On March 16, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to the two Democratic candidates running for the 42nd House of Delegates district (Lorton, West Springfield) seat currently held by Del. Dave Albo (R for “retiring from the House of Delegates”; bye bye!) – and which Hillary Clinton won by a whopping 57%-37% (!) margin in November 2016. Needless to say, this open seat represents a super-strong pickup opportunity for Democrats. The Democratic candidates here are Tilly Blanding and Kathy Tran. I asked the candidates if they could get me their responses by the first week in April and told them that I’d post their interviews in the order I received them. The first one I received back (in early April) was from Tilly Blanding – thanks! This morning, I received responses from Kathy Tran, see below for those. Finally, please note that the primary for this nomination will take place NEXT Tuesday (June 13), so if you’re a Democrat who lives in the 42nd district, 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 42nd House of Delegates district in Richmond.
My parents and I fled Vietnam as refugees when I was seven months old. Although many other countries offered us asylum, we waited 13 months for the United States to process our application. For my family, America has always represented hope, opportunity, and freedom. I’m running for the Virginia House of Delegates because I couldn’t just stand by while Donald Trump and Virginia Republicans dismantle the ideals that brought my family here.
I have devoted my career to fighting for all working families to have the opportunity to achieve the American Dream. During my 12 years at the U.S. Department of Labor, I shaped national workforce development policies and programs, informing and implementing national legislation that increased access to employment for millions of workers and jobseekers. I went on to work at the National Immigration Forum, one of the nation’s leading immigration advocacy organizations, to advocate for immigrants in the workforce. If elected, I will use this experience to advocate for all of Virginia’s working families, and fight against a national agenda that seeks to divide us.
To date, I am the only Democrat in the race who has been endorsed by members of the Virginia state House and Senate: Senator George Barker, Senator Adam Ebbin, Delegate Mark Sickles, Delegate Paul Krizek, and Delegate Mark Keam, all of whom represent parts of Fairfax County, where the 42nd House District is located. They know what it takes to both win in November and then join them in Richmond to stand up to Republican extremism and advance a positive and progressive vision for the future.
- What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
My husband and I moved to Fairfax County from Maryland when our oldest son Daven was about to start kindergarten to make sure our kids could go to good public schools. Today, I’m a mom of four and president of my local PTA. At a time when the value of public education is being questioned at the state and federal levels, it is more important now than ever to be fighting for universal pre-K, to fully fund our public K-12 system, including by raising teacher pay to at least the national average, and to make college more affordable.
Every Virginian deserves access to quality, affordable health care. An important first step is to expand Medicaid and ensure that 400,000 vulnerable Virginians will no longer have to decide between paying for health care over other essentials, or wait for a chronic condition to reach an emergency situation before seeking treatment.
I am committed to safeguarding and advancing the most fundamental rights of all Virginians. Whether you’re an immigrant or refugee like my family, Jewish like my husband and children, Muslim like our neighbors, African American or LGBTQ like our friends, or a woman like me, so many of us feel vulnerable and under attack by Donald Trump and the Republicans. While I still believe we can work to find some common ground with moderates to make progress on issues like investing in our public schools, modernizing Northern Virginia’s transportation infrastructure, and expanding access to health care, I will stand strong on protecting women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, civil rights, and voting rights.
- 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 was due with my baby daughter – the youngest of four – on Inauguration Day. Before the election, my husband Matt and I were excited about that due date. After the election, we dreaded bringing this new life into the world on the same day Donald Trump would become president. We feared our most sacred values as a family and as Americans were under threat. It was with that in mind that we decided to name her Elise Minh Khanh. “Elise” is inspired by Ellis Island, a beacon of hope for generations that Matt’s family passed through on their way to their new home. And “Minh Khanh” is Vietnamese for “bright bell,” inspired by the Liberty Bell. To us, her name means “to ring the bells of liberty and champion opportunity for all.”
In the weeks after she was born, as I held her in my arms, I realized I couldn’t give such an aspirational name to this tiny little baby and just hope that she is able to create a world that safeguards her future and the values that inspired her name. I realized that I needed to step up to fight for my childrens’ future now.
