On March 30, I sent Blue Virginia interview questions to the two Democratic candidates running for the 51st House of Delegates district (a gerrymander in Prince William County) seat currently held by Del. Rich Anderson (R) – and which Hillary Clinton won by 6 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 Hala Ayala and Ken Boddye. I asked the candidates to return their answers by mid March, and the first one back is Ken Boddye. I told the candidates that I’d post their interviews in the order I received them, so with that, here are Ken Boddye‘s responses. 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 51st, 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 51st House of Delegates district in Richmond.
A life-long Democrat, I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and graduated from Georgetown University with a B.A. in Political Science; I’ve been in both the public and private school systems. My father was an accountant for most of his career, and his family comes from rural Nebraska. My mother was a nurse and her family is originally from Louisiana.
I’m an insurance marketer and underwriter by trade, specializing in protecting community associations (HOAs, Condo Associations) from theft and lawsuits. I’ve worked as a community organizer for Organizing for America (the successor to Obama For America), and have had various service-oriented jobs since High School. I’ve worked with the Prince William NAACP, the Cooperative Council of Ministries (an interfaith group which combats homelessness here in PWC) and am a member of the PW Chapter of the National Organization of Women. I bring to the table years of activism fighting for affordable healthcare, an equitable justice system, and combating homelessness.
As I’m biracial, much of my childhood was spent struggling with discrimination and feeling as if I always had to choose a “side,” whether it is in terms of my ethnic background or how I present myself. As a result of that experience, I’ve had to look at complex issues from multiple perspectives, and reconcile how things appear versus what’s under the surface. It’s taught me that there are situations in which there are definitive “sides” and that you have to pick one, while there are other situations in which compromise and agreement is possible.
My parents have never owned property, and I’m one of the few in my immediate family who is above the poverty line. Drawing from that fact, I know that we need legislators from more diverse professional backgrounds and financial means. Adding the perspectives from folks who are still establishing themselves economically can improve the kinds of solutions we come up with in Richmond.
The 51st District needs someone who can draw together the diverse sets of concerns and backgrounds of the folks who live here; from the suburbs of the eastern end to the rural crescent in the west. It’s time we had a representative in Richmond who actually represents everyone in the district as opposed to just one subset of the community; I would seek to represent everyone.
- What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
- Education – I come from a family where neither of my parents graduated from college and my mother earned her GED in her 50s. My sister and I were able to reach higher because we got college degrees. Education is the great equalizer for those who come from challenging backgrounds, and is how we invest in our future. A robust public education system also reduces crime, curbs homelessness, and cultivates the kind of workforce which will bring great jobs right to Prince William.
- Criminal Justice Reform – my older brother has been in and out of the prison system since he was a teenager. Whenever he has tried to get his life on track, there have been barriers. Ex-convicts who have served their time should not be barred from higher education, work, and the ballot box because of their record. We need to shift our system away from punishment and toward prevention and redemption.
- Transportation – This comes up a lot in Northern Virginia, but it’s more than just easing morning and evening commutes. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, Tampa, New York, D.C. and have experienced several different transit systems as a result; a transit system which only works for those who can pay tolls or have cars inherently discriminate. Not having a robust transit system keeps those who can’t afford to drive (due to means, age or other issues) from getting to appointments, getting a job, or simply going to the store. There are also multiple health, public safety, and childcare issues associated with lack of robust transit.
All three of these issues together will boost economic development and promote equity.
- 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 Democrat – I believe that we can achieve progress in people’s lives through social progress, modernization of economic development, and application of science, technology and facts. Beyond that, I believe our tax policies should be progressive (the wealthy paying their fair share) and that we should reunite with our roots as the party of unions and the working class.
I also believe we should be issue-based and committed to ending the corrupting influence of money in politics.
- Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
Delegate Sam Rasoul is my current favorite. Last year, he took bold stances that exemplify true leadership – he was one of the first in our party to argue for the need to run on a positive vision of Virginia’s future based on trust, rather than a focus on running against the other side. To prove his commitment, he willingly stepped down from a leadership position; it’s a sure sign that he wants to redefine the relationship between our representatives and the communities they serve.
More recently, he vowed to no longer take PAC or lobbyist contributions to his campaigns. In this vein, he both acknowledges the potential influence of money in our politics and severs himself from that influence.
