by Kellen Squire
Last Thursday, I announced I was running for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. I’d worked until almost 4 am on announcement day in the ER, came home, slept, got up to take the kids to school, spent a whole day doing campaign work in conjunction with my announcement, played with the kids for an hour- then went back and did another full shift in the ER.
It was exhausting but exhilarating. And it made me appreciate once again the hard work that our candidates across the entire Commonwealth of Virginia are putting in. From school board to Senate, our folks are out there working just as hard as that- if not harder! It’s a sincere honor to be playing even a small part in helping push them forward.
But I wasn’t kidding when I said all the stuff we need to accomplish in 2021 doesn’t mean much if we can’t get the right folks to Richmond this year. So after a few hours of sleep on Friday, I headed over the Blue Ridge Mountains to spend Labor Day Weekend in the Shenandoah Valley. Nestled along the West Virginia border and encompassing Rockingham County and the city of Harrisonburg, Virginia’s 26th House of Delegates District is a pretty standard Virginia district- gerrymandered specifically for Republican incumbent protection. It turns what could be a very competitive, purplish 50/50 district into an 42% Clinton district.
Which is why it’s nothing short of amazing what Brent Finnegan has accomplished. During his race in 2017, he out-organized almost everyone else in Virginia. His field team worked hard enough to have two of the best precincts in the entire state for improvement on turnout. Him coming out on the wrong side of the ledger in November 2017 was a tough blow- but it spooked his opponent enough that the first piece of legislation he desperately tried to jam into the 2018 session of the General Assembly was aimed specifically at keeping Brent from organizing this year.
I joined Brent early on Saturday morning. Brent is a relentless, door-knocking machine, having already hit thousands of doors this year alone- not to mention what his campaign has accomplished as a whole. I promised I’d chip in what I could on Labor Day Weekend, knowing it’d be a slow time for volunteers, most of whom were enjoying the time off with their families. Give them a break, while Brent and I broke in some shoe leather.
As days ago, it was pretty uneventful. Warm but not too warm, a decent number of people home, a few polite nods, with a decently walkable turf. The last part is still weird to me, living in a district where six doors an hour is breakneck speed. We had one outstanding conversation at the doors with a school teacher, who took the opportunity to unload on us about school funding and support (or the lack thereof).
His frustration was palpable, and completely understandable! He told us a story about kids in his school who couldn’t attend after school programs because there was no money to fund transportation for them- sorry your parents have to work until 5pm, kids, guess you can’t join science club. Brent and I were more than content to let him vent, which he apologized for. Again, a completely unnecessarily apology, because he was right about everything he said. As Brent and I walked away from that door, I remarked on how nice it was to be able to be a conduit for that kind-of catharsis for the people we wanted to represent.
Apparently, tempting fate isn’t something that only happens in the emergency department.
As we were getting to the end of our door knocking packet, we came around the corner of a set of townhouses. Amazingly, the house numbers and maps in our canvassing software had no bearing on reality- surely the first time that’s ever happened. As we sat puzzling over the map and the house numbers, a shouted “HEY!” startled us both. Brent and I looked up to discover a woman approaching us.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded. Brent smiled and went into assurance mode.
“I’m just knocking doors, ma’am, my name is Brent Finnegan, I’m the Democrat running against-”
This didn’t go over so well.
Now, as any nurse can tell you, we’re frequently treated poorly. The combination of people having a bad day, ending up in the hospital, and having to grin and bear just about anything makes nurses a magnet for that. It’s a rare attribute nurses share with politicians (albeit for far different reasons). In both cases, though, it’s something you gotta learn to shake off early. You’re supposed to be there to fight for everyone, not just the folks who are nice to you, and we expect you to act accordingly.
It doesn’t make it easier, though.
Some of the things that were said are unprintable in polite company. Brent, to his credit, smiled and nodded and did his best to be diplomatic. He tried to explain a candidate- didn’t matter whether it was Brent, or his opponent, Democrat or Republican, etc- had a constitutional protection to do what he was doing. That, like he did for the school teacher who’d vented to us, Brent just wanted to talk to people he was running to represent, to hear from them firsthand what issues they needed fixed. And that while he knew he wouldn’t agree with everyone 100%, he was going to Richmond to fight for everyone in the 26th District.
But she wasn’t having any of it, interrupting Brent multiple times until she finally said, “No! You need to be stopped! What you’re doing is illegal, and I’m going to call the police!”
Brent sighed at this, his demeanor finally shifting into disappointed acceptance. “Yes, ma’am,” he sighed, recognizing there was no way to win, “if you need to call the police, go ahead. Have a nice day.”
We walked away. Luckily, we had been at the very end of that walk packet- within two doors of finishing it- because when shouting for us to “get back there” didn’t work, this person actually jumped in their car and attempted to follow us. A very potentially dangerous situation, but luckily we had parked in a spot not easy accessible to her and were able to leave without incident.
I think most door knockers have stories like that, and Brent, as the candidate, always takes the toughest turfs to do himself for that reason very reason. Maybe that person was just having a bad day, and it wouldn’t have mattered what Brent had said. Still, even for the experienced politicos out there, it’s never fun when someone you want to fight to make things better for has such a visceral response against you for no other reason than you exist.
But Brent didn’t dwell on it. There’s too many other people in his district that need help- which is one of the reasons we have so many Democrats running this year, even in bright red districts. When you talk about things like Medicaid Expansion, the places in Virginia that were positively impacted by it the most were those ruthlessly gerrymandered, largely rural areas. Without the support of candidates running in places everyone else wants to write off, we’d never have sent enough candidates to Richmond to affect that change in the first place!
That’s why it’s so important to support candidates like Brent Finnegan. He’s not just going out and helping push the rest of the Commonwealth forward- his race is absolutely winnable. But not without your help, today!
Kellen Squire is an emergency department nurse from Barboursville, Virginia, and current candidate for Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. While I would absolutely love your support, my race isn’t until 2021- and Brent needs your help this year! Please donate to him today!