Governor Northam announced on Friday, May 15 that most parts of the Commonwealth will enter Phase One of reopening. Based on guidance provided by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Coronavirus task force, some non-essential businesses such as bars and restaurants can begin opening with increased safety measures and distancing efforts.
While this is a much welcomed step towards normality, we must remain vigilant and cautious to prevent another spike in cases. I applaud the local officials in Richmond, Northern Virginia and Accomack County who have requested an exemption from Phase One reopening in order to protect their citizens' health as cases in these areas continue to rise.
We saw early in this crisis that the federal government was not prepared for this pandemic: they were not prepared to provide states with aid and they were not prepared to work together to see us through this crisis. Even now, partisan bickering has resumed and our President claims the danger is over.
We are not out of the woods yet. Accessible testing remains an issue nationwide, despite what you will hear from the Rose Garden. The burden of protection remains on us as individuals, to wear our masks to protect ourselves and others when the government will not mandate this essential precaution. President Trump and GOP members are not leading by example, instead openly ignoring the recommendation to wear a mask and maintain social distance in daily press events.
No one has escaped this pandemic unchanged: students are still out of school, unemployment rates are still climbing and financial aid is still tied up in partisan battles. As we cautiously venture back into society, I urge everyone to stay smart and continue with the safety measures recommended by health professionals and experts: maintain social distance, wear face masks in public places, wash your hands frequently.
This was a global crisis that tested us all. We have not passed that test, we are still taking it. As restrictions ease, we must take the lessons we learned from this crisis and apply it to future legislation and disaster preparedness. We need paid sick leave and safer working conditions for all workers. We need an improved healthcare offering so no one is forced to choose between their health and putting food on the table. We need access to remote learning and working platforms. We need leaders who are willing to put aside their differences and come together for the sake of the people.
If there is one thing we can do today to safeguard our future, it's vote. Absentee ballots are now available ahead of the June 23rd election. Staying safe and exercising your right to vote are not mutually exclusive.
For years we have seen the warning signs around climate change: harsher winters, hotter summers, more extreme natural disasters. We cannot continue to ignore global warming and the dangerous effects climate change has on our planet. The American people have demanded change to protect the environment, exercising their right to protest and call on government officials to pursue green energy and preserve America's natural beauty. And yet, the current administration continues to roll back environmental protections.
On a local level, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would see a natural gas pipeline built through the VA-05, marring our land and endangering our citizens without providing energy options in the district. I oppose pipelines that increase our reliance on fossil fuels and cause harm to our environment, whether that is in the 5th district or elsewhere in our country.
Clean renewable energy is a critical need for the people and the planet. I believe in more locally sourced renewable energy that will lower costs for businesses and customers as well as cut our carbon footprint. My environmental agenda would focus on climate change and strive towards realization of the following legislative goals:
- Upgrade all federal buildings to be more energy efficient
- Increase tax credits for homeowners and businesses who use wind and solar energy
- Invest in methane gas converter machines that can turn gas released from trash and waste into electricity
- Reinstate protections created during the Bush and Obama administrations such as:
- Support the WaterSense Program
- Re-enact and strengthen the automobile fuel efficiency standards recently rolled back by the current administration
- Re-establish the United States as a global leader and ally in the protection of the environment, starting by rejoining the Paris Agreement
The recent pandemic has highlighted a key fact we have known for years: We have a healthcare crisis in America. Before the outbreak began, there were 30 million uninsured people in this country. Each day that number grows. In just the first three months of this pandemic, more than 30 million people have filed for unemployment. As workers lose their jobs, many also lose their health insurance. Some still have access to healthcare but simply cannot afford it. Others are underinsured and some even with insurance delay or forego care due to high deductibles, copays and prescription drug costs.
I support the Affordable Care Act (ACA) but believe it should be strengthened and expanded. Most great pieces of national legislation have been works-in-progress improved upon over time. The ACA is no exception. But Republicans have spent the better part of the last ten years doing everything they can to undermine the law instead of embracing it as landmark legislation and working to improve it. They say “repeal and replace” while offering no viable alternative and stone-walling efforts to collaborate. To build on the ACA, I favor a public option that will afford citizens with private insurance through their employer to have a choice and those who are uninsured or underinsured to have a viable, cost-effective option.
