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. Now, I’ve received responses from Steve Jansen – see those below. I have not heard anything at all from Mansimran Kahlon or Andrew Adams, so…got me! 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 13th, 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 13th House of Delegates district in Richmond.
I’ve devoted my life to turning progressive ideas into progressive results.
As a prosecutor, I worked days, nights, and weekends to keep my community safe and provide my neighbors the ability to have a voice in their own public safety. As a gun violence prevention advocate, I’ve partnered with leaders like Rep. Gabby Giffords and other national gun violence prevention groups to get guns out of the hands of criminals. As an ally of domestic violence survivors, I oversaw the development of national protocols, as director of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence (PAGV), to ensure firearms are removed from domestic abusers. As an advocate of fair and community-driven policing, I coordinated training and technical assistance in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Justice for community prosecution initiatives around the country, while Director of the National Center for Community Prosecution (NCCP) in Alexandria. As a youth mentor, I served at the Youth Leadership Foundation for disadvantaged boys, because I understand that no child is born a criminal and every child deserves the opportunities to succeed. As an education advocate, I teach Justice and Law as a professor at American University and sit on the PTO of my son’s elementary school. As a public servant who will work tirelessly to protect our community from discrimination and injustice, create jobs, innovate government and ease traffic congestion in Prince William, I’m running to serve my district in the House of Delegates.
- What three issues are you most passionate about and why?
Gun violence prevention, criminal justice reform, and protecting women’s health. And I’ve turned my ideas into results, which I’ll explain below. I’m passionate about gun violence prevention because as a prosecutor, I’ve witnessed violent shootings, murders, and have even been the victim of a shooting, when my team and I were targeted. Luckily, although members of my team sustained injuries, everyone survived. The gun violence epidemic in this country is a national health crisis, and Virginia has a major role to play to combat it. We desperately need criminal justice reform, I would know. As a prosecutor, I’ve seen non-violent drug cases backlog the system while destroying lives of society’s most vulnerable. Thirdly, I will be an advocate for women’s health, because as a father of a daughter, I want her to know she can make her own healthcare decisions.
- 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?
Progressive. I’m devoted to turning progressive ideas into progressive results, and as you can see through my employment history, I’ve made it my life calling. As a former prosecutor, I had the option to start a private law practice, but I decided to work in the nonprofit realm to use my experience to protect society’s most vulnerable and contribute to societal progress.
- Who is your favorite and who is your least favorite current Virginia politician and why?
My favorites are Senator Tim Kaine and State Senator Jennifer Wexton because they are individuals who have devoted their lives to protecting society’s most vulnerable and serving the public. My least favorite, perhaps obviously, is Bob Marshall.
- 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) I would not vote to repeal the estate tax; but c) will certainly vote in favor of a fair, non-partisan redistricting committee; d) I’m also a full proponent of real ethics reform. The last reforms did not limit lawmakers from using their own campaign funds for personal expenses, and are merely baby steps.
- 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’m a proud conservation voter. As a former prosecutor, I ensured our Justice system was fair for all and that the scales of justice were not tipped in one direction over another. I will fight to even the playing field and ensure homeowners have their land use rights respected while preserving the reason most of us enjoy living in Prince William County, our rural crescent. When our energy future conversation is not balanced between three important issues: environmental protection, land use and jobs then Virginians lose and big corporations win. As we continue to progress with energy efficiency and renewable power, the General Assembly must not continue to cut deals for large utilities and a few interested parties, while leaving out small businesses and homeowners in Virginia, such as was done recently with the blocking of installation of solar panels on rooftops of these buildings and homes or access to community solar partnerships.
- Should Virginia be known as more of a “business-friendly” state or more of a “worker-friendly” state and why?
If we’re worker friendly, we’re also business friendly. My friends on the right generally believe in a top-down system: they believe strong businesses lead to strong families. I believe it’s the other way around. As a proud union member and son of a union household, I’m a strong proponent of strengthening PLAs and labor apprenticeships to make our workers, thus our businesses, more competitive. As a University professor, I’m passionate about training the next generation of workers, thinkers, and citizens. Investing in education, workforce development apprenticeships through schools and labor unions, and making Virginia a welcoming place for all are key steps to investing in Virginia’s place in the 21st century.
