funding by revising our tax code (for example, by raising the cigarette tax and/or eliminating the wasteful coal tax credits).
b) Repeal of the estate tax – No.
c) HB 5001 – No. I support a non-partisan redistricting process.
d) Ethics reform – No, I would not have supported the package presented – especially considering that the bill included loopholes on travel and eliminated the aggregate gift cap (since restored); that bill was not real ethics reform, it was an attempt to placate Virginians without fixing the problem.
6. What is your vision for Virginia’s energy future? Do you support any of the following: offshore oil drilling, natural gas “fracking,” new natural gas pipelines (e.g., Mountain Valley Pipeline, Atlantic Coast Pipeline) uranium mining, new coal-fired power plants, mountaintop removal coal mining? If not, what will you do to fight against these things, and to fight for a healthy environment, energy efficiency, and renewable power?
Decisions around energy are complex. We need an energy future that relies on renewable resources that minimize pollution. In a world in which our current energy production relies heavily on offshore oil drilling, natural gas fracking, coal and nuclear power plants, the challenge is how we make that transition. In Virginia, we can help to move the country toward the goal of a totally renewable energy future by the choices we make about energy production here. We should start by not adding new sources of fossil-fuel-based energy production within Virginia to prevent further deterioration of human health, water quality, and our environment; to protect the tourism that energy production threatens in our state; and to begin to build more broad-based and sustainable economic models for communities relying on economies so heavily dominated by single industries.
As a state, climate change is the biggest environmental and economic threat that we face, and we must take action to curb our own carbon pollution and prepare for some adaptation. As one example, the Hampton Roads area and Chesapeake Bay are among the United States’ most threatened by climate change-induced sea-level rise. The environmental and economic damage we may sustain in the next century could be devastating and cause many billions of dollars in damage.
Moreover, the pollution from fossil fuels is harming our health and unnecessarily increasing our health care costs. From increased respiratory ailments like asthma in areas with substantial air pollution and degraded water quality, increased birth defect and cancer rates in and near mountaintop removal coal sites, our use of coal and fossil fuels are unnecessarily harming us and burdening our health care system.
We in Virginia need to do everything we can to reduce carbon and other pollution that directly diminishes our water and air quality. I would start by opposing any additional mountaintop removal coal mines and any new coal-fired power plants. I do not have confidence that uranium mining can be done in southern Virginia without endangering groundwater and downstream surface water supplies, and I therefore would support the continuing moratorium on uranium mining.
Our coastline is an important resource to our Commonwealth. Adding Virginia’s oil and gas reserves to existing reserves will do nothing to increase our energy security as a nation. Before considering any offshore gas or oil drilling, I believe we need to fully explore investing in substantially more solar and wind energy production.
At the same time, I am mindful that we cannot turn away from carbon-based economy overnight. It seems unlikely that we can improve our renewable resources and reduce consumption rapidly enough to fully produce all of the energy that our economy needs in the near-term. For that reason, I have a mixed view on natural gas. Natural gas burns cleaner than coal and so can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions while more renewable energy sources are brought on line. However, to get these benefits, we need to address the problems of gas leaks in old infrastructure, especially in older cities in the Northeast. At the same time, I have significant concerns about the risks that the use of many chemicals in fracking operations pose a contamination risk to groundwater, and thus to human health and future economic development in the areas being fracked. I would oppose any additional fracking that requires injection into the ground any chemicals in concentrations not allowed in drinking water.
I remain undecided about construction of major new natural gas pipelines across Virginia. I am not satisfied that we have adequately answered several important questions including whether these pipelines would reduce the use of coal and especially mountaintop removal coal in the Southeastern United States and whether the pathways for each pipeline can be constructed in ways that avoid environmentally sensitive areas.
7. Yes or no answers. Do you support: a) a strongly progressive tax system, including a reasonable estate tax on the wealthy; b) a “Dream Act” for Virginia; c) allowing gay couples to adopt; d) closing the “gun show loophole” and taking other commonsense gun measures; e) raising the gas tax and/or instituting a carbon tax (revenue-neutral or otherwise)?
a) Yes, we need a strongly progressive tax system, including a reasonable estate tax on the wealthy
b) Yes, we should pass a DREAM Act for Virginia
c) Yes, we should allow gay couple to adopt, with additional legislation ensuring marriage equality and civil rights protection for all Virginians, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
d) Yes, we should close the gun show loophole, adopt protections advocated by Del. Krupicka to ensure courts and police have stronger powers to remove guns from people who may have mental illness that puts them and others at risk, and protect our children by keeping guns out of our schools.
e) Yes, and the revenue generated by taxes must be accompanied by clear plans for use of the funds to further reduce pollution and congestion.