Whether or not an individual can afford to seek testing or treatment during this pandemic should not even be a question. The fact that this health crisis has disproportionately affected communities of color and the poor is a direct reflection on a healthcare system that favors the wealthy. Healthcare is not a privilege for a few, it is a right for all. America is one of the most prosperous and innovative nations in the world. We can fix this!
My legislative goals include:
- Supporting and expanding the Affordable Care Act with guarantees that no one pays more or is excluded for pre-existing conditions
- Disallowing any insurance provider to exclude coverage for mental illness and focusing on prevention, early diagnosis and comprehensive treatment
- Ensuring equal access to tele-medicine through the expansion of reliable broadband throughout rural America
- Putting an end to surprise billing and prescription price gouging ensuring that no one has to choose between life saving treatment or medication and other basic needs
- Incentivizing healthcare providers to commit to underserved areas
- Improving oversight of medical and long term care facilities and protecting whistleblowers who draw attention to insurance fraud and abuse, and poor treatment of patients and residents
- Reliably funding the CDC, NIH, and WHO to study, prepare for and prevent future viral and biological crises and to continue addressing devastating conditions like autism, cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Lyme disease
- Maintaining a reliable supply chain of critical medical materials and equipment such as PPE through onshoring and nearshoring of critical manufacturing
- Ensuring that the focus of electronic medical records (EMR) is on improving the patient experience and outcomes and that patients have access to their own health records
- Protecting America’s workforce through universal paid sick leave and ensuring that necessary protective equipment is available to essential workers
I don't believe you go to Congress without having big ideas. For years, politicians from both sides of the aisle have agreed that our country needs a comprehensive infrastructure bill to repair roads, bridges, tunnels and water systems but with no action to speak of. Crumbling infrastructure has lead to serious problems, often beyond the ability of local government to fix. Localities such as Flint, Michigan simply do not have the financial capacity to repair critical infrastructure such as the water pipes needed to supply clean drinking water to residents and will need help from the federal government. The status and maintenance of our infrastructure is also a national security issue. Without roads, bridges, and tunnels we cannot move goods or provide for common public safety.
I believe that rural broadband should be part of the infrastructure conversation and belongs in this category. Rural broadband cuts across all aspects of education, employment, public safety, healthcare, and jobs. Without the internet, rural communities are falling into the "have not" category while our urban areas continue to prosper and provide the necessary bandwidth for their children to be productive in school and the elderly to have access to modern care. As we have seen in recent weeks, the ability to work remotely and participate in remote classes has become imperative. Similarly, telemedicine allows for remote consultation with a medical professional while practicing social distancing. Without reliable internet though, our community is falling behind and during pandemics, is put at increased risk.
As the former chairman and current member of my county's broadband committee, I have learned first hand the challenges of convincing providers to bring services to unserved and underserved rural communities. We must overcome this obstacle by investing in rural broadband as part of an infrastructure plan and treat it as the rural electrification issue of our time.
As a parent, I know the importance of early childhood education. As a former school board member in Virginia, I’ve seen first hand the devastating effects when children fall behind. Under the current administration, the Department of Education is trying to systematically starve our public school system which, for many, is the only pathway to a decent education. School systems across the nation are underfunded, causing local boards to cut teachers and counselors, after school activities, and physical, art and music education classes. Working with state and local elected officials, we must properly fund public education and not rely on private, for-profit schools to answer the challenge of failing inner city and rural districts. The funding shortfall is particularly devastating for our youngest learners. For the past 10 years, I have been involved in Headwaters and the Child Care and Learning Center to help address these issues in the community in which I live. In Congress, I will work to address these issues for all children.
There is no one-size-fits-all path to adulthood. Every child is different and therefore should be empowered to pursue his/her own interests and hone his/her own skills after graduating from high school. Through my experience on the board of the Rappahannock Center for Education, I am acutely aware of obstacles facing those who seek reliable, well paying trade jobs and training as an alternative to college. We must recognize that young adults choosing a path that differs from a traditional college plan deserve affordable access to vocational training in their chosen field.
