Home 2023 Elections Former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Talks About Which VA Democratic...

Former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Talks About Which VA Democratic Primaries He’s Focused On, Who He’s Supporting and Why

Qarni has some very strong (negative) words about Sen. Chap Petersen's "Common Sense Team"...


I had a chance yesterday to chat with former VA Secretary of Education Atif Qarni about his thoughts on upcoming Virginia Democratic primaries for House of Delegates, State Senate and several local offices. He had a bunch of thoughts on specific races, which you can see below. In general, Qarni feels strongly that Democrats have to hold on to the VA Senate, because “the Senate’s been the brick wall to Gov. Youngkin’s [right-wing] agenda…If we lose the Senate and the Republicans maintain the House…[they will roll back the progress we’ve made].”

In terms of his endorsements, Qarni noted that he’s “endorsed some incumbents and some challengers,” and that “a lot of people are reaching out for my endorsement specifically because education’s been such a hot topic.” And, he added, when he considers whether/who to endorse, he “look[s] at the holistic picture” and talks to a lot of different people, plus of course the candidates themselves.

With that, here are former Virginia Education Secretary Qarni’s thoughts on the Democratic Senate and House of Delegates primaries he’s following and/or has endorsed in (and in a few cases, where he’s not familiar with the candidates and/or nobody’s reached out to him):

Former Del. Lashrecse Aird vs. Sen. Joe Morrissey (SD13): “I endorsed Del. Aird months ago…because I have a strong working relationship with her…a lot of people finally thank god are realizing that Del. Aird is awesome and Joe Morrissey’s a problem and we need to have a change there.”

Sen. Chap Petersen vs. Saddam Salim (SD37): “Nothing personal against Chap Petersen; I’ve endorsed Saddam Salim. In this one, my endorsement was heavily influenced by the things Sen. Petersen has done, his voting record; I’ve  personally disagreed with him on a variety of issues including on education, on how he’s voted…The values of that district collectively are not represented by [Chap Petersen]. He’s been around for a while, he’s out of touch with our values, he’s not aligned on numerous issues whether you’re talking about gun control, education and so forth. That’s why in my opinion he should be voted out. Saddam Salim was the first one to reach out to me, I’ve talked to him extensively…He understands the issues; his value sets and his stance on issues closely align to the values of that district and to mine, that’s why I endorsed him…Sen. Petersen is completely anti-equity, he doesn’t understand the value of DEI…We had a significant disagreement on how he handled issue of the governor’s schools. I also did not appreciate how he created this false narrative that he was the reason that schools went back in person…We put out state guidelines, we were one of the [first] states to do it, we were managing that quite effectively…to attack the governor, to sue the governor and to do that with mischaracterization and misinformation, I did not appreciate that…”

Qarni also commented – regarding Sen. Chap Petersen running as a self-proclaimed “Common Sense Team” with Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and Commonwealth’s Attorney candidate Ed Nuttall (who is running to the right of incumbent Steve Descano) – that it’s “unfortunate,” “weird” and “bizarre.” Qarni added that “using the term ‘common sense team’ is kind of insulting actually…it’s a little bit part of this white supremacist culture to look down on people of color…if you look at the history of how ‘common sense’ has been used as a term…there’s a whole historical perspective on how that’s been utilized…it does bother me because it says to everyone else, ‘you all are dumb and you don’t know what you’re talking about.’…I would encourage the three folks to really learn their history and how that’s been utilized. And unfortunately that a red flag, it’s a red flag.”

Sen. Jeremy McPike vs. Del. Elizabeth Guzman (SD29): “That’s my district, I live in that district [in Prince William County]…My personal thing is hey, you can  run against opponents, you can have whatever happens, you’ve got to put those aside and you’ve got to really look at the whole body of work. So why am I endorsing Senator Jeremy McPike? He and I have become very close friends over the years since we ran against each other. In Prince William County, which was red, Jeremy, myself and a few others were instrumental  – we worked our tails off – in building, a party infrastructure here, bringing in the resources…we really created a system that would allow Democrats to be successful…and we saw significant changes – school boards, the city councils, to Board of Supervisors, the delegates and the Senate, and that’s why Prince William turned blue…He was really instrumental in that. Jeremy also over the years has really made significant attempts to get to know a lot of different communities…Prince William is a majority-minority county, it is the most diverse county in the Commonwealth on racial and ethnic and economic status…Jeremy expends a lot of time and energy listening to everybody, his constituent services  are awesome. I’ve worked on a lot of education issues with him,  specifically around mental health…I also want to comment on Del. Guzman…she’s been a champion on a lot of progressive things, so not a knock against her…both are they’re amazing but [I’ve endorsed] Sen. McPike.”

