by Kellen Squire
2017- the only year in which a lawyer can lecture a nurse on how we need to be more understanding of the plight of incumbent politicians and their bank accounts.
Last week, I had the first forum with my opponent, Delegate Rob Bell (R-Charlottesville), the first of hopefully four or five — and the first he’s had to do since 2009. It was set up and administered by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia… and, appropriately, was held at two o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, VA (you can find an unedited podcast of it here).
The crowd was…hmm. So, my friend Angela Lynn, who is running in the neighboring 25th District (she’s an absolute bulldog, look her up if you get the chance), debated her Republican opponent right before I debated mine. At one point, in reference to “voter fraud”, he advocated for a government biometric database that you’d be required to be catalogued in to vote, implied anyone who didn’t vote didn’t want to try hard to do it (why they should have to try hard, he never said), and commended the notion of partisan gerrymandering- and the crowd cheered him.
I mean, I knew it wasn’t set up to be a “friendly” audience, but geez louise, man.
But that’s okay. I don’t look to go places for people to cheerlead for me. I go to tell them about me, and my plans for fighting for Virginians. Still, the format was relatively modest; two minutes for responses, and a minute follow up for each candidate, with questions selected from the audience from notecards written and handed up to the moderator, and a coin flip on who goes first.
Now, on this, in case you thought I was joking- the moderator in question is a good friend of my opponent’s, and on top of that, runs a Republican opposition research firm. There were a few raised eyebrows recently, when one of the local Democratic Party-endorsed candidates for school board paid him to conduct oppo research on another Democrat. See, that helps give him a veneer of being “bipartisan,” and being specifically used to try and dig up dirt on another Republican gave folks a bad taste in their mouths.
So, we got introduced. Or, kinda… because regardless of the name tag in front of me, the fact he’d said it several times before during that forum, or that I had just had lunch with him at the candidates’ lunch for an hour, he suddenly forgot my name mid-introduction. But, hey; he was a nice guy, and could’ve just had a brain fart. I’ve certainly done that before. No worries! Let’s keep going.
Our first question was on gun control; the moderator chuckled and read the statute number for a law affecting Northern Virginia localities, giving them the power to forbid firearms in certain places. The reason he read the statute number aloud being that my opponent has a reputation for having an almost Rain Man-esque memorization of the Virginia Code; interesting how that got to be the first question asked. Almost as if they were trying to haze the new guy.
Turns out that it takes more than that to rustle an emergency department nurse’s jimmies- and, even worse, my opponent paused and admitted he didn’t know the statute number from heart, either. Dang. Nice try, though, y’all. But he went on to say that, no, of course not- you oughtn’t restrict the carrying of firearms anywhere.
I pointed out that even Thomas Jefferson, who once held the very seat we’re running to represent, had a “no firearms allowed” policy at the University of Virginia, and that letting localities make these decisions was, indeed, possible while still honoring the 2nd Amendment.
Next up was Medicaid Expansion; they asked whether or not we were in favor of it. This led to the most thunderous applause of the day (something I hadn’t expected) after I gave my answer:
Mr. Bell, of course, tried to equivocate on this, even after I pointed out that two years ago, every major hospital group in the Commonwealth of Virginia had offered to pay the state’s share of that care in perpetuity, thereby destroying their “principled fiscal conservatism” claims of being afraid the state would get stuck with the bill. “Someone has to pay,” he said.
Yeah- I know. I’m an emergency department nurse. I see who has to pay every single day of my life. It’s me, along with my brothers and sisters in emergency services, who have to pay- and the people who “make too much money” at $9-12,000/year to qualify for Medicaid. We’re the ones who have to pay.
Next was a question on gerrymandering, which Mr. Bell went into great detail talking about how hard it is, and, y’know, are we going to go for compactness, or communities of interest, or- y’know, guys, there’s lots of things to think about. It’s pretty hard. Just trust the General Assembly, though; Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry gave them the power to figure it out, and we should really just trust ‘em with it.
My argument was pretty simple- the General Assembly has abused the trust held in it by the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, and they should not be allowed to draw the lines for those districts ever again, regardless of which party they belong to. I mentioned Ed Gillespie’s strategy of buying the internet search history of every Virginian as a means to maliciously gerrymander the Commonwealth of Virginia, which actually elicited gasps amongst the crowd- and to which my opponent didn’t even bother to counter, motioning for the next question instead.
Finally, the kicker- campaign finance reform. Are you in favor, or are you against?
I’m unequivocally in favor, I said. What’s more, the way we have campaign finance structured now is a lot like heroin dealers structure their businesses. Look, my campaign has over thirteen hundred unique donations, and all that money came $10, $20, $50 at a time. It was hard work. All these diaries I’ve written here, all the phone calls I’ve had to make for call time, the forty hours a week extra work on top of my job as an ER Nurse and time with my family, etc. It’s damn hard work! It’s not for the faint-hearted, and is self-selecting for anyone not really interested in working for the people of their district.
So I win in November- and that’s when it starts. I get a $1,000 check in the mail from some special interest group, shadowy PAC, or the like. No strings attached. “Congratulations on your win,” the note with it says, “you’ll do your district proud in Richmond.”
Just like that- a thousand bucks. No calls made. No speeches given. No house parties hosted, no diaries written, no concern trolls questioning your sincerity in the comments section, no angry diatribes from people who hate you because of the letter in front of your name, no media hit pieces, no threatening phone calls.
Well… maybe just this once… What could it hurt?
My opponent felt differently, however. With no irony whatsoever, he said “I’m not rich,” and then went on to basically say that since Virginia has a website called VPAP which tracks the money in Virginia politics, there’s no need for campaign finance reform. For instance, on VPAP, you can track the almost $450,000 my opponent has in his Delegate account (not counting what he had left over from his Attorney General campaign account, which was almost that high at one point as well), and how I’ve got more unique individual donors in my run this year than he’s had in about a decade.
Without corporations and special interests to write him check after check, he wouldn’t stand a chance- and at least he’s honest enough to seemingly admit it. Wouldn’t stand a chance against an emergency department nurse (and trust me, my billable hourly rate is about an order of magnitude less than $300/hour) with no political experience, no “establishment ties”, nothing other than a set of scrubs and a penchant for caffeinated beverages.
In his almost two decades in office, my opponent has had 3797 donations of less than $100. We’ve had almost 1200 in the last six months.
Any wonder why he’s dead set against campaign finance reform?
That’s why I need your help. Those mountains of individual donations, that grassroots strength, has been built $10, $20, or $27 at a time. It’s what we get our power from, not the mountain of special interests and corporate donations my opponent admitted he has to rely on.
Volunteer today– When we win in November- and when Lt. Governor Northam has record turnout for a Democrat gubernatorial candidate in our District, because he needs margin everywhere possible (we can’t take any leads for granted, ever again)- it’ll be thanks to the hard work of our volunteers, along with all of our other volunteers who are knocking doors, making phone calls, and writing postcards.
Join us. Together, we’ll form the tip of the spear in the fight back against Trumpism, and show everyone else in the country the way forward on this together.
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse in Charlottesville, Virginia, running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the Trump Winery district this fall. Donate, volunteer, or get the word out about our people-powered campaign, today!