by Kellen Squire, an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, VA running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 58th District
I wouldn’t be standing where I am today, running for the House of Delegates, were it not for Tom Perriello. He showed me what conviction politics means, and what a relentless champion of the people looks like.
I first met Tom back in 2008, when I was still in nursing school. It was sometime in late September, if I recall correctly; I was a doe-eyed nursing student at UVA. There was some sort of forum about legislative issues related to nursing and healthcare, and the UVA School of Nursing invited both Tom and his opponent, incumbent Virgil Goode, to discuss them.
Mr. Goode sent a flunky of some sort to take his place— but Tom showed up himself. And, perhaps predictably, there wasn’t much of a contest. I remember the staffer sneering at a couple questions, as they made it pretty clear they felt like the forum we were holding was beneath them. At the time, Mr. Goode was supposedly ten or twenty points ahead in the polls— but c’mon, now. That’s the sort of feeling you’re supposed to suppress— you’re supposed to at least pretend like you give a dang about the forum you’re at.
Mr. Perriello was composed, prepared, and articulate. At the end of our forum, understandably, the Goode staffer fled with undue haste; but Mr. Perriello stuck around for some questions, even as a staff of his kept tugging at him, clearly conscious of his schedule— but Tom was notorious for jawjacking at folks incessantly, much to their chagrin.
Now, while I was working for the Obama campaign at the time, I was still a “recovering Republican.” I had watched the Republican party stray incredibly from the ideals I had been raised to think Republicans believed in. I dreamt of the day they’d be forced to realize the road they’d gone down was to their detriment, and sober up and fix their BS, party-before-country nonsense. I remember thinking, clearly, if Obama gets elected, that’s the only choice they have!
Because of that, while I could admit Mr. Perriello had acquitted himself quite nicely, I wasn’t prepared to cut him any slack. Pfft! Like some elitist Yalie who never worked a hard day in his life knows what I’m going through; puhh-lease.
And so— which I still feel bad about today— I was pretty disdainful to Tom when it came to be my turn to talk to him. Remember how the Goode staffer sneered at the audience? I pretty much did the same thing to Tom. But to Tom’s incredible credit, he never flinched. He was unerringly polite. He didn’t pretend to be anything he wasn’t. He looked me in the eyes, he responded to my concerns, and he was never off-put by my impolite demeanor. As we parted, he shook my hand and told me he respected my viewpoint and hoped he could earn my support.
That day, he earned not just my support— he earned my respect. And my vote!
I remember relentlessly pressing F5 on the state election website, watching returns roll in. I cheered when Tom got in by the slimmest margin in the country, and got Virgil’s old office because of the recount! I relished in having the hardest working, most dedicated Congressman in the entire country. If you guys remember 2009, it was a hellacious year— especially for Congressfolk in R + Anything districts. But Tom went to town hall after town hall, with people angry— screaming!— at him. And I know for a FACT that some of those folks were packing heat.
But he went anyway. Time and time again, he went. All over Southside, Danville, Rocky Mount, Mecklensburg. Farmville, Dillwyn, Scottsville. Charlottesville, Ruckersville— back then, the 5th didn’t extend all the way to almost Boyce, so the northern terminus was in Greene County. The man was relentless. His book seemed to be written this simply:
Go where people live. Talk to them. You don’t have to agree with them on every issue— you just need to let them know you give a damn! And if you have to lose an election because you’re doing the right thing, then by God, you lose the election and do the right thing— rather than do nothing, or the wrong thing, if it means you keep your job.
And, indeed, the kicker for me was in 2010, when I was watching the evening news in the wake of the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and heard Tom say, “If the worst thing that happens is I have to go home in November, and people get health insurance, I can live with that.”
I don’t care the stripe of the politician, anyone who espouses that viewpoint— and acts in a way that shows he believes it— deserves support. And although Tom lost in 2010, a mere 4,500 votes would’ve swung the election to him— while I watched folks in much “bluer” districts get blown out of the water.
It’s been tough this year; we have two great candidates for Governor. Lieutenant Governor Northam is a great man— heck, I’ve yet to meet another candidate anywhere who knows what epigenetics is, much less why it’s important! When I talked to him, he looked me in the eye and told me with complete sincerity that he knew firsthand how important nurses were, and why we needed to stand up for nurses in Richmond. And it’s been amazing, too, because I’ve yet to meet a single Perriello supporter who doesn’t grant him the same respect. When your most ardent opponents can’t help but respect you, it says a lot.
While I would gladly work my butt off for Ralph this fall, I’d like to announce today that I am proud to endorse Tom Perriello for Governor. I’m proud live the example he set; proud to run as a Democrat who stands up and fights for working class folks, who’s not afraid to talk to anyone and everyone. Proud to fight to bring principled, responsive, and accountable leadership back to Richmond. To fight unapologetically for our values. American values. VIRGINIA values.