Sen. George Barker vs. Fairfax County School Board member Stella Pekarsky (SD36): “With Stella, I worked on a variety of education issues when she was on the school board, she’s a teacher as well…Sen. Barker, I’ve worked with him on a variety of issues and he’s had a solid voting record on education. I see myself as a pragmatic persistent progressive. I want to emphasize progressive because I do feel that somehow there’s still not a full acceptance of progressive values and that unfortunately comes under attack…the people I endorse generally, [I look at] are they pragmatic, are they going to be persistent and stick with advancing the progressive agenda, are they truly progressive. I find Stella to fit that criteria…Between the two, I felt really strongly about Stella, what she brings to the table. I think we need to continue to diversify, based on gender, based on race, based on perspective, based on progressive values and give more people a chance. I think we need do a better job as a party to create succession plans so we have folks [who] are not just staying too long and they’re really staying up to speed with different, fresh perspectives…I think Stella would do a wonderful job…I really respect [her].”

Sen. Dave Marsden vs. Heidi Drauschak (SD35): “Heidi was very persistent, I talked to her several times…The district has changed quite a bit…Sen. Marsden is very very nice and [we have a] very good relationship, but again it’s kind of similar to the Stella situation; I felt strongly about Heidi…some people I really really respect who are grassroots activists, these are educators, folks I’ve worked with on the progressive for many many years,  feel very strongly about Heidi. I received a lot of positive calls about her; there were a lot of people who live in this district that said, look, Heidi is amazing. And I really value their opinions. I took time to really think about this and I feel really really strongly about this. And congratulations to Heidi for being a new mom and with a beautiful baby and that shows some grit…She’s a fighter and I think she’s going to be a great progressive champion for years to come.”

Former Del. Hala Ayala vs. former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (SD33):  “I’ve endorsed Jennifer Carroll Foy…I know Hala Ayala and Jennifer Carroll Foy well. Jennifer and I have worked very closely on numerous education issues. Looking at the whole body of work, they both have their strengths…Jennifer Carroll Foy and I worked very close on a couple issues – one issue that comes to mind is that when I was a classroom teacher I saw that Black female students specifically were unfairly targeted and unfairly disciplined, specifically around zip code…There’s a lot of concerns I had, and that is something that Jennifer really took up the mantle and really worked hard on. So that’s just one issue of many that  I’ve worked closely on with her…getting some policy initiatives in place but also working with local communities… creating a more welcoming environment, a more inclusive environment for children. So having worked closely with her…I felt strongly about endorsing her.”

Del. Suhas Subramanyam vs. former Del. Ibraheem Samirah (SD32): “I wish Sen. John Bell [who is retiring for health reasons] the best…with his medical treatment; he’s a class act…Suhas has been a really thoughtful delegate from Loudoun; I worked on a variety of education issues with him…Actually, when I was attacked in a House committee meeting on a bill, there was a lot of mudslinging going on, he was the only one who stepped in and stopped it and said this is inappropriate…He’s a class act…This is a “very, very diverse” district…Suhas “does a very good job trying to get out different groups and really trying to understand each community’s individual needs and really trying to represent them well, so I think he’ll do a good job.”

Russet Perry vs. Leesburg Town Council member Zach Cummings (SD31): “Nobody reached out to me; I only endorse if a person reaches out and asks me.”

Sen. Creigh Deeds vs. Del. Sally Hudson (SD11): “Nobody reached out  to me in this one.”

Sen. Louise Lucas vs. Sen. Lionell Spruill (SD18):  “Nobody reached out. I’ve actually never talked to Sen. Spruill.” “Sen. Lucas has…been a champion specifically on education” and “I’ve worked with her on numerous things, so if she were to ask, she’d have my open endorsement.”

Adele McClure vs. Kevin Saucedo-Broach (HD02): “I’ve  endorsed Adele…she is awesome, an amazing progressive champion.”

Fairfax County School Board member Karen Keys-Gamarra vs. Paul Berry vs. Shyamali Hauth vs. Mary Barthelson (HD07):  “I endorsed Paul Berry. Paul and I worked closely together on a variety of issues… I’ve heard great things about Shyamali…I’ve had limited interactions…This one was based on working closely with someone, seeing somebody in action and really finding some progressive values.”

Fairfax County School Board member Laura Jane Cohn vs. Eric Schmidt and Henri Thompson (HD15): “I haven’t talked to anybody in that race.”

Makya Little vs. Natalie Shorter vs. Rozia Henson (HD-19):  “I’ve endorsed Makya in that one; she was on the African-American history education commission; I worked closely with her for two years on social studies standards along with other many DEI initiatives and overall education initiatives.”

Kannan Srinivasan vs. Sirisha Kompalli (HD26): “Kannan is awesome, I think he is the best choice in that seat by far; amazing body of work, really cares about addressing inequities.”

Victor McKenzie vs. Kimberly Adam Pope Adams (HD82): “I had a couple conversations with [Victor McKenzie] and he was really impressive.”

