On May 11, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to the two Democratic candidates running for the 31st House of Delegates district (Prince William, Fauquier Counties) seat currently held by Del. Scott Lingamfelter (R) – and which Hillary Clinton won by 7 points in November 2016. This district represents a pickup opportunity for for Democrats, of course with a strong Democratic campaign and candidate this summer/fall. The candidates here are Elizabeth Guzman and Sara Townsend. I asked the candidates to return their answers within 1-2 weeks, and the first one back (on May 22) was from Elizabeth Guzman. Late last night, I received responses from Sara Townsend – thanks! 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 31st, 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 31st House of Delegates district in Richmond.
I’m homegrown here in the 31st district. In 1984, my newlywed parents bought their first house off of Davis Ford Rd. here in Prince William County and I went to Parkside Elementary and Middle School. My love of this district brought me back here as an adult to help my parents take care of their farm in Fauquier County and to become a teacher here in Northern Virginia. I’m proud to be a middle school civics teacher today and I’m proud to be studying towards my PhD in Education Policy.
I know the issues facing the 31st district. I ran in 2015 to face those issues head on and to advocate on behalf of every person here in our district. Now more than ever, we need a leader in Richmond that knows the values we all share — what is happening in Washington right now will trickle down to our backyard and I am determined to fight back against their agenda.
- What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
There’s a couple issues that I’m specifically passionate about. As a teacher, our students deserve to have a school system that works for them and not the other way around. Our educators deserve to have the resources they need to be able to teach effectively. And our state needs to make sure to give public education the funding it deserves. We need to create the opportunity for students to be graded not just according to a standardized test, but to more flexible standards that are more holistic.
Healthcare is another issue that I am really passionate about: specifically, access to mental healthcare. We’re in a mental health crisis here in Virginia — a 2015 study ranked Virginia 38th overall in mental healthcare, and 48th in the country for treating young people suffering from depression (that’s only one in four getting the treatment they need). And part of the reason for these terrible numbers is because of our failure to expand Medicaid here in our state. Scott Lingamfelter’s party-line vote has hurt Virginians and will cost us over a billion dollars in the next six years. I’ll work tirelessly for Medicaid expansion and work to get it done.
Transportation is the third issue that’s most important to me—we need to fight for infrastructure reform and work to cut down traffic times for commuters across our district.
- How would you describe yourself ideologically – “progressive,” “moderate,” “liberal,” or something else? How does your record of votes, endorsements, and other activities reflect your political ideology?
I’m a progressive. I’m proud to have been endorsed by Run for Something, which supports a new generation of candidates with a progressive agenda. They formed after the 2016 election as a movement dedicated to fighting Donald Trump’s reckless and conservative policies, and I’m proud to be a part of their movement for change at the local level.
I’m also dedicated to working to get progressive things done– it’s tempting to stand on your soapbox and talk about ideas, but speaking alone won’t fix things. I will be a fighter in Richmond for the progressive values that we share.
- Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite Virginia politicians and why?
I’m constantly inspired by Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s dedication and passion. She is a real fighter. Despite the Democrats maintaining a minority, she’s able to get real effective pieces of legislation through. Her bill, HB 2267, allows women to obtain a full year’s supply of birth control at one time, and she was a leader in fighting for new procedures in handling evidence kits for sexual assaults. She holds coffee hours regularly in her district where her constituents can come talk to her, and many pieces of legislation have come from their concerns. She constantly represents the ideals of what I want to fight for in Richmond.
Scott Lingamfelter’s reckless and conservative agenda has hurt the 31st district and people across Virginia. He would rather give teachers a gun than a raise. He has received an A+ rating from the NRA consistently throughout his tenure, and he fought strongly for people with restraining orders to be able to keep their guns, saying: “There is always the potential that someone could file a temporary restraining order out of harassment. Believe it or not, people are vindictive.” His vote on Medicaid expansion has cost the state billions, and he has repeatedly voted against the interests of our public schools and students.
- 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.”
a) Yes; b) No; c) No; d) Yes
- 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 strongly support efforts to bring more renewable energy into our state. Virginia should be leading the way in requiring utilities to maintain high renewable energy standards. We also need to ensure that we are giving people the training and education they need to succeed as new jobs come in, especially in parts of Virginia that have relied on fossil fuel development for decades.
The pipeline should be under strict and rigorous environmental review. As a teacher I care deeply about the future of our state, and that process should dictate the pipeline decision. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality needs to go back to its original decision for a review of every single water crossing and we have to make sure that we fully understand its environmental impact before we make any decisions.
- Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?
Virginia should be known as a “worker-friendly” state. We need to champion policies that encourage good-paying jobs and bring more opportunities to people here in Virginia, instead of working at the cost of our residents.
- 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?
a) Yes; b) Yes; c) Yes; d) Yes; e) Yes; f) Yes; g) Yes; h) Yes; i) Yes
- The 31st House of Delegates district is a district that was won by Barack Obama by (7 points) and by Hillary Clinton (by 7 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-31?
We need to work aggressively in the field to turnout voters. I’m proud to have a strong grassroots campaign that’s working to get more voters out for our June 13th primary, and we will continue pushing that momentum forward through the general election.
- 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 need to shake things up. I think a great first step towards reforming our system here in Virginia would be the legislation that is sponsored by Delegate Marcus Simon that bans the personal use of campaign money by candidates.
- 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 31st district.
My constituents will always come first, and I will fight tooth and nail for their interests over my party if need be. I am always willing to take votes that will buck the party line, especially if it is for the good of my district.
- If you are the Democratic nominee, what would be your main line of critique in the general election against longtime incumbent Del. Scott Lingamfelter?
Scott Lingamfelter has repeatedly voted time and time again against the interests of his constituents inside the 31st district. His position on Medicaid expansion will cost the state billions and has already specifically cost 1,100 people inside of the 31st district access to affordable healthcare.
As the current chair of the Militia and Public Safety Committee in Richmond, he would rather give teachers a gun than a raise. He has voted for guns in airport terminals, guns in bars, and has even supported having armed guards at daycare centers.
I will highlight his conservative voting record in my campaign while I talk about my determination to get things done in Richmond for the 31st district.
- What is your vision for improving traffic congestion and moving towards more sustainable transportation solutions in the 31st district?
Transportation is a huge issue here in the 31st. I was talking to a voter at the doors who said that she was tired of all the “bandaid fixes” to our infrastructure problems, and they’re right. We’re building whole new developments without the roads to service them or the schools for the children in them. As a result of our poor planning because of our Republican representatives, our kids are being schooled in trailers. We need to work to get more funding for transportation initiatives to fix our traffic quagmire. I also support expanding the Blue Line into Prince William County.