On April 17, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to the three Democratic candidates running for the 67th House of Delegates district (Chantilly/Centreville) seat currently held by Del. Jim LeMunyon (R) – and which Hillary Clinton won by a whopping 22 points (!!) in November 2016. This district clearly represents a major pickup opportunity (I ranked it number two overall in terms of competitiveness) for Democrats. The candidates here are John W. Carey, Karrie Delaney and Hannah Risheq. I asked the candidates to return their answers by the end of April, or earlier if possible, and the first one back was from John W. Carey (click here for that interview). A few minutes ago, I received responses from Hannah Risheq; see below for those. Finally, please note that the primary for this nomination will take place on June 13, so if you’re a Democrat who lives in the 67th, make sure you vote!
- 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 67th House of Delegates district in Richmond.
I am a first generation American. The daughter of a Muslim Arab Immigrant father and a Jewish-American mother and the oldest of four children. My family’s love and commitment to each other has taught me the values of inclusion and compromise. I also know the reality of discrimination and ignorance.
Growing up, I always helped my parents by working in their own small businesses. This meant, I experienced firsthand the loss of income and well-being they experienced after September 11, 2001. They owned and ran a local restaurant in a small town in North Carolina. After 9/11, the business suffered an almost total loss of its previously loyal customer base, as well as its good will within the community. Then we moved to Virginia, and were welcomed and accepted as the multi-cultural, multi-religious family that we are.
My family’s struggles inspired me to work hard, first as an undergrad at American University, and then as the recipient of Master’s degrees in Public Health from George Mason and Social Work from Columbia University. I have learned that the best way to make change is to work with and listen to people one on one. My qualifications as a health scientist and social worker prepared me to work on the ground, within my community, and utilize empirical evidence to solve problems and move Virginia forward.
As a lifelong Democrat and a volunteer for both of Barack Obama’s campaigns, as well as Hillary Clinton’s presidential run, I developed a calling for politics. On election night 2016, I was sitting in the Javits Center about 100 feet behind the platform where Clinton would have spoken had she won. Like so many that night, I left devastated. As the months have gone by, I’ve witnessed – and experienced – the growing level of discrimination for immigrants and others who don’t represent the narrowest of American ideals.
I have also been inspired. Now, as I start my own family alongside my fiancé, I vow to protect the diversity of Virginia.
- What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
Medicaid Expansion and Protecting Coverage for pre-existing Conditions
As a health professional, I have advocated for and researched the benefits of Medicaid expansion. I will stand with healthcare advocates and fight for improved health. More specifically, I am passionate about keeping comprehensive coverage in Virginia. Easily accessible and affordable healthcare saves lives and improves the economy through job creation and keeping people healthy. A healthy Virginia is a working Virginia.
I will also advocate for expanding eligibility criteria to include some of Virginia’s residents with the greatest need, such as people living with disabilities who are not always covered by Medicare. I will defend pre-existing condition coverage, which could affect up to 50% of the population.
As an Epidemiologist and health policy worker, I vow to stay current with new by-the-minute developments on the Republican’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. With Medicaid expansions, 400,000 Virginians would gain access to affordable quality healthcare. I know the benefits of healthcare access and I will lead the movement to have affordable and accessible healthcare for Virginians!
Youth Suicide Prevention & Behavioral Health Service Expansion
In VA, suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 10-24 years old. In Loudoun County, the youth suicide a rate is higher than the state average and is up 500% over the previous year. In Fairfax County, 16 young people committed suicide in 2014 and in 2015 6% of 12th graders had attempted suicide. Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death—but only if we act now. As a Delegate, I will advocate for in-school suicide prevention curricula and more accessible, less stigmatized, mental health services. Governor McAuliffe has already pushed for an increase of $31 million to fund behavioral health programs. I will work with this budget expansion to improve the services we provide in Virginia District 67.
Increasing opportunities for women & girls in STEM and closing the pay gap
In 2015, Virginian women were paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men, amounting to an annual wage gap of $10,419. I will work to strengthen Virginia’s equal pay laws so that women are better able to fight back against pay discrimination. I will also promote opportunities for better paying jobs for women by removing barriers to entry into male-dominated fields and promoting women in STEM training and educational programs. STEM jobs pay 26% more than other fields and are growing at 1.7 times the rate of non-STEM jobs. In Fairfax County, the greatest amount of job growth can be seen in STEM-related fields. To truly close the wage gap, we must close the gender gap in STEM.
- 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 self-identify as a progressive. The HuffPost recently called me a child of the resistance and “the spirit of what is driving the Democratic Party forward right now”. I gladly accept those titles and I am excited to live up to the responsibility of a leader in the resistance.
As a progressive candidate, I have made campaign finance reform a priority and have pledged against corporate dollars and money from energy monopolies. As a social and public health worker, I have dedicated my career to serving the greater good by defending the rights of the working class and increasing opportunities for socio-economic mobility
Additionally, my campaign is helped by Run for Something, an organization that helps progressive millennials run for office.
- Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why? Assuming one of your least favorite Virginia politicians is Del. Jim LeMunyon (R), what are your main criticisms of him?
My favorite Virginia politician is Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He has advocated for Medicaid expansion, pushed to increase services for behavioral health, acted to protect women’s rights, and defended our values as Virginians by protecting marginalized communities. Gov. McAuliffe has vetoed ridiculous bills put forth by the conservative right and continues to stand up for the people of Virginia.
