Home 2017 Races Blue Virginia Q&A: Mansimran Kahlon for House of Delegates (District 13; PW...

Blue Virginia Q&A: Mansimran Kahlon for House of Delegates (District 13; PW County/Manassas Park City)

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On March 15, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to three Democratic candidates running for the 13th House of Delegates district (Prince William County, Manassas Park City) seat currently held by Del. “Sideshow Bob” Marshall (R-Outer Space) – and which Hillary Clinton won by 14 points (!) in November 2016. In other words, this district represents a DEFINITE pickup opportunity for Democrats. The candidates here are Danica Roem, Mansimran Kahlon, Steve Jansen and Andrew Adams (note: if someone from Adams’ campaign contacts me with his email address, I’ll send him one of these questionnaires right away). I told the candidates that I’d post their interviews in the order I received them, and the first one I received back, within hours of sending it out, was from Danica Roem. See her responses here. The second completed Q&A I received responses from Steve Jansensee those here. Now I’ve received responses from Mansimran Kahlon  — see those below and thanks! Finally, please note that the primary for this nomination will take place on this coming Tuesday, June 13, so if you’re a Democrat who lives in the 13th, 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 13th House of Delegates district in Richmond. 

My name is Mansimran Singh Kahlon and with the support of progressives like you, I’m going to be the next Delegate representing the 13th District of Virginia’s House of Delegates. I’m a small-business owner and progressive activist, but if you remember two things about me, let them be:

(1) I’m going to beat Bob Marshall in November and (2) I will always be a tireless advocate and defender of our shared progressive values.

I’m a Sikh from Punjab, India. Sikhism is a monotheistic Indian religion that emphasizes service over oneself. Our values are American values., For me, wearing a turban and beard is everything — it is my connection to a thousand years of religion, culture, and tradition. When people see me, the first things they notice is my turban. Recently, the National Sikh Campaign raised millions of dollars to educate everyone on why we wear turbans and foster a dialogue with our neighbors in our communities. The 500,000+ strong Sikh-American community is finally coming together to make our voices heard — already several Sikhs have declared their intention to seek public office, and if I’m elected I will be the first Sikh-American to serve in any state legislature.

Whether its due to my religion or the values my parents instilled in me, I’ve always wanted to serve. When I was younger I was denied placement in J-ROTC due to my religious expression – so instead I began working with Sikh-oriented advocacy organizations to make real changes. My good friend, Capt. Simratpal Singh, is now the first Sikh who was given a religious waiver to wear a turban while he was deployed in Afghanistan. I’ve also worked with the Sikh American Legal Defense Fund and Sikh Legislative Caucus to help the TSA and FBI develop screening protocols for Sikhs, and have consulted with law enforcement in the wake of hate crimes against my community.

My parents Jatinder Kaur Kahlon and Avtar Singh Kahlon are some of the hardest working people I know. They have devoted everything to my sister and me. When they brought me from India to the United States at the age of three, they wanted us to have a better life than they had growing up. The current administration would not welcome me in the same way. All my life my parents have had to work multiple jobs to support our family, and when I was old enough I got a job to contribute as well. Like so many Virginians, they sacrificed being around for baseball games and band concerts to make sure there was food on the table and a roof over our head. It’s because of all their hard work that I believe the American Dream is still achievable — but as the next generation, we need to work hard to make sure that every American continues to have the opportunities to succeed that existed for my parents when they came here.

The economic crash in 2008 hit our family directly. Like so many other families we had to close the family business. To keep our family afloat, my dad had to sell our house in Centreville and move us farther out to Gainesville. And, despite a much longer commute, he started driving a taxi in DC — he taught me the resilience needed to succeed.  Later when I was attending Rutgers University, crushing student debt motivated me to start my own business. Now I own and operate a fleet of trucks that deliver produce and other goods across the United States. Next time you have guacamole on your toast, or cut into a watermelon this summer, I hope you think of me. My family and I were fortunate enough to emerge from the recession, but so many are still suffering. We need to make sure that anyone with a bright idea and passion can found the next Microsoft in their garage.

Ever since my family moved out to Gainesville, it’s been apparent that our current Delegate Bob Marshall isn’t doing his job. When he’s not missing votes and racking up absences, he’s been determined to attempt to regulate who we can marry and where we can go to the bathroom. Instead of fighting for Northern Virginia’s fair share of our tax dollars to fix our roads and reduce overcrowding in our schools, he obsessed with reducing government services. Bob Marshall has been in office longer than I have been alive, and in that time has prevented the construction of vital road and infrastructure, including extending the metro into our district. Over his long career he’s turned down nearly a billion dollars in funding that would’ve improved our community. After many attempts by fellow Democrats, this year is the year to finally unseat Bob Marshall and take back the House of Delegates.

