by Kellen Squire
Well, folks, today’s the day. After accumulating as much time as I could over the last few months putting in hours in the ER, I’ve come to the point where I can no longer juggle working and campaigning full-time. Part of being an effective emergency services provider is knowing how to work hard – but just as important is knowing your limits. And I can admit fully it has been tough to manage.
Imagine this weekly schedule:
- Three 12-hour 6:45pm-7:15am shifts in the ER (not counting travel time to and from work, if someone comes in at 6:59am having a heart attack, etc)
- 12-15 hours a week of knocking doors and meeting voters
- 20+ hours a week of “call time”, calling/emailing/contacting people to donate to our campaign
In the most generous circumstances, that’s just under 80 hours a week right there, and doesn’t begin to count a retinue of other things I have to do for our campaign, plus all the things I have to do in my day-to-day life to make things work at home. My wife, after all, works full-time as an ER Nurse, too, and though she has moved heaven and earth to make things work for our campaign, we are a two-income household- and family always comes first.
But I’m running to win; I’m running to represent the 85,332 Virginians who live in my district. Being willing to make personal sacrifices to earn the honor of representing them in Richmond is truly the least I can do. So this is the week I start burning my vacation time – most of which I accrued working overtime during the Delta and Omicron surges of the COVID pandemic – so I can spend that time on the campaign trail instead.
When I tell people I filed to run for the House of Delegates fifteen and a half months before our primary election, this is the reason why. Working-class folks, if they’re going to run a serious race, need a “long runway” to take off from. Particularly when you’re going to rely on grassroots funding, like we have. I don’t have a dime of dark money; no corporate interests weighing in on me. I can’t write myself a $150,000 check. It was always going to be harder for me to run this race.
But I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t also a big reason I decided to run in the first place – because it shouldn’t be this hard for working-class folks to run for office.
Even so, I have it a lot easier than many others- for instance, I am blessed to have a job where I am able to accrue vacation time, something one in four Virginians don’t have. People have asked me what I’m going to do after I win my election, and the answer is simple: “Go back to work.” I have to accrue more vacation time so I can take off for our November election, and then I have to go back to work again so I can accrue more vacation time to use when the legislature is in session in 2024 – and there is so much work we need to do in Richmond to protect Virginians.
But the way the system is built now, what chance do they have of running for office? Even with all of the things I’ve got going for me, saying I’ve got an uphill battle is putting it mildly. The vacation time issue alone – if I didn’t have it available to me, the fact that I’m the best person running to represent our district wouldn’t matter. I simply wouldn’t be able to run at all.
But we have to do it. We don’t have a choice. Progressives need to work to build sustainable power in every single state, in every single corner of our country, because people’s lives are literally at stake if we don’t.
And before you ask- yes, the fact I wouldn’t have anywhere near as much vacation time available to me now if I hadn’t been working months continuous overtime shifts during the worst part of the COVID pandemic is a bleak irony that isn’t lost on me.
Oh, I could make it easier if I wanted to. There are corporate interests and dark money groups out there I could go to and get a six-digit check from right now. Literally! I could pick up the phone and have a check in my hand today. Virginia, sadly, is the “wild west” of campaign finance, and I can take an unlimited amount of money from effectively any source. This has been the bane of Virginia politics for far too long.
And you can see the kind of siren song that is. The work I’m doing is tough. It’s time away from my family. It’s three hours of sleep a day. It could all be solved in a heartbeat. All I have to do is take one of those corporate checks, just this one time. One time! It won’t change who I am, right? This is just to get established, and then I’ll swear off it forever. I can quit anytime I want to. I’ll never become the very thing I claim to hate. Never!
This is why one of my top priorities in Richmond is to fix exactly this. All of this. We need to end the poison of corporate and dark money that corrupt our representatives and make a mockery of our democracy. As a party and as a system, we need to make it easier for people from every walk of life and from every zip code to be able to stand up, make their voices heard, and run to represent their communities. We need to enable people to run for office who are connected with what’s going on on the ground in their community; people who are there all of the time, not just when it’s convenient to parachute in or to blow money on carpet-bombing TV commercials.
But that’s why I, and so many other people across Virginia, are running this year: to prove that grassroots movements can lift working-class, unapologetic progressives, to win in every corner of America. That these wins aren’t flukes; they’re coming from us earning the trust of blue- and pink-collar workers, of families, of the very people we’ve been championing day in and day out. And that we are never going to let our people be pushed aside, let their rights be trampled on, or have their very existence threatened–