This morning, State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Henrico/Richmond) officially announced her candidacy for governor of Virginia in 2021. See below for her kickoff video, endorsements and an interview I did with her yesterday evening. [UPDATED with press release, below]
McClellan, 47, is Assistant General Counsel at Verizon and is married to David Mills – former Executive Director of the Democratic Party of Virginia and current Southern Regional Political Director for the Democratic National Committee. She served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2006 to 2017, then was elected to the State Senate when Donald McEachin – who had represented the 9th State Senate district – moved to the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2020, according to the VAPLAN progressive scorecard, Sen. McClellan ranked as the 7th-most-progressive State Senator. Among other bills, McClellan was the lead patron in the Senate for the massive, “historic” Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA). McClellan also pushed hard to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and recently wrote:
“We must commit to criminal justice reforms that center training in bias, crisis de-escalation and intervention practices for law enforcement and the criminal justice system. We must create and enforce methods of review and transparency in investigations of misconduct at all levels. We must enact policies that uplift the marginalized and provide the tools they need to thrive in our economic, education, health, justice and political systems.
We cannot let the lives lost be in vain. Only by following the call to action to strengthen our communities and end inequity and injustice in America can we truly heal.”
With this announcement, by the way, there are now three announced Democrats – AG Mark Herring, Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy and Sen. Jennifer McClellan – for governor in 2021, plus the likely candidacy of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and possibly that of Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. On the Republican side, so far only far-right State Sen. Amanda Chase (R) has announced her candidacy.
Q. What convinced Jennifer McClellan to run for governor at this time, and also why not Lt. Governor or Attorney General?
A. “I think Virginia is at a critical moment…that we’ve seen maybe once in a generation of what kind of government are we going to be. Are we going to be one that continues to make progress…in a way that adddresses 400 years of systematic inequity…We’re at sort of a crossroads in four different pandemics going on. We’re going to have to rebuild our economy…our health care and economic safety net and a lot of our systems that have been stressed to the breaking point. But rebuilding to where we were on March 12 isn’t good enough; we need to rebuild in a way that addresses systemic inequity. And I have a clear vision of how we got to where we are…figuring out where we go from here. And I have a record of making progress on these issues, and reaching out and listening to different communities and bringing them to the table. Because different perspectives have got to be part of the solution if we’re going to rebuild in a way that addresses inequity.”
Q. Have the events of the last few months impacted your thinking about whether to run and what your priorities would be for the next governor?
A. “The last few months have emphasized for me the importance of having someone who is a good listener, who will meet people where they are and bring them to the table to say you have to be part of the solution. And a critical thinker who has the ability to clearly see, these are the problems that we have, and we need to be committed to solving them in the most equitable way possible. It has crystallized the importance of state leadership, definitely when you have a failure of federal leadership…on a lot of issues, it’s state government that determines how things are going to be implemented, and it’s the governor that sets the agenda and the tone for the direction we’re going to take. And so, it reaffirmed a decision I had already had…
The priorities haven’t changed, the urgency has. Before COVID, my priority was to continue growing in a Virginia economy that doesn’t leave anybody behind and to address the systematic inequity of it. Now we have to rebuild the economy, but still do it in a way that doesn’t leave anybody behind and addresses that inequity. Critical to a strong economy, strong and healthy communities and…democracy is a high-quality public education from early childhood to career. That’s always been my priority, you can look at my legislative record and you know that’s been my priority…because it’s critical to rebuilding the economy…And access to healthcare and strengthening the healthcare and economic safety net has always been a priority, but now we can see that they have been stretched to the breaking point – if not broken. And so, before COVID and George Floyd, part of the campaign would have had to have been, there are a lot of people who didn’t see those inequities and just didn’t know about them. And part of it was going to have to be, look, we’ve got these inequities we’ve got to address; Virfginia’s economy is working but not for everybody, so we have got to make it work for everybody. Now, I don’t know how you don’t see it.”