I am running for Delegate because I believe that every Virginian deserves the opportunity to succeed like my family had. We need to make sure everyone can attend the best schools and has every resource available to compete in the 21st century’s global marketplace. By enshrining our progressive values in the law, we can ensure that every Virginian, no matter their race, religion, or sexual orientation can have a family and a good job. When Virginia’s families thrive, so does our Commonwealth, and so does our United States of America.

  1. What three issues are you most passionate about and why?

Economy, Education, Equality!

Resist attacks on equality. Hold Richmond politicians — and Trump — accountable and lead the charge against far-right attacks on kids and families, women and workers, healthcare and equality.

Resist attacks on public education. Stand up to Betsy DeVos and Richmond insiders who would steal funding from public schools and will invest more money in kids and teachers in our community so every child has a chance to succeed.

Resist attacks on working families. Support innovation to create 21st-century jobs here at home and fight for family-friendly workplace policies like paid leave and fair, family-sustaining wages.

  1. 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 Progressive! Senator Bernie Sanders has been a legislative role model for me for years, and I strongly supported him in the 2016 Presidential Primary.

I’ve been active in the Prince William County Democratic Committee since my family moved to Gainesville. When we first moved here there was no organization in my precinct at all. Having first volunteered in 2008 for President Obama’s first campaign, I knew how important grassroots organization is to flipping districts blue. For the past two years I’ve been involved with the leadership of the county party, and was elected to Chair the newly reconstituted Brentsville Magisterial District. For the past few cycles now, I’ve helped coordinate canvasses, phone banks and fundraisers, and our hard work has paid off. Last year Secretary Clinton managed to win all the precincts in our district.

I believe in the strength of grassroots campaigning – going door-to-door in your community having real- and real important conversations about the issues that affect their lives. We’re going to win this campaign through the hard work of our supports and our community.

  1. Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why? 

Favorite: My favorite politician of all time is President Barack Obama. His message of hope, change, and forward not back resonated with the American people, no matter their age, race, creed, religion, or sexual orientation. As a person of color, it was inspiring to see someone like him lead our country, and recognize the US is a nation of immigrants. Also, his scandal-free and transparent administration illustrate just how awful the Trump administration is on every issue and at even simple functions of governing we progressives value.

My favorite Virginia politician is Senator Mark Warner. How he’s working to ensure the Trump-Russia investigation moves forward in spite of the wishes of Mitch McConnell has been refreshing.

He’s also had a track record of real results, which more folks in Washington should work toward. When he was Governor, without a majority in either chamber, he passed budgets which invested more money in education.

In the Senate, I know not all of his stances have been perfectly progressive. However, Senator Warner has worked and voted to protect a woman’s right to choose, he helped pass Obamacare, he’s worked to make sure President Obama’s clean power plan doesn’t get destroyed by Trump and McConnell, he’s working to make college more affordable for more people and eliminate the burden of student debt, and again – his committee is doing their job on Russia hacking the election (unlike their House counterparts).

Mark Warner, along Senator Tim Kaine and Governor McAuliffe show us how Virginia should be a national leader and fight against the backwards ideas of Republicans and Donald Trump, including their response and Governor McAuliffe’s actions in response to Trump’s recent withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Least Favorite: Bob Marshall, voting against our district’s families and stopping equality at every turn.

    1. 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) HB 2313, the comprehensive transportation package passed in 2013: Yes
      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: No
      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: No
      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,”: No
  1. 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 do not support: offshore drilling on Virginia’s coastline, fracking, gas pipelines (which have been prone to burst in some places lately – like in Alabama), uranium mining, new coal-fired power plants, or mountaintop removal mining.

I want Virginia to be a renewable and green energy economy. We are safer and more secure if we don’t rely on natural resources at home or abroad to bring us electricity or fuel our vehicles.

  1. Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?

As a small-business owner myself I understand that if we want to have a vibrant economy we must create an environment that is attractive to both businesses and workers. For too long Virginia has suffered from the legacy of  “Right to Work” legislation. I fully favor enacting anti-discrimination legislation and increasing the minimum wage to $15.00/hour. But I also support lowering taxes and offering incentives to rejuvenate our local economies.