For those choosing college, the road can be filled with challenges including the high cost of tuition, room and board, competitive enrollment, and for some, the high price and/or lack of childcare options. The wealth disparity already so apparent as students matriculate from their high schools becomes even more glaring for the students who cannot turn to their parents for financial assistance and may not qualify for limited financial aid. According to the Department of Education numbers from December 2019, the average federal and private student loan debt in America is over $35,000 nationally and $38,000 here in Virginia. With each passing year, the numbers become more and more daunting.
America is better than this. No one person and no one party has all of the answers but my experiences have informed my goals on education which include:
- Providing teachers with the resources they need and the pay they deserve
- Addressing student behavioral and mental health challenges with improved and universal health and wellness coverage
- Improving equality in education and correcting disparities in underserved and rural communities
- Improving access to career and technical education programs
- Expanding rural broadband to ensure education equality and facilitate distance learning
- Capping student loan interest rates and restoring consumer protections with federal oversight of student debt collection
All people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should be equal under the law. I support adding the Equal Rights Amendment to the United States Constitution alongside other reforms including:
- Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, ensuring that no individual or organization is above the law
- Strengthening laws to protect women from family responsibilities discrimination
- Supporting legislation for comprehensive and evidence-based sex education for all children, with an emphasis on the necessity of consent
- Supporting a woman's right to choose; this is a private decision which must be protected by public policy
- Supporting legislation to protect people from being fired or discriminated against based on their gender preference or sexual orientation
- Increasing support for sexual assault victims including funding for rape kit testing, training of first responders, and counseling support for survivors
- Requiring, under the law, equal pay regardless of gender or sexual orientation
Agriculture is Virginia’s largest industry, but federal and state regulations put burdens on farmers that prevent them from being successful. I want to ease these regulatory burdens and promote farming as an industry that future generations can make a living in. I want to make sure that the taxes are fair and do not prohibit individuals from starting and growing their agriculture business.
There are amazing opportunities for entrepreneurship in areas such as urban farming. There is an abundance of vacant land in urban areas that are perfect locations for growing food, and items for products like hemp. This creates opportunities for growing the local food supply, eliminating food deserts, and providing an affordable healthy product to the public.
I believe we need to increase the minimum wage. The way we do that is the harder question.
The Democratic Party currently advocates for a minimum wage of no less than $15 per hour. I believe that this is an achievable goal; but it must be done incrementally and in step with local economies. For example, Charlottesville and Danville have extremely different economies and what works for one, may not work for the other.
Moreover, I will advocate for removing the federal loopholes that allow companies to pay disabled workers 10 cents on the dollar.
Voter rights and election security in America are in serious jeopardy: voting roll purges, voter ID laws, broken and hackable machines, foreign meddling. We have watched the public lose faith and simply stop participating in the process. We know that the Russian government directed extensive activity in recent years against U.S. election infrastructure at the state and local level. The Russian meddling is continuing into the 2020 election.
In recent years, Democrats have led the effort, over the objections of Republicans, to provide funding for election security grants to improve the cybersecurity of our states’ infrastructure. A total of $805 million was provided for election machine replacement, post-election audits, registration database improvements, cybersecurity best practices, training for local election officials, and increases in cybersecurity and information technology staff. House and Senate Democrats have also supported legislation establishing mandatory election security standards for federal elections, including voter registration databases, ballot marking and counting machines, and election night reporting websites. Republicans have fought these efforts, jeopardizing Americans' right to vote in a fair election.
We must restore faith in the system. I will fight to put stronger programs in place to protect voting machines, secure election integrity and ensure that votes aren’t tampered with by foreign adversaries or corrupt domestic efforts. I will continue the fight for voter rights beginning with making Election Day a national holiday and automatically registering all Americans to vote on their 18th birthday. And I will fight for same-day registration, no-excuse early and absentee voting, and for the restoration of voting rights to felons who have completed their sentences.
America was founded on the principle of one person, one vote. Brave women and men fought to ensure that this right be granted to all citizens despite race and gender. We must continue to respond to evolving threats to our democracy while ensuring that our elections are pure and that we truly adhere to this core constitutional right.
A majority of Americans want common sense gun legislation to include universal background checks, red flag laws, closing the boyfriend loophole, and assault weapons bans. A vocal but passionate minority has capitalized on fear and a lack of trust in government to convince many Americans that passing any gun safety law will begin a slippery slope to the confiscation of all weapons. The National Rifle Association has spent millions of dollars building and sustaining that fear.
