Every leader’s tenure must be viewed as a snapshot in time, understanding that where they were at one point in their career may not be where they are now. That’s natural, as people change – or conversely, as social circumstances change and leaders may or may not evolve in step with them.
So it is that I see State Senator Chap Petersen, whom I strongly supported in the past, as no longer the best candidate for Senate in District 37 – and why I am voting for his Democratic challenger, Saddam Salim.
While I recognize that this has been a no-brainer for some, it’s not a decision that I’ve taken lightly – so I’d like to explain how I got here. Put simply, I think that Chap is an intelligent, knowledgeable, and capable public servant who has unfortunately committed one of the biggest sins in politics – taking the feelings and opinions of his core constituents for granted. Meanwhile, he is facing a very promising, likeable and serious challenger in Saddam Salim.
In fact, I strongly supported Chap when he began his career with a run for the House of Delegates in 2001. I saw him as an up-and-coming leader from a new generation, with the open-mindedness to marry an immigrant of a different race – a progressive but one with the communication and political skills to get stuff done. I supported him in his ill-fated run for Lieutenant Governor in 2005. And together, we supported Jim Webb in his successful race for U.S. Senate in 2006. I still remember the spectacle of marching in the Memorial Day parade with Chap teaching Webb that, dude, you’re not just here to march, you need to actually stop, talk with voters and shake every hand that you can!
And there are things about Chap’s career in the Senate that I have admired up to the present day, particularly his willingness to challenge Dominion Energy and regularly patron a bill to ban politicians from the corrupt bargain of being allowed to accept donations from a public utility. Indeed, that stance won him the continued endorsement and financial support of Clean Virginia.
All that said, everyone who observes Virginia politics has noticed the growing divergence in Chap’s record from that of the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Salim’s website provides a thorough, well-documented accounting of where Chap has voted with right-wing Republicans in recent years against core Democratic values. To include a few of many examples:
- Voting against an assault weapons ban and then going on Fox (of all places) to explain himself, giving that station the chance to use his vote as part of their anti-Democratic propaganda;
- Suing Governor Northam over COVID-19 restrictions in June 2020 – a perilous time in American public health before vaccines had become widely available;
- Opposing repeal of Virginia’s anti-union laws, popularly known by the Orwellian title of “Right to Work”;
- Suing Fairfax County to attempt to block removal of a Confederate monument;
- Voting to kill a bill to clarify the definition of workplace sexual harassment and under what circumstances employers would be liable for such conduct. During the debate, Chap asked “if his wife asking men ‘to move the furniture for her’ constituted sexual harassment”;
- Voting to kill a bill that would have required police officers to report discriminatory behavior against LGBTQ people by fellow officers.
…and that’s less than half of the list! As this webpage notes, Chap has been objectively rated the first or second-most conservative Democrat in the entire Senate – while running in a district that routinely gives Democrats in statewide elections winning margins of 2 or 3 to 1.
As a result, his continual straying from progressive principles has not only threatened passage of Democratic legislation but has also been undemocratic with a small “d”. We elect public officials to represent us by confronting our society’s problems in ways that uphold our values. A representative who fails to represent us as we want to be represented is…not much of a representative at all.
I’m not going to psychoanalyze the situation by trying to figure out what’s going on inside Chap’s head. Let’s just say it’s not a good sign when a public official appears to have stopped listening to his constituents and is just doing whatever he damn well feels like.
As always, for the voters, the question is: who is the best candidate for me to support, given the actual choices that we have? To answer that question to my own satisfaction, I arranged a meeting with Saddam Salim to find out who he is, what he stands for and how serious of a campaign he is running. I ended up pleased with the answers to all of those questions.
As a humble and soft-spoken individual, Salim comes across much better in person than on video or other media, in my opinion. He radiates sincerity, authenticity and seriousness of purpose. By the latter, I do not mean that he is anything less than pleasant and cheerful, but rather that he is clearly running his campaign not as a lark but as a strategically and well-thought-out enterprise in which he is doing every bit of the hard work needed both to win and then to govern.
This hard work includes knocking on all the doors required, meeting with everyone from Democratic officials and progressive activists to business owners, and doing all the homework necessary to formulate policy stands that make sense. His approach reflects his background in the financial field, showing the methodical discipline of making sure that all the numbers add up.
His seriousness of purpose also no doubt reflects the experiences of an immigrant whose journey in pursuit of the American Dream has not by any means been easy, including the experiences of a family facing challenges from homelessness to high medical bills – and yet figuring out how to overcome them.
As climate and clean energy issues are of paramount importance to me, my ears pricked up when, at an April 20th debate, Salim said “his top 3 issues are: preventing gun violence, reproductive rights; clean energy. We’re not fighting to update our electric grid right now. We need the infrastructure for the Clean Car Act goals.”
As a child in Bangladesh – one of the countries most at risk from climate change – he experienced firsthand the effects of both flooding and drought. So the climate emergency is not something theoretical to Salim and it was clear to me that he is interested in moving forward, without any foot-dragging, to put our clean energy future in place.
Saddam Salim is running as an unapologetic progressive, but one who understands the realities of practical politics. I came away from our conversation convinced that he holds great promise as a future State Senator.
So I think it is now time for the 37th District to enthusiastically move on to new leadership. It’s okay to honor the service of those who have represented us in the past while recognizing that it is time to make way for a new generation. I therefore strongly endorse Saddam Salim for Senator and look forward to seeing him both win and serve as the progressive Democratic representative that his constituents deserve.