Corey Stewart is my least favorite. I’ve talked about him in my last post on Blue VA. Based on his tweets and remarks, I think he is a racist, homophobic, anti-feminist jerk.
- 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.”
HB 2313: Yes, transportation is an obvious issue in our district and across Northern Virginia. HB 2313 was a great start but we still need to do more to advance transportation in our area.
Repeal of Estate Tax: Currently, VA doesn’t have an estate tax and without it, we are losing potential state earnings. We could use funds from this tax to fund public service and school programs. Right now, there is an issue of over-crowding in our schools in Fairfax and Loudoun. We are also experiencing teacher shortages. These funds could increase teacher pay, which would lead to more teachers, and smaller class sizes.
HB 5001-2011: Every 10 years, Virginia redistricts based on census data and the party in power is given the authority to draw boundaries. The last adjustment to district lines happened in 2011. My district, VA 67 became 1.3% more Republican because of the 2011 lines. Additionally, 1% of our African American residents, 2% of Asian residents, 1% of Hispanic/Latino residents, and 1% of all other minorities were zoned out of VA 67 and pushed into other districts. Moving these minority voters to neighboring districts silences the voices of the people by moving their votes to areas where their vote may not be as critical.
The next redistricting effort happens in 2021, one year after the 2020 census. I support OneVirginia 2021’s movement to adopt an amendment to the VA constitution that will establish an independent and impartial commission to apply a fair and transparent drawing process for political districts in 2021.
2014 and 2015 ethics reform packages: Virginia has one of the most relaxed ethics laws in the nation and has received an “F” from the State Integrity Investigation. The most recent update to the reform puts a cap on “gifts” from lobbyist and potential VA business people. The cap does not include meals that are provided to representatives while they are on “official duties” and it does not address the absence of rules governing campaign funds.
Since there are no regulations on financial campaign donations, many grassroots and up-and-coming politicians are at a disadvantage. As candidate who has agreed not to accept donations from energy monopolies or corporations that work against the public, I am going to push for campaign finance reforms in Virginia. These will level the playing field for true grassroots politicians and progressive campaigns that will work for the people and not corporations. This is going to be one of the first things I push for when I am in Richmond.
- 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?
I am one of the candidates who signed the pledge against accepting donations from energy monopolies. I do not support offshore drilling, fracking, pipelines, uranium mining, new coal-fired power plants, mountaintop removal of coal mining. I will fight against anti-environment policies alongside other progressives in the VA House.
I am also going to fight for more clean energy. I would love to see the Commonwealth follow in the footsteps net-zero energy schools like Discovery Elementary School and/or Albemarle County Public Schools, which use solar as a main energy source. In the long term, this will save money and also protect the environment. The saved dollars could go back into education by increasing teacher pay, therefore increasing the number of teachers and decreasing classroom size. It’s a win-win.
- Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?
I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.
- Yes or no answers. Do you support: a) a strongly progressive tax system, including a reasonable estate tax on the wealthy; Yes b) non-partisan redistricting; Yes c) allowing transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity ; Yes d) closing the “gun show loophole” and taking other common sense gun measures; YES e) raising the gas tax and/or instituting a carbon tax (revenue-neutral or otherwise); YES—I’m waiting for the day that almost all cars are electric. f) reining in predatory lenders; Yes g) fully restoring the rights of ex-felons; Yes h) issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and otherwise defending their communities from xenophobic attacks; YES i) moving Virginia from its current hostility to organized labor towards a far more welcoming, positive place for unions and working people in general? Yes
- The 67th House of Delegates district is a district that was won (by wide margins) by Hillary Clinton (58%-36% over Donald Trump), Barack Obama, Tim Kaine, Terry McAuliffe, etc., yet sees a major “dropoff” in Democratic voter turnout in non-presidential, non-gubernatorial years. What would you do, as delegate, to help turn that off-year Democratic “dropoff” around?
I think that the political process has turned a lot of people off from voter participation. We make it difficult to 1. Register to vote and 2. Vote. One of the first things I will push for in the House is automatic voter registration via the DMV and mail-in ballots. This has worked to increase voter participation in Oregon, which now has the 8th highest voter participation in the country. I also think that voters shouldn’t have to justify reasoning to early vote. If we make the process easier, more people will cast a vote.
- 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?
We have one of the most financially influenced state level governments in the country. We need campaign finance reform and we need to take money out of politics. I am going to fight to make sure that corporations are NOT considered people in VA. As I have stated throughout this survey, I have pledged against taking corporate donations AND I have pledged against taking money from energy monopolies.
- 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 67th district.
Evidence drives my passion for policy; therefore, regardless of partisan lines, I will fight for the facts. If Democratic leadership promoted a policy that I thought was ignoring the evidence, I would fight to show them the science and data behind the policy that proves the people in my district would suffer.
- What is your vision for improving traffic congestion in the 67th district? Do you support more transit options? a dedicated funding source (e.g., a regional sales tax) for Metro? more/wider roads? other options?
As an environmentally conscious representative, I’m going to work with the budget to find ways to increase public transportation accessibility as well as increase affordability and quality. We can do this through Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). I will also work with traffic engineers and experts to develop one of the most robust plans to solve congestion especially on Route 28 and I-66.
I am also going to fight against new and raised tolls and push for flat fees in the HOV/HOT lanes.