Further stoking the issue is the belief that the government and the urban “elites” want to permanently alter rural heritage which is shaped, in part, by gun ownership and hunting. Both sides are talking past each other leading to further misunderstanding and suspicion.
We need to begin the process of collaboration and dialog to dissolve this pervasive lack of trust. Many think it can’t be done. But we must start with what we agree on, calm fears, and develop common sense measures together, where possible. To do this will take courage and the political will to find solutions that shut out the noise of lobbyists and focus instead on what we need to do to restore safety in homes, schools and other public places.
There have been too many mass shootings, too many suicides, too many instances of domestic violence, too many first responders gunned down, and too many guns in the hands of criminals. We do not look to change a culture but we do look to apply common sense to Second Amendment rights. I hope to be a leader who can craft conversations between persons of differing opinions and pull people from across the political divide to a place of understanding. Too many lives are at risk for us to give up or hope the problem will subside without hard work.
We need to focus more on rehabilitation, offering job training and education, as well as restoring voting rights upon completion of a sentence.
The war on drugs has clogged up our legal system and cost taxpayers billions of dollars because of mass incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders. It is time to legalize cannabis for adult use and regulate it like alcohol. In addition, it needs to be available for prescriptions. I also support the expungement of all records of people arrested, charged, and convicted of cannabis possession and small quantity distribution.
For the past three years, our government has been systematically broken from within. We have lost valuable public servants, including hundreds of scientists in the USDA and literally thousands of foreign policy experts in the State Department. Agencies like the Department of Homeland Security, Education, and the Environmental Protection Agency have been decimated. The result has been inefficiency, corruption, and scandal.
We must carefully and thoughtfully rebuild our agencies with knowledgeable leaders and dedicated public servants who will ensure that our federal government works for us.
The United States was once respected for our values, leadership and adherence to the rule of law. However, in the past three years we have seen our relationships around the world weakened and the reputation of the United States diminished. Our President has ignored the advice of our military leaders and intelligence community, embraced tyrants and returned us to the isolationist policies of the 1930's. We have turned our back on allies who have counted on us and have ceded the world stage to Russia, China and other countries that do not share our interests or our value for human rights. Simply put, we have not been safeguarding the national interest.
In addition, Congress has abdicated its Constitutional powers to the Executive. Congress must re-establish itself as the body which determines long-term foreign involvement and declares war. Otherwise, we continue to run the risk of involvement in endless wars at the expense of our blood and treasure.
In Congress, I will work with my colleagues to restore and strengthen our alliances and rebuild our credibility on the world stage. This starts with supporting and rebuilding our foreign and civil service ranks, and respecting the institutional knowledge of career diplomats in our State Department, leaders in our intelligence community, and the men and women who serve in uniform.
I will support re-engaging in the Iran nuclear agreement, end support for the Saudi war in Yemen, energize peace talks in the Middle East to include Syria, restore travel to Cuba, and put our country back in a leadership position to reduce global warming and fight climate change, an element of foreign policy with worldwide ramifications.
We are all descended from immigrants, and our country is founded on the principles of equality for all. My grandfather immigrated from Poland in 1913 and worked all his life in the auto plants of Detroit. Thanks to my grandparents’ work ethic and desire for their children to have a better life, my father was the first in his family to go to college. My children are now fourth generation American citizens.
Unfortunately, this administration now relies on policies of cruelty and fear in its treatment of immigrants seeking a better life. Because of the lack of comprehensive immigration reform, the Republicans get away with ignoring asylum laws, building unnecessary walls, separating families at the border, and putting children in detention facilities. Because there is no bipartisan agreement on immigration, the Dreamers continue to suffer a fate of uncertainty and fear deportation at a moment’s notice.
I will stand up for comprehensive immigration reform that is welcoming to the huddled masses while being conscious of our security. We can use technology and increased border funding to monitor our borders rather than a patchwork of fixes doomed to fail from the start. I will also support international aid on a case by case basis to countries in turmoil in order to stabilize their economies to slow or stop refugee migration. We must proactively engage the problem at the root cause, rather than react to the symptoms.