Rae Cousins vs. Richmond City Council member Ann-Frances Lambert vs. Richard Walker (HD79): Rae Cousins “seems really impressive as well.”

Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler vs. Susan Hippen vs. Brandon Hutchins and Sean Monteiro (HD96): “I haven’t followed that one.”

Del. Dolores McQuinn vs. Terence Walker (HD79): “I haven’t followed that one.”

Susanna Gibson and Bob Shippee (HD57): “Not familiar with that one.”

Prince William County School Board Chair Babur Lateef vs. Julia Biggins (Prince William County School Board Chair): “I’m supporting the incumbents for the school board because I think they’ve done a phenomenal job. Of all of the school divisions, Prince William for the last four years did the most amount for teachers in terms of salary increases, 30%, that’s historic. They also did the most amount of investments into infrastructure in addressing aging school buildings. They also brought in an amazing rock star superintendent, the first African-American superintendent, came from Chicago….awesome quality, just has really changed the culture of the school division, trying to uplift a lot more educators to go into leadership positions…to really diversify it, really bring some more fresh perspectives and energy. [Question: you credit Chair Babur Lateef for these accomplishments?] Absolutely absolutely. I think the whole school board should be credited, but as the chairperson he of course gets more attention to it, but I know that he was instrumental in all of those things, because I personally talked to him about it, and pushing for those things….He was willing to really look at the budget…I also credit him directly for getting the [COVID] vaccine to teachers in Prince William…he was the most adamant about making sure that teachers had vaccines…

Prince William County Chair Ann Wheeler vs. Deshundra Jefferson (Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chair): “I endorsed Chair Wheeler… She replaced Corey Stewart and in the Corey Stewart years, Prince William was very anti-immigrant. There’s a documentary called 9500 Liberty about how bad it was. So she comes in and completely changes the culture with the county. Since Ann’s been in office, we have seen numerous immigrant families move back to the county, we’ve seen businesses start up all across the county. If you come here, it’s become even more diverse. It’s become very business friendly for a lot of small, women- and minority-owned businesses. And she has invested significant amounts in education…She’s looking at how we can create more affordable housing….especially for our frontline workers….I mean, it’s just amazing how much Prince William has evolved just in four years.”

Arlington County Board (Natalie Roy vs. JD Spain vs. Toy Weaver vs. Susan Cunningham vs. Maureen Coffee vs. Jonathan Dromgoole – two openings)/School Board (Miranda Turner vs. Angelo Cocchiaro): “I haven’t been engaged in these, nobody’s reached out.”

Former Fairfax County School Board member Ilryong Moon vs. Kyle McDaniel vs. Hamid Munir vs. former Fairfax County School Board member Ryan McElveen vs. former Falls Church School Board member Lawrence Webb – Fairfax County School Board At-Large (three openings): “I’ve endorsed Kyle McDaniel who I think is extremely impressive; I’ve talked to him multiple times, he has a great story on how he has transitioned in his thinking [to progressive and Democratic] over the years. And I’ve endorsed Hamid Munir…”

Harold Sims vs. Mateo Dunne – Fairfax County School Board (Mt. Vernon magisterial district): “I’ve endorsed Harold Sims; he was very persistent, he reached out many times, initially I did not endorse…I spoke with him and I know he talked about, as a boss for Yesli Vega, how he has put out a thing of support, but then he provided an explanation, offered his apology and explained that he’s a Democrat and this won’t happen again…I respected that, I talked to him about it…I know several people from his church…I talked to him about a lot of these inequities in Fairfax…I talked to his opponent Mateo Dunne…After the endorsement, he did reach out to me as well. I expressed my concern about his affiliation with ‘Open FCPS’ and some other groups which are definitely fronts for Republicans and are attacking public education…I noticed Mateo Dunne put out a statement saying that he’s strongly opposed to those groups, their thinking and their values and he’s a Democrat and provided an explanation. So I’m not endorsing Mateo Dunne, I’m endorsing Mr. Sims, but…I do respect that Mr. Dunne acknowledged that concern and provided a statement clarifying that.”

Andres Jimenez vs. Reid Voss vs. Steve Lee vs. Jeremy Allen – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (Mason Magisterial District): “I endorsed Andres.”

Albert Vega vs. John Nowadly – Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (Springfield Magisterial District):  “I endorsed Vega, he was very impressive, he had reached out.”

Commonwealth’s Attorney Parisa Dehghani-Tafti vs. Josh Katcher – Arlington/Falls Church Commonwealth’s Attorney; Steve Descano vs. Ed Nuttall – Fairfax Commonwealth’s Attorney; incumbent Buta Biberaj vs. Elizabeth Lancaster – Loudoun County Commonwealth’s Attorney:  “Parisa’s awesome, I hope she wins…Steve Descano, Buta Biberaj…We have awesome Commonwealth’s Attorneys, I’m endorsing all three.”


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