8. 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) 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
  • 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
  1. The 13th House of Delegates district is a district that was won by Barack Obama by (11 points) and by Hillary Clinton (by 14 points), yet that sees a major “dropoff” in Democratic voter turnout in non-presidential years. What would you do, as delegate, to help turn that off-year Democratic “dropoff” around in HD-13?

I’m the only candidate in this race who has worked tirelessly in past election cycles to organize and elect not only Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but candidates for every other position on the ballot . As a longtime activist and present Chair of the Brentsville Magisterial District, I understand how to build grassroots support. In addition, I believe have the ability to engage and expanded the electorate by being a candidate who reflects a new generation of political leadership. My campaign has been very successful harnessing the engagement of the resistance movement. Finally, we look forward to working with the DVPA statewide campaign to draw the resources of all of Virginia to flip this seat.

  1. 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 agree 110% that Richmond is broken – and I think Del. Marhsall is the prime example- he’s been in office since before I was born! We need to fundamentally change how our state legislature functions, including ethics reform and campaign finance changes. I proudly signed the  pledge to not accept any contributions from Dominion Power and will refuse money from any organizations that have business practices I disagree with. So far all of our contributions have been from real folks and small business contributions.

Without a doubt I’ll be shaking things up in Richmond! I’ll be the first Sikh to ever be elected to any State Legislature. As an immigrant, a student of public schools, a millennial and an entrepreneur, I’ll be bringing a bold new generation of leadership to Richmond with me.

  1. 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 13th district. 

I’ll be the Delegate for the 13th District, not merely a rubber stamp for the Party. If you look at the legislation that has been introduced in past sessions, the first 100 bills don’t adequately reflect the needs and concerns of the residents of the 13th, or for most Virginians. If I have concerns over a bill, you can trust that I will be loud and bring up those issues directly. We need transparency in government- I’ll work to make sure these discussions are had in the Committee room and not behind closed doors. In addition, I pledge to let my constituents know my decision and rationale on every vote. I want what’s best for my district and I want to make sure my votes in the House of Delegates reflect the progressive values and forward-thinking approach the 13th District and Virginia needs.

  1. If you are the Democratic nominee, what would be your main line of critique in the general election against longtime incumbent Del. Bob Marshall?

Let me be clear. This year we are beating Bob Marshall. Since day one our campaign has been educating voters about how ineffective he is. Hundreds of bills failed, countless absences, and rejecting hundreds of millions of dollars that would’ve fixed our roads and schools. Del. Marshall is Virginia’s Donald Trump and we’re going to make sure everyone knows that come November.

Our campaign isn’t just repudiating Del. Marshall, we’re also giving the voters something to believe in. I’m dedicated to protecting the progressive values we actually hold in our district. Compared to Bob Marshall I’ll be a champion of equal pay for equal work, preventing discrimination, protecting immigrants, ensuring there are homes for veterans and protecting Medicare for Seniors. We can count on Bob Marshall to do these things, and that’s why we need to fire him in November.

  1. What is your vision for improving the terrible traffic situation in the 13th district?

The 13th is in dire need of comprehensive infrastructure planning and development. We need to have a first of its kind infrastructure study to determine how we’re fixing traffic in Northern Virginia not just for tomorrow, but for the next 50 years. Whether it’s I-66, Route 28, or Route 29, everyone has been stuck in traffic while travelling the 13th. There are many solutions to fix these roads and there’s no quick fix that we can enact overnight. I’m very interested in widening the roads where possible, removing unnecessary traffic lights, reducing intersections, and constructing frontage roads.  In order to fix these road we’re going to need to work with our fellow legislators and elected officials at all levels of government. This is going to be a long and hard project, but I’m young and ready to get to work.

My ideal would be significant long-term infrastructure development following a comprehensive development strategy. We need to work on expanding the VRE and Metro in Prince William County. As this will take years to construct, I propose a multi-staged plan that allows the sites of our future metro stations and transit hubs to be used immediately as bus terminals and commuter lots. In addition we need to make sure that when investing in these large projects we don’t divide our communities just to provide pathways to D.C. but also unite our communities with vibrant town centers, and ways to get from one side of the highway to the other.

Additionally, I want to say that I am completely against the implementation of tolls on I-66. The tolls on I-495 and I-95 are some of the worst deals I’ve ever seen in both business and government. We need to renegotiate those old plans and make sure that we don’t allow private companies to profit from us paying for our roads twice.