by Kellen Squire
One of the open secrets from working in nursing and emergency services is how little our profession resembles what popular culture shows on TV. From “ER” to “Grey’s Anatomy” and beyond, the reality of what we do pales in comparison to the highly-sanitized, drama-filled story lines churned out for the screen. We often joke that “RN” really stands for “Refreshments and Narcotics”. People that go into arrest and we have to “code”- meaning chest compressions, breathing tubes, extraordinary measures, etc- aren’t cheerfully up and walking around the next day; almost none return to their pre-event baseline. And the doctors don’t do a tenth of the crap Hollywood shows, from starting IVs or love triangles.
But we do what we do in spite of that, because every once and awhile? What we do makes all the difference.
I had a patient like that once; a 24-year old girl who came in to our ER, having suffered a major stroke. The odds were high she’d end up in extensive rehab, with lifelong health deficits- that is, if she survived at all. But we don’t give up on any patient, no matter the odds. We fight as hard as we can for everyone who comes through our doors.
That mentality is a huge part of why I decided to run for the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017. The district I lived in was written off as unwinnable. The incumbent, Delegate Rob Bell (R), is the architect of modern gerrymandering in Virginia. He not only drew the House of Delegates legislative maps in conjunction with 2010’s Operation REDMAP, he drew the latest version that even the conservative US Supreme Court couldn’t stomach supporting. He didn’t skimp on the district he drew for himself, either, making it one of the most maliciously drawn in the entire Commonwealth- which enabled him to run unopposed cycle after cycle, while amassing a campaign war chest of almost three quarters of a million dollars in cash.
This was a guy the Republicans elected to be their Caucus Chair; he was tasked with delivering the Virginia GOP a veto-proof majority in 2017. And he wasn’t content with meandering along in Richmond, casting party line votes while reaping the benefits of unchallenged incumbency and non-existent campaign finance laws. No, he used his position on the Courts of Justice committee in the House of Delegates to devastating effect. He personally killed everything from felony larceny reform to ending Virginia’s automatic suspension of driver’s licenses for nonpayment of court costs– even when 90% of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle supported those measures.
And beyond that, he’s taken it upon himself to use his Chairmanship to demean and punish two rising stars in the Democratic caucus, freshmen Delegates Jennifer Carroll-Foy (D-Woodbridge) and Jay Jones (D-Norfolk), at every turn.
Even knowing all that was true, I was laughed at. Told not to even bother. Heck, we had Democrats in deep-blue districts who went so far as to email our donors and tell them not to “waste their money” on our race. At times, it seemed like we were up against the world.
But there was someone who believed from the very beginning, no matter the odds. Someone who knew how important what we were doing was, mounting a people-powered campaign to take on someone as odious as this incumbent. Who knew how important it was to run cover for the other candidates on the ballot in November, that every dollar spent on us, here, was a dollar not spent on another race. And- most importantly- they believed in me.
That person was Elizabeth Alcorn, a dentist from Greene County, Virginia. And it’s just one of the many reasons I’m happy to stand behind her as she runs for the House of Delegates in the 58th District this year.
Elizabeth’s life story is one of pushing the odds. Her father, who worked tirelessly to desegregate schools in Chesterfield County and the City of Roanoke, instilled a deep moral sense of racial and civil justice- but when she was 12, he was killed in an auto accident.
So Elizabeth had to take over her family’s home so her mom could work to put food on the table. She had to work her way through college and dental school, in the wake of the fight in making those programs co-educational. She had to forge her own path when the commanding presence of a smart and courageous female dentist scared the good ‘ole boy network, opening her own practice in deep rural Virginia, a place most dentists sneered at the thought of going. Which is what she did for the next thirty years, until acute arthritis forced her to retire from her practice.
Elizabeth stood behind us unequivocally. She gave me advice whenever I asked for it. She picked me up when I felt like falling down. And she never stopped believing in me, in our campaign, or in our mission to bring a people-powered message from Ruckersville to Richmond, to show everyone that rural Virginia could shake the entire Commonwealth and- if it hadn’t been for a stupid ceramic bowl- play an outsized role in helping us deliver the House of Delegates in 2017.
But she knows our suburban/rural district has needs that have been ignored by the GOP delegates that run our General Assembly. Last year, our district’s health insurance rates were the highest in the country– and Elizabeth knows how unacceptable that is.
She knows that the incumbent delegate has been, almost single-handedly, sidelining criminal justice reform in Virginia, keeping the school-to-prison pipeline intact from Norfolk to Roanoke, and making sure people who get arrested for possession of marijuana get their driver’s licenses taken away.
She knows that, no matter how many nice letters he sends to students, he’s fought against properly funding our teachers and schools every chance he’s gotten.
She knows he’s been funded heavily funded by the fossil fuel interests and the state electrical monopoly, and is not only blocking changes to our laws that will open the state to renewable, clean, energy, but perpetuating the local injustice of our generation.
It’s why I was beyond proud to introduce Elizabeth at her campaign kickoff in Fluvanna County a few weeks ago. But beyond how proud I felt to be a part of the journey that’ll eventually send her to Richmond in November, there was a more personal reason I had to fight back the tears I had welling in my eyes.
Because sitting in the front row was a 28-year old young woman, who’d walked in just before the speeches had started. Without a limp. Without a facial droop. Wholly and completely normally. After the speeches were over, I walked over to where she stood, chatting with Elizabeth.
“Hi,” I said, somehow without choking up. “You probably don’t remember me, but the fact you’re standing here right now makes my entire job worthwhile. All of it.”
The young lady looked confused, until her mom smiled knowingly and introduced us. “Skylar, this is Kellen Squire,” Elizabeth said to her daughter. “He was the nurse who took care of you when you had your stroke.”
“I don’t remember much about any of that,” Skylar said to me, “but thank you for everything.”
“Nah,” I said, “thank your mom. I might’ve had those first two hours, but she had all the other ones in between then and now. And, just so you know- she’s gonna make one hell of a Delegate.”
And she will. That’s why she needs YOUR help, today. Stand with Virginia and donate, volunteer, or get the word out about Elizabeth’s people-powered campaign!
Kellen Squire is a father, husband, emergency department nurse, and connoisseur of truly awful dad jokes from Barboursville, Virginia, on a mission to help flip/keep Virginia blue in 2019. This diary is the first in a series on the candidates across the Commonwealth, from school board to state senate, who are going to get that done.