Yesterday afternoon, I had a chance to interview Loudoun County Board of Supervisors (Dulles District) Democratic nominee Puja Khanna. FYI, Khanna’s Republican opponent is incumbent Supervisor Matt Letourneau – now in his third term – who among other things:
- Is an oil and gas industry lobbyist who has fought EPA regulations to protect the environment and, as a coalition of environmental groups wrote last year, may have a “conflict of interest regarding Metro’s plans to continue to buy fossil fuel buses throughout this decade and install new compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling infrastructure.” As that environmental groups’ letter stated, “Mr. Letourneau’s employer, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, openly promotes coal, oil and gas development” and even “falsely claims that natural gas—which is comprised of 70 to 90 percent methane—is a ‘solution’ for global warming.” Yikes.
- Disturbingly, Letourneau abstained from a resolution “calling on Del. Dave A. LaRock (R-33) to resign after taking part in a rally that turned into a violent riot in the American capitol, and for his part in spreading false rhetoric around the results of the 2020 presidential election.” Why would Letourneau not vote for that?
- Is anti-union; for instance, in 2012, he wouldn’t even discuss Metrorail expansion unless unions got cut out.
- This past January, Letourneau was the only Supervisor to vote against a motion supporting a state constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to an abortion, as well as state legislation to expand and protect abortion access.
- Is against common sense gun violence prevention measures; as this 2013 WaPo article reports, Letourneau “was part of the group who strongly opposed COG taking a stance on gun control.” Letourneau also voted against a resolution to “oppose HB1398, carrying a concealed handgun with a permit; private property.”
So this right-wing Republican represents the highly diverse Dulles District (41% White, 35% Asian, 9% Black, 8% Hispanic, 6% two or more races, etc.), which last year went heavily for Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA10) over Republican Hung Cao. Does that seem like a mismatch to you or what? Yep. And does this seem like a district that’s ripe for Democrats to flip…and to never give back to Republicans once we do? Again, yep. And this year, Democrats have a strong nominee, Puja Khanna, who is running to do just that. See below for a lightly edited/condensed version of my conversation with her, and seriously consider donating, volunteering, etc. to her campaign!
Blue Virginia: “How’s the race looking at this point? Do you overlap with any other important races? Anything else you think is important to know about this election?”
Puja Khanna: “I am Puja Khanna, running for Dulles District Supervisor seat for the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. I’m a first-generation immigrant; I moved to the United States when I was 23 years old. Never had I thought in my life that I would actually be running for office one day, but here I am running for office. So this is only possible in America – the freedom that our country gives us makes these things happen and possible. So I’m very thankful for that! I’m running…because I deeply believe in our community and county. I’m running to flip a seat blue that we’ve not had in 12 years. We need all hands on deck to make this win happen in November. I have lived here in Virginia for over 20 years. My family and I – we moved to Loudoun County about 13 years ago. I’m a mom of three…all my three kids go to Loudoun County Public Schools…My husband and I, we worked hard to raise our family here. And we have a two-year-old cat who was adopted when she was four weeks old; we found her stuck in the bushes on a stormy night… and she’s the queen of our house…She’s awesome…It’s a good life that we’ve built here.
I’m running here for this particular seat because there are so many issues in our district that have not been taken care of the past several years…we have a lot of pedestrian safety issues, we have a lot of traffic safety issues. We need green space in our district; we don’t even have a park in our district. So those are some of the key issues that I would want to work on and improve on the quality of life for all of us. That’s a huge facet of my race.”
Blue Virginia: “So Dulles District is like 1/8 of the population of Loudoun County?
Puja Khanna: “We have about 54,000 people in the district…the new redistricting just happened.”
Blue Virginia: The Board of Supervisors used to be heavily Republican but now it’s heavily Democratic. It’s also a diverse district and pretty competitive, right?”