Q. Do these crises – COVID, racism, etc. – get at the issue of environmental justice and the need to rebuild the economy in a different, sustainable way, a NEW normal – a clean energy/environmentally sustainable economy – not the old normal?
A. “It’s all related. Again, it should come as no surprise who’s been disproportionately impacted by COVID. So, environmental decisions have an impact on the public health…and the physical health of a community. So you can’t address public health without addressing environmental justice. You can’t address systematic inequity without addressing the inequities built in our energy system. So yeah, I think it’s all related and we are at a crisis point, where we have to move forward boldly and aggressively to address climate change. Not just through a clean economy, which oh by the way will help build jobs, which will help fuel our rebuilding our economy, because energy is a necessity, technology is a necessity. And what we have seen is those sectors continue to grow and are going to fuel our recovery. But we also need to address other causes of climate change, which are transportation and manufacturing…the next step is making sure we continue to make progress on energy generation and energy policy, but now we’ve got to look at, what are we doing on transportation…manufacturing…energy efficiency in buildings. So all of that is a priority, but it is also closely linked to rebuilding our economy, to rebuilding healthy communities. You can’t look at them in a silo.”
Q. Since we’re on this topic, what do you think about Dominion continuing to push natural gas pipelines and even claiming – falsely – that natural gas is cleaner energy? All of this, despite the Virginia Clean Economy Act passing, despite everything we should have learned from these crises, etc. They keep pushing ahead like it’s business as usual. What do we do about a company like that?
A. “First of all, we the legislators set the policy and set the direction that we want them go. And then we need to put regulators in place that will uphold that policy and stay vigilant and keep their eye on them. And if they don’t, then we make that policy stronger and say, no we mean it, we’re going to hold you accountable to this. I think with the new commissioner appointed to the State Corporation Commission, that’s going to help. I think the commissioners that we had, operating under the old law we had, were very hesitant to…they stuck to the letter of the law and said, look, the legislature sets the policy. Well, we’ve changed the policy, we now have for the first time ever, environmental justice is the public policy of the Commonwealth of Virginia. And we definitely sent a signal, this is the direction we’re going to go, we’re going to stick to it and we’re going to hold you to it.”
Q. “Is there any particular Virginia governor you view as a role model, someone you might want to emulate – if anyone?”
A. “I think the one I’m closest to both in personality and probably my favorite because he performed my wedding would be Tim Kaine…I think that Gerry Baliles had a really good way of connecting with and bringing people to the table and making them feel comfortable. Doug Wilder obviously was a trailblazer who paved the way for me to be in the legislature. So I think there are things about several of them…but look, I’m a unique person. Mark Warner was a mentor to me when I was in the Young Democrats and he was chair of the party…and his commitment to making sure that rural Virginia isn’t left behind and thinking ahead at what are the megatrends coming and how do we be more proactive in meeting them. But look, I’m a unique person…with unique experiences that are going to shape the kind of governor I’m going to be.”
McClellan concluded: “There’s no playbook and no model for the times that we are in.”
Sen. Jennifer McClellan Announces Campaign for Virginia Governor
McClellan Launches 2021 Campaign, Announces 15 Endorsements from Virginia Leaders
Today, Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) announced her campaign for Governor of Virginia. McClellan released a campaign launch video, entitled “Future,” and launched a new website at www.jennifermcclellan.com. Later today, she will file a new campaign committee, McClellan for Governor.
“We stand at a critical time in our history, as Virginia faces health, economic and racial inequity crises,” McClellan said. “This is a moment to step boldly into our future. I’m running for governor to lead Virginia in building an inclusive economy that doesn’t leave people behind, a healthcare system that everyone can access affordably, and public schools that deliver on the promise in our constitution to provide high quality education to all children. I come from a proud tradition of public service, and I’ve spent more than 14 years in the legislature delivering progressive change. That’s what I’ll do to lead Virginia forward as governor.”