- 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?
d) yes (discuss)
e) This is an ongoing discussion which I cannot answer definitively, specifically, the relationship between tolls and gas tax. Both fuel taxes and tolls, like any sales tax, are regressive taxes on the poor, and I will not support raising the gas tax until proven that it will fund major transportation priorities, substantially offsetting the price of tolls.
i) does “absolutely” count?
Before I ever thought about running for delegate, I was a prosecutor who believed that the only way to make our streets safer is to work with the community to prevent children from falling down the wrong path. No child is born a criminal and every child deserves the opportunity to succeed. That’s the motto I carried with me as a prosecutor and it’s why I served as a mentor for disadvantaged boys at the Youth Leadership Foundation. violence. Last year, in an effort to protect survivors of domestic violence, I oversaw the development of national protocols to ensure firearms are removed from domestic abusers. Republicans in Richmond and Trump in Washington want to give the Gun Lobby free range to write, then pass legislation that would allow guns to continue to fall into the wrong hands. Gun violence and mass shootings happen too often and have destroyed too many lives. That has to end. We must strengthen our gun laws by closing the Gun Show Loophole and implementing a stronger, more extensive background check system.
- 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?
Without making our strategy public, as a candidate, we’re currently on track to build a campaign with the resources to run a cutting-edge GOTV program that couples best practices with innovation and new energy from the Women’s March and other new groups coming into the fold this year.
- 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?
Dominion Power’s grip on Richmond is unacceptable. I’m not naïve, we need our friends in the environmental community to step up and help us compete. As Democratic challengers, we should fully expect Dominion to spend resources to defeat us. We must combat their power with our own, and we’ve got it!
- 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.
As a former prosecutor, I took an ethical and professional oath to uphold the law and to serve the best interest of the people, just as I will in Richmond. Even fellow Democrats who fail to look out for the best interest of our community will have a fight on their hands with me in office. As a prosecutor, I fought for victims, our community, our values. I know what it takes to be a public servant and I’m willing to be on call 24/7, again, to represent our Democratic values and not let them be swayed by special interests.
- If you are the Democratic nominee, what would be your main line of critique in the general election against longtime incumbent Del. Bob Marshall?
The other day, my six-year-old son and I met a lady who asked what I do for a living, and I told her I’m running for office. “Against Bob Marshall? I’ve always voted for him!” she said. She said she thinks Marshall is, “a nice guy, the history teacher you never had.” I completely understand that, but I told her about his ineffectiveness and that as a prosecutor, I could never miss a murder trial like he misses votes. We spoke for about 10 minutes, not just about politics, but everything from where the kids go to school to the nursing home my wife works at. At the end of the conversation, she walked away saying, “I’m a Republican, but give me your card. You got my vote.”
We can beat Marshall.
The reason so many opponents are in this race proves that Del. Marshall’s values and ideals are in contradiction to the people he serves. While Bob is worried about “bathrooms.” he hasn’t chaired one committee in the General Assembly to make District 13 better, he hasn’t fixed our traffic congestion, he hasn’t advocated for the funds our schools deserve, he’s missed committee meetings to negotiate compromise, and he hasn’t come up with one innovative idea in almost three decades. He is not only a right-wing extremist, he is simply ineffective, and I can beat him.
- What is your vision for improving the terrible traffic situation in the 13th district?
There is no question Route 28 and Route 29 need to be expanded to accommodate the traffic reality of the region. However, I am concerned about the environmental cost of expanding roads and inviting more traffic. It’s a circular feedback loop – we can’t expect merely expanding roads to fix traffic as our region continues to grow. We must also approach the problem with innovative solutions like rapid bus transit, accompanied by a bus lane. Although I must drive all the way into DC to teach at AU, my wife works as a nurse practitioner at Gainesville Health & Rehab Center, which is only about 10 minutes from our home. If we had rapid bus transit lanes, she could take a bus and still get to work in about 20-30 minutes, without having to put another car on the road.