Home 2023 Elections Former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni on Why the Upcoming Elections...

Former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni on Why the Upcoming Elections Are So Important, How Rs Are Trying to Generate Fear, Division Like in the 2021 Governor’s Election


This morning, I posted the part of my discussion yesterday with former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, in which he discusses his thoughts on Virginia Democratic primaries. See below for some highlights from the start of our discussion, setting the context for why these primaries really matter, what Republicans are up to (no good as usual), etc.

Blue Virginia: To set the context for this discussion…the vast majority of districts/counties/jurisdictions are not really going to be competitive in November, so the June 20 primaries are really the ballgame if you want to have a say in who’s going to represent you, whether on the School Board, County Board, House of Delegates or State Senate. You really need to vote NOW, because in the vast majority of districts this is it really – whoever gets the nomination or the endorsement is going to be elected in a deep-blue district or a deep-red District. Hence, the importance of getting engaged and learning about the candidates NOW –  and of course voting in the June 20 primaries (early voting starts tomorrow).

Qarni: “As far as the local school boards, my focus primarily has been on Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax…Most of these seats are blue, so whomever the nominee ends up being is likely to end up being elected…I feel that the Republicans have also targeted some of these areas…to really agitate and disrupt Democratic strongholds…the governor’s been on attack…this is part of their overall strategy to really attack public education.”

Blue Virginia: Do you think they are hoping to rerun the 2021 election, the same strategy demonizing “CRT” and diversity and  “transgender bathrooms,” etc? Do they think that that’s their path to victory again? Is that what’s going on here?

Qarni: “They think that it worked for them…because Glenn Youngkin did win the governor’s race, so I do feel that they think that that attack on public education and all of the above issues you mentioned…they think attacking Democrats on them works for them. So they’re probably going to try that same thing again…we’re not seeing that narrative go away. So what we have to do as a response is to really talk about all of the good things that Democrats have done under our leadership and why…creating a more inclusive, diverse, inclusive environment for all communities, especially marginalized groups, is so important. Because they want to get rid of DEI, right…they WANT it dead…It’s being attacked in Florida, that’s what they want here….And going back to the school boards, because this really came about with education at the center…we have to really take the bull by the horn and talk about by all the great things the Democrats stand for and have accomplished when in charge for education to uplift a lot of communities and really push back against this hostile narrative. So that’s why these specific races are important. Fairfax County is blue, all of the School Board seats should go to Democrats, but Republicans do have candidates running in the general election and the narrative is still going to be there…”

Blue Virginia: Republicans have already started attacking VA Sen. Monty Mason and Del. Shelley Simonds because they were they were saying something about “parents rights.” Of course, “parents rights” is a Republican buzz phrase that doesn’t mean
what you think it means. as usual with them. But anyway, Monty Mason was saying that it’s bullshit, basically, and so Republicans have been blasting him and claiming, dishonestly, “here we go again, Democrats are just like Terry McAuliffe in the debate saying parents shouldn’t be involved in their kids education and Democrats don’t care about parents.” I think they’re going to do that not just in the school board races they’re already doing it to one of our endangered state senators and in other races. So how do you push back against that with all of these races, in any race and not just School Board?

Qarni: “You know how the term ‘Right to Work’ can be misleading?…It’s very anti-workers….Parents are not monolithic… so how do you counter…the catchphrase that Republicans are using…the hateful rhetoric….[they] want to ban books, they don’t want to see marginalized communities being uplifted and don’t want to be inclusive…Democrats have
been historically really good on education policies…[we need to remind] folks…we care about families…that ALL families really matter…we need to look at ALL parents and ALL families…grandparents raising children…mixed households…families also is all encompassing of children in general…that’s what should be a part of the [Democratic] message is that families are not monolithic, they’re all different backgrounds, [we need to] make sure…we’re inclusive of all children and we need to get away from this antiquated thinking that we have this typical white family living inside a house with a white picket fence where both Mom and Dad working and just you know one or two children, that’s the image that the Republicans are really playing off of and they are not really all encompassing of everyone.”

Blue Virginia: When they when they talk about “parents rights,” who are they talking about?

Qarni: “We know what they’re talking about. Theyu’re clear about it. They keep twisting everything. They’re like, hey…you’re teaching things about sex…[in fact] family life education… parents have to give consent…children can learn about human anatomy and so forth and that’s part of the curriculum that’s been there for decades. But what’s happening is that as our society is becoming more inclusive and our schools are becoming more inclusive and they’re saying look, there are human beings that have different sexual orientations, different identities, where not everything is cut and dried and people are different….Same thing with ‘CRT’; when we look at our history and say, look, we need to fully understand our history [is] complex…If you’re going to talk about tough issues that happen to, say, Black people,
that doesn’t mean we’re making people who were oppressors at that time and people who associate with them – whether it’s based on race or religion – that they should feel bad, right? So I think it’s a really immature behavior from the Republicans and I think it’s intentional because they are a party that is only concerned with a very narrow type of thinking and narrow scope of people and they’re not interested in creating a big tent like the Democrats are.”

Blue Virginia: Right, so I guess what our candidates are probably looking for is a quick, pithy and effective retort to these types of attacks. Because I noticed when Sen. Mason was attacked recently, I didn’t hear any response from him at all. And that seems to be the pattern that we always see  – Republicans come up with their new line of outrage quote-unquote and attack and then Democrats just seem to go silent

Qarni: “I’m responding the way I think people should respond. And that’s the problem also in our society…people’s attention span is so bad…it shouldn’t be about one or two words…I think we’re wasting a lot of time thinking about let’s come up with some catchy catch phrases. I think we need to challenge this. We need to have open debate and dialogue and explain it. There’s too much on the line for children and their families and we’re not going to be misled…like this nonsense. This misinformation campaign is [about]…double standards and racism.”

Blue Virginia: Anyway getting back to the primaries, the context is that the legislature is very closely divided. I mean, some people thought maybe we were becoming a blue state, but now it’s definitely competitive, the Senate and House of Delegates could go either way. And basically everything’s on the line because if Republicans get a governing trifecta, it’s going to be a nightmare; you’re going to have a very right-wing House a very right-wing Senate and a very right-wing Governor, despite the media constantly saying he’s a “moderate,” which is bullshit. And you’re going to have them roll back pretty much all the progress we made in the McAuliffe and the Northam administrations. So that’s the context on why it’s really important that we win and it’s really important that we get the best nominees.

Qarni: “We have to hold on to the Senate; that has been the
brick wall against Gov. Youngkin…”


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