Puja Khanna: “It definitely went for Rep. Wexton strong [in 2022]. It’s a very diverse district. Loudoun County is way more diverse than what it was 13 years ago when I first moved in here, and a few decades back…But right now this district is one of the most diverse districts in the county…This particular district is about 35 percent Asian American…”
Blue Virginia: “Given that diversity, it’s surprising in a way that Dulles district is represented by a conservative Republican. It just seems like it’s ripe for flipping…So for readers who are focused on the House of Delegates and State Senate races, which of course are crucial because of abortion access and a million other reasons, why would you argue they should also focus on a local race like this one?”
Puja Khanna: “Well, to me all politics is local… I think local offices make more impact in your life than any other office does and which is why I’ve chosen to run for this seat. Because there’s a lot of impact that we can do on a local basis. Like a lot of funding from the Board of Supervisors goes towards our schools and how well they function, and ensuring all safety measures are funded; to where development is going to happen; to what land land use decisions we’re going to incorporate; making sure that environment and energy, good decisions are taken into account. A lot of that happens at the local level. And local offices also determine your quality of life…you go to your local administration first before you go anywhere else…There’s a lot of work that needs to be done in this particular seat. I was asked if I was interested in running for a state legislative seat for my district, and I actually said no, because I was already committed to my race here. My point of running or stepping up to run or to serve our community essentially came from the fact that this district has been underrepresented, not being cared for. Issues like Route 50 should have been fixed a long time ago, we have horrible traffic on Route 50. And my opponent, he’s been like missing in action; he does good lip service, but where’s the action, where’s the work? I think work’s not getting done, and that’s a huge problem to me. I mean, if work is not going to get done and you’re not going to take care of issues that need to be addressed, what are you really serving in the office for? Is it just for the power that comes with this office? Or do you feel entitled? Is it because you feel that you’re a career politician and you can just just stay there as long as you want?…This is his third term.”
Blue Virginia: “In your opinion, has he accomplished really anything positive in those three terms?”
Puja Khanna: “He did do a little work [in his first term], but then a lot of work has just been pending pending pending. Last term, also, he ran on the same two issues, of fixing Route 50 and Braddock. He’s talking about the same thing now. This is an election year, he went to some groundbreaking for Braddock Road. I’m like, where were you [the last four years], what have you been up to?…He has a day job and he’s on the board of Metro. I don’t even know what his vision is and where he’s headed. I mean to me, he has some stale ideas and really is not accomplishing anything. And his vision, I don’t even know what it is…But it’s really about community building for us. As a district, we want to pull our community together, we want to fight for the rights of our district, we want to have better representation, we want to have that vision…where we are geared up, pumped up to do our work…and also give our district the visibility and meet the needs of our district which have not been taken care of for so many years.”
Blue Virginia: “From what I’ve read about this guy, he’s definitely very conservative. I mean, I’ve read that he’s an oil and gas industry lobbyist who’s spreads lies about climate change; he’s anti-union; he’s anti-reproductive freedom; he’s pro-gun; he refused to vote for a resolution calling on delegate Dave LaRock to resign after taking part in the January 6th pro-Trump rally that ended in the insurrection, he’s funded heavily by developers. Is all that true about him? Any one of those things seems like a reason to replace this guy.”
Puja Khanna: “He’s a hardline conservative; he just flies under the radar because he plays the card of being a moderate…Again, his lip service is great, he does a lot of Facebooking, he has a social media page…keeps his name active, has a newsletter that he sends out regularly. So he kind of makes people feel that his name is getting out there every single month; he will dump people with a lot of information in it, saying this work is getting done. But the work is not getting done. If the work is not getting done, what are you doing?…He has actively advocated against unions…worker’s rights…when Metro re-negotiations were happening, he said unless they cut the labor friendly provisions out, we’re not going to have any negotiation whatsoever…He voted against a motion supporting the ERA…”
Blue Virginia: “How is he on LGBTQ issues?”
