With early voting for the June 20 Democratic primaries starting in in just over two weeks (on May 5), and with 1Q23 fundraising numbers in, it’s starting to come down to the proverbial “crunch time.” And by “crunch time,” in this case, I mean weeding out the viable and non-viable candidates, as well as deciding who to support for the Democratic nomination. So expect several endorsement writeups over the next couple weeks, including today’s endorsement of…Democrat Stella Pekarsky for State Senate in SD36 (western Fairfax County; solid-blue district).
Before we get to why I’m supporting Stella Pekarsky, though, I think it’s important to state right up front why I’m open to replacing the incumbent, Sen. George Barker, who was first elected in 2007 and has served for over 15 years now. My main beef with Barker – who is not a bad guy by any means – revolves around his prominent role in the Virginia redistricting amendment fiasco. That includes both the amendment itself, as well as his role on the failed redistricting commission (which led to new districts being drawn by two “Special Masters” – including one conservative Republican – drawing the maps under supervision of the VA Supreme Court). The fact is, Barker pushed VERY hard for this amendment – and was arguably instrumental in getting it passed – despite the fact that it was strongly supported by Republicans; that it was a complete mess (not just the amendment, but the commission); and that people were warned – over and over and over and over and over and over and over again- NOT to support it. Did Sen. Barker listen to any of the criticisms? Heck no.
Other than that, Barker’s generally ranked below-average among Senate Democrats in terms of his VAPLAN progressive rankings: #8 out of 19 in 2018, #15 out of 19 in 2019, #13 out of 21 in 2020, #18 out of 21 in 2021, #12 out of 21 in 2022; and #15 out of 22 in 2023. In other words, we can do better in a district like this in terms or being a progressive and environmental champion.
Another issue I have with Barker is that he doesn’t really push back against Glenn Youngkin; in fact, if you search in the media or on social media for a single instance of Barker criticizing Youngkin or fighting back against him, you’re almost certain to come up with nothing. At least I came up with nothing when I searched the other day. Now maybe, back in the “good ol’ days” before Trump and Trumpism (aka, far-right populism, nastiness, vitriol, bigotry, etc.) took over the Republican Party, it might have been perfectly fine to just do your job in Richmond in a bipartisan, reach-across-the-aisle, so-called “Virginia Way” fashion. But today, with our very democracy in grave danger – plus of course women’s reproductive freedom, a livable environment, LGBTQ equality/safety/etc., voting rights, you name it – we really need Democrats who both know how to fight and are willing to do so, both FOR our values and AGAINST creeping (galloping?) authoritarianism.
Finally, in response to an argument I’ve heard in favor of Barker, that he’s had years of experience and has gained tremendous expertise on fiscal/budgetary matters, I’d argue that that’s great and all, but…again, has he really pushed back strongly and effectively against Youngkin (in this case, against Youngkin’s regressive tax policies, supply-side/trickle-down nonsense, etc)? Perhaps he’s done so behind the scenes, so it’s hard to definitively judge him on this one, but if you look at last year’s budget, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, it was a “mixed bag,” including “significantly larger tax changes that are not well-targeted to help the families who are struggling the most and, without a plan to replace the lost revenue, weaken our ability to meet the needs of all Virginia communities.” Now, that might not have anything to do with Barker, but if you’re going to claim that losing his expertise is somehow unique, irreplaceable and/or is going to really hurt Virginians, I’d love to see some specifics as to how replacing Barker with someone else would have led to fewer “wins” than we got with Barker in the “game.”
Anyway, now that I’ve made the case for why I think SD36 Democratic voters should seriously consider replacing Barker, let’s turn to the Democratic candidate – Stella Pekarsky – who is running against him in the primary, and who I believe would represent a significant upgrade in representation for this district.
First off, Pekarsky has an excellent background for this job, first in terms of her personal story as “the oldest daughter of Greek [working-class] immigrants,” who then completed “a degree in Government & Politics at George Mason University…within 3 years,” taught in Fairfax County public schools, “earned a Masters of Ed. in Multicultural & Multilingual Education and certification as an ESOL teacher,” raised “six incredible children,” “co-founded Skyway Air Taxi, a local air charter company,” etc. I that’s not enough to keep anyone busy, Pekarsky also somehow found the time and energy to run for – and win election to – the Fairfax School Board in 2019. She then was thrown into the maelstrom, helping to guide the county’s public school system through several tumultuous years (obviously, including the COVID pandemic, which started just a couple months after she took office in January 2020), “led the lawsuit against Glenn Youngkin’s attempt to steal our local control of our schools,” “served as an advisory board member to BRAWS (Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters), President of Rocky Run PTA, VP of Outreach for Fairfax County Council PTA, member of the NAACP Education committee, At-Large appointee to the Fairfax County Schools Student Health Advisory Committee, and Sully District appointee on the Fairfax County Public Library Board of Trustees.”
Wow, time to take a breath! 😉 Seriously, getting tired yet just THINKING about doing all of these things? LOL But wait, as the saying goes…there’s more! Because, as noted above, Stella Pekarsky’s been very impressive standing up against Glenn Youngkin’s assault on public education. For instance, see Video: Fairfax County School Board Chair Stella Pekarsky Rips Attacks on School Board Members and on Public Education, Urges Support for “fundamental bedrock of our society” and Audio: Fairfax County School Board Members Stella Pekarsky and Laura Jane Cohen Rip “Absurd” Legislation to Ban Teaching of “Divisive Concepts”, as well as Several Fairfax County School Board Members Call on Youngkin Administration to Promptly Approve AP African-American Studies Course. So when Pekarsky says that she’s “running to stand up for our schools and stand up to Youngkin,” she’s not just saying that.
Finally, regarding Pekarsky’s stances on other issues, she is:
- “100% pro-choice, and I will always fight for the right to access reproductive healthcare” who will fight to “codify the right to an abortion in the Virginia Constitution.”
- Unlike Sen. Barker, whose top donor other than the Democratic Party and Senate Democratic Caucus is Dominion Energy, she “will not accept contributions from state-regulated polluters, such as Dominion Energy, and I support a ban on such contributions.”
- She believes “We must implement and continue to improve upon the Virginia Clean Energy Act to secure a transition to 100% renewable energy.”
- She believes, correctly, that “unions are a powerful force for protecting workers” and “support[s] repealing Virginia’s so-called ‘right-to-work’ law.”
- She “support[s] an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines, because weapons of war do not belong in our communities.”
- According to FCPS Pride, Pekarsky wrote, “As a former teacher and a parent of FCPS students she will be a solid ally and strong advocate not only for LGBTQ people in school system, but for all members of the FCPS family.”
- And, of course, she will continue her fight for public education and against Republicans’ efforts to trash our public schools, our teachers, etc.
Finally, I’d note that I’m not a big fan of “identity politics,” but I always say that “all else being equal,” we should definitely push for more women and people of diverse backgrounds in positions of leadership in our political system. In this case, based on what I’ve just written, I clearly do NOT believe that “all else is equal” between these two candidates, but still, it would be great to get a relatively young woman, immigrant, educator, businesswoman, etc. to represent this district – an added bonus on top of everything I’ve outlined above. So with that, I encourage everyone in SD36 to learn more about Stella Pekarsky and to seriously consider voting for her in the Democratic primary on June 20!