I am proudly a progressive. To me, that doesn’t just mean an ideology. It means that you actively fight to advance positive change. That has informed my career, from teaching ESL classes to detained asylum seekers in Newark, to encouraging entrepreneurship in Detroit, to running after-school programs for immigrant children in San Jose, to advocating for immigrants in the workforce at the National Immigration Forum. That was what motivated me daily at the Department of Labor, working to expand opportunities for low-skilled adults, dislocated workers, and disadvantaged youth through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), or transitioning service members and veterans through the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act. That understanding of progressivism – that when your country is in a moment of crisis, you will step up to defend and fight for your values – is the legacy I hope to leave for my children.
- Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
Mark Herring was first elected Attorney General in 2013 by a razor-thin margin. We have seen many Virginia politicians, when faced with close electoral outcomes and motivated principally by political self-interest, move to the center to try to pull away more votes from the other side. Attorney General Herring has instead served as an example of political courage for Democrats across the country. He has staked out principled, progressive stances and fought tirelessly for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, in-state tuition for DACA recipients, gun violence prevention, and environmental protections. He has done this not because it is politically expedient or advantageous to him personally, but because it is the right thing to do. The greatest test of any of our elected leaders is their willingness to lose their office to do what’s right. As the Democratic Party considers its future and what to fight for moving forward, I hope we are looking to examples like my favorite current Virginia politician, Attorney General Mark Herring.
Maybe it speaks to Virginia’s unique political culture of the moment that it could produce both the principled progressivism of Mark Herring and the vile, racist, xenophobic and hateful ideology of Corey Stewart. I trust enough in our commonwealth that the 2017 elections will show Virginia is at its best when we’re welcoming and inclusive, and relegate to the dustbin of history this divisive Trump agenda, along with the Confederate monuments Corey Stewart holds so dear.
- 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.”
c) No – I will push for an independent and impartial commission to draw political district lines in Virginia, even if fair redistricting threatens Democratic seats. We should be working harder to recruit and train strong, progressive candidates that reflect their communities, not just rigging the system in our favor instead and calling it reform.
d) No – The General Assembly’s near-complete rejection of the common-sense, bipartisan ethics reforms proposed by Governor McAuliffe’s Commission on Integrity and Public Confidence in State Government should appall Democrats and Republicans alike. The blatant disregard for even the most basic measures of accountability or ethics should cause serious pause for every Virginia voter. We must all demand better of our elected leaders.
- 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?
When my oldest son Daven was four months old, we took him for his first hike at Mason Neck State Park. It’s still one of my most cherished memories: hiking as a new family in one of our greatest natural treasures and seeing the bald eagles soaring above. But if we don’t take action to protect our environment, Virginia’s natural heritage and treasures like Mason Neck won’t be there for the next generation. If we don’t take action to combat climate change, we will destroy the planet our children will inherit.
Climate change is an existential threat, and requires urgent action. That’s why I have pledged to never accept campaign contributions from Dominion or Appalachian Power. That’s why I oppose fracking, and the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, offshore drilling, and uranium mining. That’s why I will fight to stop the dumping of toxic coal ash into our waterways, mountaintop removal mining and the construction of new coal plants, and start holding polluters accountable.
We need to invest in clean energy: for our environment, for our health, and for our economy. During my time at the U.S. Department of Labor, I helped jumpstart the bio-energy industry in Montana. We brought together growers, economic development agencies, workforce development leaders, tribal governments, educational institutions and other partners to put communities on a pathway to prosperity while producing renewable fuel sources.
We can’t leave it up to the special interests and energy monopolies to decide the planet our kids will inherit. I will never back down from fighting for Virginia’s clean energy future.
- Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?
I have spent my entire career dedicated to making sure all Americans have the skills they need to succeed in their own careers. I worked in various management and leadership positions at the Department of Labor to help shape national workforce development policies, helping veterans and military spouses, individuals with disabilities, low-skilled workers, English language learners, and other adults as well as disadvantaged youth get the education and employment services they need to achieve the American Dream. I want to take that expertise and experience to Richmond and work on policies that enable the commonwealth and Northern Virginia to be globally competitive by strengthening our workforce. Having a strong workforce is a win-win: workers will have the skills they need to advance in their careers and better provide for their families, and employers will be more productive and innovative. Strengthening our workforce also means defending our unions and their ability to advocate for workplace standards that benefit all of us; expanding access to quality, affordable health care for all Virginians; and investing in our transportation infrastructure to alleviate Northern Virginia traffic congestion.