8. Given that the 45th House of Delegates district is a solid “blue” district, and thus a “safe seat,” it is crucial that whoever is elected has a plan to help elect Democrats – preferably progressives – across Virginia. That includes fundraising, organizing volunteers, and maximizing turnout in the 45th district for statewide and Congressional elections. Do you agree with this vision for the Delegate from the 45th district, and if so, what exactly is your plan to accomplish it?
I agree that Democratic delegates from solidly blue districts need to support other Democrats statewide and support turnout and fundraising efforts for statewide candidates. For over 20 years, I have worked tirelessly with local committees by hosting phone banks and events to raise money and recognition for both statewide and local candidates, including most recently Gov. McAullife and Lt. Gov. Northam. Furthermore, the 45th district deserves a strong, clear voice to advocate for what we believe in, and I hope to be that voice.
9. Do you agree or disagree that Richmond is broken – for instance, the tremendous influence of money, lobbyists and corporations (e.g., Dominion Virginia Power, car title/payday lenders) on legislation – and needs major ethics reform? More broadly, if elected to the House of Delegates, would your general attitude be more “go along, get along” with this system or to “shake things up?” Please be as specific as possible in your answer. For instance, would you support campaign finance reform that sharply curtails the power of corporations, lobbyists, and special interests?
I would not characterize Richmond as “broken.” Under Gov. McAuliffe’s, Lt. Gov. Northam, and Attorney General Herring’s leadership, the lives of many Virginians have improved over the past sixteen months. In addition, on a range of issues including reducing testing burdens on schools, Del. Krupicka has shown that, with determination and hard work, you can find common ground on many issues with the party across the aisle while pursuing matters that benefit us in the 45th district. However, we have allowed certain interests to have oversized influence on the legislative process in ways that work against the interests of most Virginians, and we need to reshift the balance to make sure that citizens’ concerns can be fairly heard and addressed.
We need further ethics reforms. I support Gov. McAuliffe’s efforts to cap total gifts from a particular individual at $100 total, rather than daily. I also think that we need to reform our process for drawing legislative districts to make individual districts more competitive and make the process less subject to such severe partisan advantage. I would support greater restrictions on campaign contributions within the limits Citizens United allows, and further restrictions if the Supreme Court rules they are possible. I also would support increases in transparency that will bring certain types of attempts to influence legislators and elections into the ‘sunshine,’ including better and more frequent disclosures of donors. At the state level, we could require that 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organizations that spend funds advocating for or against a candidate disclose the sources of the funds used for these purposes.
10. Please tell us how you would stand up to party leadership, and even to a Democratic governor, if you believed that they were wrong about an issue and/or that it would hurt the 45th district.
I think it is important for Democrats to work hard to stand together on issues because it maximizes our ability to be effective on the issues of greatest concern to Virginians, but I also know that we certainly won’t always agree among ourselves. I believe in debate, even with our friends, is part of how we develop the best options and policies. We ought to listen carefully and thoughtfully to one another, but as representative of the 45th district, I am accountable to this district first and foremost. I think that it is important that our delegate be willing to stand up vocally for our district and our values when other Democratic leaders believe we should go a different way on a particular issue.
For example, out of my experience in advocating for providing assistance to families and for creating economic opportunity, I had substantive concerns about policies that Congressman Beyer had floated. I raised these concerns and engaged him on those points, and that led to constructive dialogue and the opportunity to coordinate the Congressman’s Poverty Advisory Committee. There will be other issues where other Democrats and I may disagree on, and I would expect that by engaging one another we will be able to make sure that the policy strategies on which we ultimately settle will be the strongest and most effective they can be.
These occurrences are fortunately infrequent, but I have no issue with advocating hard for what makes the most sense for the 45th district. Engaging and listening to one another and vetting ideas in public forums are critical to developing strong, effective policy.