by Cindy Cunningham
The two women sat on milk crates on their front porch, smoking cigarettes and eyeing us suspiciously, knowing that they didn’t want whatever we were selling. In the window, a small child pulled the curtain back to peek at us. Ken Boddye introduced himself, said that he was running for the House of Delegates, and asked what issues were important to them. With body language that spoke of hopelessness, they started talking about Trump and all the horrible things he’s doing. Ken explained to them that now more than ever it’s important we elect people who will make sure Virginia does whatever it can at the state level to counteract the effect of this administration’s policies on Virginians.
When he mentioned the importance of voting, one of the women said disgustedly, “I voted last year, a lot of good that did!” As we continued to talk, we discovered that one of the women worked assisting people recovering from substance abuse, and Ken connected with her on the critical importance of her job, and how desperately we need to spend more resources on this fight; he told his own personal story of his mother’s misdiagnosis and her resulting struggle and subsequent death. By now, her posture changed, her voice and her face was more animated–she started to care! As we walked away from their door, Ken said to me, “At this point, it isn’t even about whether they vote for me, I just don’t want them to lose hope.”
People often ask me how I came to support the candidates that I support (heck, even Ken himself has humbly asked me “why me?”). And there are all sorts of statistical analyses out there that indicate whose race is “flippable,” and it’s easy enough to check VPAP reports to see who’s raised more money. But at the end of the day, if you can’t connect with the voters at their doors, the rest of that information is useless. And this is where Ken is so incredible.
One of the first times I met Ken, I had asked him to go canvassing with me for Ryant Washington’s special election for State Senate, and it was that day that I knew Ken was something special, and that I would forever be his supporter. We were in a rural part of Goochland County (along with Elizabeth Guzman), and one of the houses we went to had a fierce barking dog on a chain in the yard. We thought about skipping the house, but Ken and I figured “what the heck” and went to the door anyway. An elderly woman opened the door just a little bit, suspicious of us. Ken introduced us and started talking about the special election, and as he talked, the door opened wider. After about two minutes, this woman was grinning from ear to ear, telling us her entire family history, and all about her children. By the time we left, I was pretty sure she wanted to adopt Ken, or maybe marry him off to her daughter.
I’ve watched Ken do this dozens of times at voters doors. It’s incredibly inspiring. He listens and finds something to connect to the voters on, and speaks with honesty and from his heart. If you ever want to know a candidate better, I highly recommend you ask to go canvassing with them. How well they do at a voter’s door tells you so much about how they will conduct themselves in the job. Their ability to listen, to empathize, to be honest and to address concerns without making idle promises or giving vague platitudes tells you what you can expect from them once they take office.
One of our last doors today wasn’t on our list, but her bumper stickers let us know she was a Democrat, so we knocked on her door. When Ken asked her what issues mattered to her, she took a deep breath and told us that she’d lost her mother to cancer last year, and that then, just four months later, had learned that her father, a Veteran, had liver cancer caused by exposure to toxic chemicals while serving. Before the bills for his chemo treatments had even arrived in the mail, he had passed away. And now her family was trying to get VA benefits for him to pay the bills, but they were having no success (because he no longer qualified for VA benefits since he wasn’t living). Ken didn’t make her any rash promises, but took down all her information and promised to find out if there was anything he could do help. We walked away from her door, both quiet, both moved by the sadness of her story.
The thing about canvassing is this: everyone has a story, something we should be taking into account when thinking about the policies we should make or support. The best legislators are those who walk to the doors of their constituents and get them to open up and tell those stories. The best legislators are those who listen to those stories, who are fueled, inspired and energized by those stories. If you want to know what kind of public servant a candidate would make, walk doors with them and find out.