- Yes or no answers. Do you support: a) a strongly progressive tax system, including a reasonable estate tax on the wealthy; b) non-partisan redistricting; c) allowing transgender people to use the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity ; d) closing the “gun show loophole” and taking other common sense gun measures; e) raising the gas tax and/or instituting a carbon tax (revenue-neutral or otherwise); f) reining in predatory lenders; g) fully restoring the rights of ex-felons; h) issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and otherwise defending their communities from xenophobic attacks; 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 to all.
- The 42nd House of Delegates district is a district that was won by Barack Obama by (6 points) and by Hillary Clinton (by 20 points!), yet that sees a major “dropoff” in Democratic voter turnout in non-presidential years. What will you do, both as a candidate and as delegate, to help turn that off-year Democratic “dropoff” around in HD-42?
One of the few things that seems to be uniting progressives, moderates, and conservatives today is the demand for new leaders with fresh perspectives in elected office who will represent the values of their community and fight for change. If the Democratic Party establishment resists the groundswell behind new voices and new leaders, not only will we continue to lose elections, but our ability to enact progressive policies that advance economic, social, and racial justice will be blocked and rolled back.
I am committed to lifting up these new voices, both as a candidate and a delegate. We need to stop taking Democratic voters for granted, and start giving them reasons to vote in off-year elections.
- 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?
Money in politics has a corrosive effect on our democracy. Special interests like Virginia’s energy monopolies, tobacco companies, and predatory lenders exert outsized influence in Virginia policymaking at the cost of the public. Not only does the influence of money in politics allow for elected officials to become beholden to special interests and high-dollar donors, but it also raises the barrier to entry to running for office by virtually requiring personal wealth or moneyed networks to compete in campaigns.
I would support a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and will fight to impose contribution limits in Virginia, with the ultimate goal of public financing of elections. There should be a level playing field in access to resources for campaigns, in which candidates devote more of their time speaking with voters instead of donors, and the best ideas and values to represent the district win elections, not the most money.
- 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 42nd district.
If I am elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, it will be because of the support we have received from mostly newly engaged, progressive grassroots, and I won’t forget that. As a Delegate, I will seek to actively engage and hear from the voices of diverse community stakeholders when drafting legislation or considering votes. Beyond that, it is imperative that elected leaders engage with the grassroots to empower progressive causes. When elected leaders and the grassroots work together, not only are our representatives better able to serve the people who elected them, but the grassroots have the power to lobby other elected leaders, build coalitions, and demonstrate the electoral cost of regressive policies to Democrats and Republicans alike. The effect of protests and town halls throughout our history up to today should make clear to anyone the power organizing and just showing up can have.
- If you are the Democratic nominee, what would be your main line of critique in the general election against longtime incumbent Del. Dave Albo?
Delegate Albo’s retirement has opened up our race as among the best Democratic pick-up opportunities anywhere in 2017. We talk to Democratic voters every day who may have voted for Delegate Albo in the past because of his constituent services or because they knew him personally, even while disagreeing with much of his politics. It is long past time we elected a Delegate who was attentive to her constituents’ concerns and invested in her community while also representing the progressive values of the 42nd District in Richmond.
- What is your vision for improving traffic congestion and moving towards more sustainable transportation solutions in the 42nd district?
Transportation isn’t just about getting from Point A to Point B – it’s about quality of life. Time spent in traffic means less time spent doing the things we care about, like being with family. We need a multi-modal approach to reducing traffic congestion. Ensuring that we have robust public transportation that will help people get to work, go to school, and access health services is critical. One of my top priorities is to improve Metro, starting with making sure it is reliable and safe – without these basic standards, commuters won’t use it and our traffic congestion remains. I will strongly advocate for dedicated funding to support Metro. Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is conducting an assessment of Metro’s governance and long-term financial needs, with conclusions expected this fall. I look forward to seeing what that study produces, and using a better understanding of Metro’s financial future to advocate for flexibility in terms of how each jurisdiction funds Metro.
We also need to make sure that the Atlantic Gateway Project along I-95 is completed on-time and on-budget. This $1.4 billion public-private partnership includes expanding bus systems, adding 1,000 commuter parking spaces, and adding new rail tracks. We also need to work together as a region to continue to position ourselves for future federal investments, and work with employers and workers to incentivize telework.