My least favorite current Virginia politician is Delegate Anderson, the incumbent I seek to defeat this year. While I have no doubt that he believes his votes and bills seek to improve the lives of our fellow Virginians, the effects of those are the quite the opposite. Here are just a few examples:
- He votes down Medicaid expansion year-after-year, which is costing us billions of dollars of our own tax dollars, and deprives hundreds of thousands of Virginians of healthcare;
- He recently introduced legislation (HB1196) which would expand the definition of (and raise the penalties for) resisting arrest worsens our already-overly-punitive criminal justice system;
- He voted in favor a bill (HR268) to lower all of the flags in the state to half mast on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. In practice, this is blatant shaming of women who exercise their right of choice.
In past years, he also introduced legislation to: allow citizens to bring firearms into airports (HB1052), install a 20-week abortion ban (HB1285) that didn’t even have provisions for incest and/or rape, and enact provisions (HB1121) for comparison of the signatures between a voter’s absentee ballot and their voter registration application. That last bill stipulated a committee of three (one from each party, and a third independent) had to agree that the signatures matched; if they didn’t, the ballot would be rendered provisional.
None of these bills or votes improves the lives of residents living in the 51st District, nor do they reflect our values.
- 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.”
- Yes, although I would have proposed amendments to some of the tax revenue to be more progressive.
- No, I would have voted to keep the estate tax in place.
- No, I would have proposed (and will propose) redistricting reform which takes this process out of the hands of legislators. Independent, non-partisan redistricting with fair criteria is the way to go.
- We need real ethics reforms, not masquerades. Changing the cap on gifts from a $250 total to a $100-per-gift is indeed a step in the wrong direction, and I would have likely voted down the bill simply because of that.
- 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 believe we should be shifting our grid away from fossil fuels and other traditional sources as soon as possible. I do not support offshore oil drilling, fracking, uranium mining, coal-fired plants, or mountaintop removal coal mining. I also do not support the pipelines; as they are prone to breakage, often violate the land rights of farmers and communities, and are usually developed without true environmental impact studies being done beforehand.
To fight against these threats to our environment, I would start by not taking any contributions from the utilities that promote them, even after I’ve been elected; I will not be an investment they seek a return on.
I would propose legislation allowing true community solar and renewable cooperatives, which would give citizens and neighborhoods the ability to install renewable energy sources on their homes and in their communities to increase efficiency. A carbon tax is another avenue I’d pursue.
Additionally, I would advocate for allowing Tesla, Rayton Solar, and other companies to enter the state to allow healthy competition and ensure Dominion Power and similar companies are charging reasonable rates.
Lastly, I would also call for a study on the potential long-term savings for both taxpayers and utility consumers of the state converting to a 100% (or as close to it) renewable grid over the next few decades.
- Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?
I’ve never liked the idea that these ideas are in opposition of one another.
We can promote a competitive business environment with: tax incentives for start-ups and small businesses; world-class education to train the workforce of tomorrow; integrated transit solutions which connect a workforce to quality jobs effectively; and a justice system which invests in jobs programs for felons soon to be finishing their sentences.
We can do those things AND reinvigorate our unions and workers with: strong worker protections, retooling our contractor laws to seal loopholes; create tax incentives for hiring union workers, and putting in better procedures for employers applying for workers compensation insurance. I’d also very much like to see us depart from being a “right to work” state.
I firmly believe we can make Virginia attractive to business WHILE protecting and enriching our workforce. We just have to have the political will to do so.
- 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?
- The 51st House of Delegates district was won by Barack Obama (by 4 points) and by Hillary Clinton (by 7 points), yet sees a major “dropoff” in Democratic voter turnout during non-presidential years. What will you do, both as a candidate and as delegate, to help reverse that off-year Democratic “dropoff” in HD-51?
As a campaign, we’re already investing time, energy, and money into developing a grassroots volunteer network on the precinct level. By cultivating volunteers who actually live in these neighborhoods rather than relying on paid canvassers or statewide campaigns, we will build a lasting ground team which will raise awareness of these off-year elections and get out the vote.
We’re also partnering up with many local groups – both new and old – to better educate the public of these elections and why they matter even more than presidential and congressional ones. Indivisible, Together We Will, and the local Democratic Committee are just a sampling of the groups we’re working with, and we’re going to be expanding that network as the campaign season rolls on.
We’re also going to be tapping into the energy these newer groups represent. There are a lot of new folks getting involved in the process after last year’s General Election results came in, and we’re coordinating with these folks to get them engaged and keep them that way.
As delegate, I would keep those partnerships, networks, and grassroots teams alive to continue to educate and engage the public in what’s going on in Richmond, and how that directly correlates to their engagement every election year (which is EVERY YEAR here in Virginia!)
