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 was by Ken Boddye. This evening, I received responses from Hala Ayala, which you can see below. 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 candidate to represent the 51st House of Delegates district in Richmond.
I want to serve my community and make sure that we are all represented when decisions are made in our state government, something that I don’t see with my current Delegate, Rich Anderson.
I pride myself in being an activist for causes around working families in the Commonwealth and have gotten involved at the local and national levels. I was the founder and president of the Prince William County chapter of the National Organization for Women, served as vice president of the state chapter and am a member of the Governor’s Council on Women.
- What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
I care about the issues that affect families like mine on a daily basis in Prince William. I am concerned about the lack of resources in our local schools and will fight to increase funding for them, including raising teacher pay and decreasing class sizes.
As Delegate, I will also move to alleviate the terrible traffic congestion that commuters like me and my neighbors experience on a daily basis. It is a serious problem that speaks to a lack of infrastructure investment in our area as compared to our neighboring counties.
Lastly, I have long advocated for equal pay for equal work. So many women across the Commonwealth, myself included, are breadwinners, so fairer compensation policies would mean more money in the pockets of working families. We can even the playing field through a combination of measures, such as prohibiting employers from retaliating against workers for discussing salary and wages or tracking employees into lower paying positions and failing to provide information about promotion or advancement opportunities. Our state legislature could also pass minimum conditions for paid leave.
As you can see, a lot of these issues are interconnected and those impacting Virginia are certainly not limited to the above.
- 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 embrace the idea of being a progressive. I believe in adapting to change. The 51st District has changed so much since my family first moved here in 1981. Back then, it was pretty rural, and now we have a thriving workforce with active commuters. More families are moving in, and our communities are getting increasingly diverse. I readily identify with these changes as a former cybersecurity specialist at the Department of Homeland Security.
For years, I have been so proud to fight alongside those who embrace progress and inclusion. I am a super-volunteer for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot, in addition to my leadership roles in advocacy. I am honored to receive endorsements from those who have fought for the same causes, Congressman Gerry Connolly (my own U.S. Representative), Supervisor John Jenkins, the Virginia National Organization for Women PAC and the Feminist Majority PAC.
- Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
My favorite elected official is Gov. Terry McAuliffe. He has lived up to the promise of bringing more jobs to the Commonwealth and support working families. The governor has also been a “brick wall” for women’s rights. He has taken bold steps to ensure that a woman’s right to choose is protected and has been a champion for our LGBTQ community.
My least favorite is Del. Rich Anderson. Del. Anderson has taken a hard-right stance in my community. He has voted against Medicaid expansion. He voted for the “Day of Tears,” which essentially shamed women for making the difficult decision to have an abortion. He has voted for Senate Bill (SB 1324) and House Bill (HB) 2025 — “discriminatory legislation seeking to give taxpayer-funded agencies and service providers a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people under the guise of religion.” Del. Anderson continually votes against the progress of his constituents and the citizens of the Commonwealth.
- 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, it was better than the status quo of no restrictions on political gifts, but I would have fought for closing loopholes to ensure the integrity of our public officials.
- 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 the path forward for Virginia is moving toward good-paying, environmentally friendly jobs, both to stay competitive for business and for the health of our children. We need to be much less dependent on foreign oil and invest more in clean, renewable energy. I will not accept contributions from Dominion Virginia Power in my campaign.
I support new investments in solar and wind energy and STEM research. As a cybersecurity specialist, I understand the importance of investing in new and emerging technology to push our state economy forward.
- Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?
I think Virginia can be both. I don’t believe that we have to choose between these characterizations. It is important for the Commonwealth to attract and incentivize business development at home but not in lieu of worker’s rights. Otherwise, policies would only be designed to benefit the wealthy.
Similarly, I have fought alongside labor unions for equitable working conditions. I firmly believe in empowering working families, including raising the minimum wage, offering paid leave and expanding Medicaid. In turn, family incomes can be reinvested in our state businesses, and better health outcomes would drive the cost of care down for all of us.
- 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) This is a complex issue and deserves more than a yes/no answer — we need new transportation investments, but we need to do so in a comprehensive way that lowers costs for commuters, reduces tolls, increases transportation options and above all, reduces commute times; f) Yes; g) Yes; h) Yes; i) Yes
- 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?
We certainly have work to do in underscoring the importance of civic engagement in our local communities, but luckily there is great energy this year in the electorate especially from those dismayed by the results of last year’s elections. I am certainly encouraged by Jacqueline Smith’s election as Clerk of Court and the enthusiasm in her campaign.
I am proud to have worked on Democratic campaigns in my area for almost 10 years now. I have been an active member of my community and have organized around causes and candidates alike. I know how to engage my neighbors on local and state issues and will use the Delegate’s office to do so. I see running for office as a continuation of my work as an organizer. I intend to be inclusive and will hold frequent discussions with my constituents. Based on his past votes, my current Delegate is not doing that. He is more focused on pursuing a right-wing agenda than he is representing us.
Lastly, we need to make it easier for Virginians to vote and make voter information more readily accessible. The process of voter registration should be streamlined and made easier. I support online voter registration, getting rid of restrictive voter ID requirements, no-excuses absentee voting and same day voter registration.
- 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 that Richmond is in need of ethics reform, especially with the scandal of Former Governor McDonnell’s legal troubles contributing to declining faith in our elected officials. This is why I have refused to accept donations from Dominion. I was heartened to see some consensus for ethics reform in 2015 in limiting the value of personal gifts to legislators to $100 per year and will seek to build on the current law when elected.
- 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.
I would be ready and willing to stand up to party leadership if it meant better serving my constituents. While I believe in building consensus and having an open dialogue, I also believe in fighting to make my district a better place for families and effectively representing my community.
I would hold local meetings and townhalls in the district and invite leadership and press to engage and hear testimonials of those impacted. I would also hold events in Richmond and invite constituents to testify in front of committee hearings and meet with leadership. I would explain my position through op-eds, newsletters, blogs and social media.
- 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)?
Del. Anderson does not effectively represent our district. He is more focused on pursuing a divisive, ultra-conservative agenda, prioritizing the discriminatory needs of some over the rest of us. He has supported anti-LGBT legislation, opposes Medicaid Expansion and is virulently anti-choice. He has voted against proposals to extend the Metro to Prince William, which would alleviate traffic congestion, and voted to take millions out of our schools and increase class sizes.
- What is your vision for improving traffic congestion and moving towards more sustainable transportation solutions in the 51st district?
As a commuter myself, I am eager for ways to lessen drive time and allow Prince William residents to spend more time with their families, rather than being stuck on the road. I support legislation to study the prospect of extending Metro lines into Prince William County. Despite Metro’s problems of late, our community is losing out on business and federal contracts to our neighboring counties because of metro-accessibility. Many young people, due to the costs of ownership and maintenance, choose not to own a car. Public transportation has steadily become a necessity, and there is a serious impetus to figure out if it can work for us.
In the meantime, we need to invest in the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) and Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC) so commuters will have viable alternative transportation options. We should further incentivize carpooling and expand existing transit lines.