Puja Khanna: “He doesn’t support the LGBTQ community…Whenever there’s a signing of an annual gun sense resolution at the County Board level, he will make sure that he
doesn’t come show up for the signing…I mean, he is who he is and I don’t know why we have to live with somebody whose heart and mind are not aligned with what the this county in general feels and wants to accomplish…For reproductive rights, we don’t have a Planned Parenthood in our county. If he were pro-choice, I think he would have done something…If he was supportive of womens’ right to choose, he would have contributed to that in a positive way. But he is not… His value system is not aligned with our value system, so there will always be a misalignment there….But to me, it’s more about local issues in this race…not party issues, but common sense issues…”
Blue Virginia: “Are data centers a big issue in this race?”
Puja Khanna: “Data centers are a big piece of who Loudoun County is. So I would like to see a few things done differently. Like I would like data centers to be placed away from residential dwellings. I would like them to be in industrial zones. I would like them to be compliant with environmental policies, like maybe installing solar on their roof, those kinds of things. And he’s never going to push for that, because he’s not into renewable energy or sustainability at all.”
Blue Virginia: Do you feel like Loudoun County has a strong plan for getting off of fossil fuels and transitioning to clean energy and is that something you would push for?”
Puja Khanna: “I will definitely push for that, I don’t think we have a strong focus on that yet…I’m born and raised in India, and I know for a fact that we need to take care of the environment.”
Blue Virginia: “I guess that ties in with transportation…are you a fan of transit-oriented development versus building more roads, or does there have to be a balance?”
Puja Khanna: “I definitely want to move towards transit-oriented ability in our community…and public transportation is a big piece of it in Loudoun County…I do want to focus on because that can help take the congestion off of our roads…We do need to have a public system where we can have good public transportation in our county.”
Blue Virginia: “How is the situation right now?”
Puja Khanna: “There are some bus routes here, but most people use cars….I encourage more bus ridership. And I think investing a little better in our public transportation in the county will help us in a big way. A lot of people who work and live here can’t afford to live here in the county, and public transportation also helps families and communities that need that service.”
Blue Virginia: “How’s the race going so far? Have there been any forums or debates?”
Puja Khanna: “There’s a forum coming up next month, but there haven’t been any debates so far. But you know, I’m really excited about this race, because I really am very committed to community building. I truly want to make our district a better place for all of us – quality of life is very very important to me and I’m somebody who’s very aware of our issues in our district and our county and our needs and that’s something I would strongly advocate for.”
Blue Virginia: “So how do you win this race…you need a lot more volunteers…you have to focus on getting out to vote a very diverse district that voted for Jennifer Wexton to turn out this year, right?”
Puja Khanna: “A good campaign is what we need…In a month now, we will have early voting start…people can start voting starting September 22. What we are looking for, the push is of course for volunteers, we need our army of people who are going to be supportive of our race. We want people to understand why this race is so much more important this year, because every four years we get that voice where we make our decision – our vote, our voice… This time we have great candidates…It shouldn’t be just because he’s been there for such a long time… just that name recognition, that visibility alone is not enough…I need everybody’s support to you come in and pitch in; if you have a few extra dollars, please make a contribution, we’d love that very much, that’s how campaigns work…and we do need people helping us with knocking doors, making phone calls, writing postcards, text banking, and just just being the team for us…I’m very determined, I really have worked very hard on this race and I truly believe in the mission of this race, which is winning the seat, flipping it blue this cycle is going to make a huge difference in the trajectory of our district, our well-being and that of the county. And as an Indian American, to be sitting and serving on that board is going to be big. We have a huge Indian immigrant population in our county and getting elected to that seat will really give that representation, which is really important for many of us.”
Blue Virginia: “You’d be the first uh Indian American?”
Puja Khanna: “Yeah, I’m the first Indian-American woman who…ever decided to run for office in the history of our county. Once elected, I will be the first person of Asian descent to ever serve on the Board of Supervisors in Loudoun County.”
Blue Virginia: “Wow, yeah, that’s historic…very cool.”
Puja Khanna: “From that point of view, it is historic. From the point of view that we’ll be winning the seat, means we’ll be flipping it blue. And I don’t think once we flip it blue, it will ever go back to being red again…”
Blue Virginia: “Probably not – not given the demographic changes and everything.”