I would also be promoting legislation which makes it easier for folks to vote which I refer to as a 21st Century Voting Rights Act. This would include:
- No-excuse-needed Absentee Voting
- Pre-paid postage for absentee ballots by mail
- Automatic registration for teenagers who will be turning 18 by election day
- Same Day Registration
- Expanded forms of ID accepted for voting (with an eye on eliminating these restrictions completely eventually)
- Increased access to voting for deployed service members.
- Increased access to voting for college students who live on campus.
- 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 would not say Richmond is broken; I believe that our citizen legislators as a whole do an amazing job with the short time they are given to further the needs of our fellow Virginians.
That being said, I would support major campaign finance reform, such as putting annual caps on campaign contributions by individuals, eliminating contributions from corporations, and eventually shifting our system to one where campaigns are only publicly financed. Eliminating the ability for politicians to spend their campaign funds on personal expenses would be another step, as would gift-giving regulations. If someone can’t convince me a vote or bill is a good idea without taking me to a $100 steak dinner three or four times, it probably isn’t in the best interest of the residents of the 51st.
We should also make the recording of votes in committees (and subcommittees) in the House of Delegates required by law. Citizens have the right to know how their representatives are voting on legislation.
- 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 51st district.
Compromise and negotiation are important tools in anyone’s toolbox – especially a legislator’s – and they are just as important in dealing with one’s own party as they are with dealing with members of the other party. I would first try to seek open dialogue with leadership to see their side of it and to make sure my own viewpoint is clear to them.
Bringing in testimonials and data from the 51st would be the next step, as I believe that personal stories and evidence are another set of powerful tools when it comes to engaging folks in disagreement on issues.
If I had no other recourse and I still saw nothing but harm for my constituents from their actions, then I would go public with it – either by writing (in areas like Blue Virginia, for example!), issuing press releases/statements, or holding a press conference as a last resort.
I’m not afraid to air my disagreement publicly, but that should be the final step, not the first. As Democrats, we generally all want a better, more inclusive Virginia, even if we sometimes disagree with minor steps on how to get there.
- If you are the Democratic nominee, what would be your main line of critique in the general election against longtime incumbent Del. Rich Anderson (R)?
My main criticism is that his votes and bills in Richmond run countercurrent to how he presents himself here in the district. His past words and actions in front of community members and interests groups create the perception that he is a friend to all, but then votes against their interests while in session.
Here are a couple of examples:
- In the past, he has claimed to be a friend of the LGBT community, yet just this year he voted to pass a bill allowing federal contractors the right to discriminate against the LGBT community (HB2025).
- Has claimed to be an ally for the immigrant communities in our district, but voted for legislation dictating any entity resettling refugees or immigrants be forced to inform local officials of the details of the resettlement (HB2002). As VACALAO states: “Such individuals and organizations already have significant barriers to overcome and are subject to rigorous regulation.
Oppose – Many refugees resettling in the US have lost mothers, fathers and children. Without any belongings they come here only with hope and a belief in a free America and a dream of a new American life. We should unite in our communities to support them in building their new lives here as Americans.”
- Very notably, he has claimed to understand the pains of commuters in the district, but repeatedly voted down the 2013 transportation bill.
- What is your vision for improving traffic congestion and moving towards more sustainable transportation solutions in the 51st district?
It’s a three-step process that eases traffic in over the short, medium and long-term:
- Investing in PRTC and making tolls flat. We should move our local transit system away from being funded by the gas tax, and invest enough into our buses for reliable service. From there, we’ll be able to build the kind of ridership necessary for the system to fund itself. We also need additional connections and routes within Prince William. I want to also expand our Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) offerings to connect important hubs within the county and other counties. HOV/HOT tolls need to be flat so folks can travel on them for the same price regardless of traffic.
- Add more multi-modal options. The VRE is a great asset to our transit system, but we need to accelerate completion of a third rail and look into additional projects like it. Along with investing in PRTC, allowing travel in both directions will allow folks the flexibility to take alternatives to their cars if they go to work earlier, come home later, or vice versa. Fast Ferry is an interesting idea proposed by Supervisor Frank Principi; I would like to see us explore the possibilities for that.
- Our own light rail system. It’s expensive, but it’s a surefire way to connect us within the county and to other counties. At the moment, it cannot and should not be connected to Metro because of Metro’s current issues, but that’s something to explore in the future. Lines to and from major hubs in the county would pull a lot of intra-county traffic off the road.