The daughter of community leaders and educators raised in the segregated South during the Depression, Jennifer McClellan inherited a strong sense of servant leadership and a calling to strengthen her community. She has implemented those values as a leader in the community, the Democratic Party, and in 14 years of service in the Virginia General Assembly.
Sen. McClellan has led on landmark Virginia laws to invest in education, grow small business, expand access to health care access, ban discrimination and inequity, safeguard workers’ rights and voting rights, reform the criminal justice system, protect a woman’s right to choose, and tackle climate change. In 2020, she led the passage of 36 laws, including the Virginia Clean Economy Act, the Reproductive Health Protection Act, creation of the Virginia Health Benefit Exchange, the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the creation of a School Construction and Modernization Commission, bills to address the school-to-prison pipeline, and ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
Also Thursday, McClellan announced a list of 15 endorsers from 12 different localities – including six legislators and five local elected officials.
The endorsers are:
- Senators Mamie Locke (Hampton), Jennifer Boysko (Fairfax), Ghazala Hashmi (Chesterfield) and Monty Mason (Williamsburg)
- Delegates Jeff Bourne (Richmond) and Del. Rodney Willett (Henrico)
- Mayors Justin Wilson (Alexandria) and Deanna Reed (Harrisonburg)
- Board of Supervisors Members Katie Cristol (Arlington) and Faye Prichard (Hanover)
- Norfolk City Treasurer Daun Hester
- Rodney Robinson, 2019 National Teacher of the Year, Richmond
- Douglas Garcia, Education Advocate and former Virginia Assistant Secretary of Education
- Kati Hornung, women’s equality activist, Chesterfield
- Dr. Andrea Douglas, MBA, PhD, Art & Culture Historian & Community Leader, Charlottesville
“Senator Jennifer McClellan has the vision, the experience, and the ability to lead Virginia forward,” said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D-Chesterfield). “She knows how to build coalitions of trust and how to listen to varying viewpoints; her administration will ensure that the voices of Virginians are heard both inside the Commonwealth and nationally.”
“Since her first election 15 years ago, Jennifer McClellan has been an inspiring exemplar: Not just that young Virginia women could be elected, but why they should be,” said Arlington County Board of Supervisors Member Katie Cristol. “She is a tireless, effective leader who has made the Commonwealth a more equal place for its residents and families, through her record of accomplishment on affordable housing, civil rights and family health. I am thrilled to stand with Jennifer McClellan for Governor, as she makes both progress and history for Virginia.”
“I am supporting Senator McClellan because she is a true advocate for children,” said Rodney Robinson of Richmond, the 2019 National Teacher of the Year. “She has proposed solid legislation to work towards ending the school to prison pipeline and she amplifies teacher and student voices. She is the best choice for educators, parents, and students in Virginia.”
“I believe the steady leadership and experience of Jenn McClellan is exactly what we need,” said Norfolk City Treasurer and former Delegate Daun Hester. “Her vision for Virginia is bold and inclusive, and I look forward to working with her as the next Governor of Virginia.”
“I’ve known Senator McClellan for over 18 years,” said education advocate Douglas Garcia, the former Assistant Secretary for Education in Virginia. “As a first-generation Latino graduate, I’ve always been impressed by her passion for public education and college affordability.”
“For nearly two decades, Virginia Senator Jennifer McClellan has been one of the most reliable and consistent legislators and advocates for all Virginians in working to improve our quality of life in the areas of public safety, housing, health care, education, and so many others,” said Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed. “It is for these reasons that I proudly announce my endorsement of Sen. Jennifer McClellan for Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“I have known and worked with Jenn for over 20 years,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “She is a pragmatic leader with a record of progressive accomplishments who will lead our Commonwealth forward.”
“We have waited too long for our first woman governor, but Jennifer McClellan’s leadership makes it worth our wait,” said equality advocate Kati Hornung of Chesterfield. “Her strength of character is matched by her intelligence, wisdom, and depth of experience, making her an ideal leader of whom we can be proud. Her ability to bring people together and sense of fairness will ensure we have a Virginia that works for everyone.”