Spotlight: Swing District 51 – Interview with Ken Boddye

Ken Boddye is the Democratic candidate for House District 51 in Prince William County. He is running
against Republican
Rich Anderson, who was first elected in 2009.

Below are Boddye’s responses to Battleground Virginia’s Spotlight questions. Battleground Virginia has
been in touch with Anderson and he indicated he will provide responses soon. Upon receiving Anderson’s responses they will posted at battlegroundva.com.

What is the most important issue facing the district where you’re running and what are concrete steps you would take to address it?

Inequality is the biggest issue facing citizens of the 51st, especially when it comes to wealth and opportunity. Changing appropriation priorities so that Prince William County gets a fair share of tax dollars goes a long way. With those tax dollars comes investments in schools, transit, and programs that eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline. From there, economic development ensures good paying jobs come to the county and the district.

What is the most important issue facing Virginia and what are concrete steps you would take to address it?

Partisan pandering in the General Assembly is the biggest obstacle in Virginia. With a House of Delegates dominated by one party, we see dozens of red meat bills making it out onto the floor. Practical bills that actually improve the lives of working Virginians get [die] silent deaths in committees. Helping other Democrats get elected to the House would help, as would amending some of the rules so good bills can actually make it out of committee.

Tell voters about your professional background. Why are you uniquely qualified to represent your district? Why would you take time away from your day job to represent the district?

I’m an underwriter and marketing specialist for community association insurance products; we work with retail insurance agents to protect HOAs, Condo Associations, Cooperatives, etc. I’ve also worked for the McDonough School of Business Technology Center at Georgetown University and as a Resident Hall Office Assistant for Georgetown’s Housing Department.

One of the less-publicized aspects of being a legislator is being a marketer for the district and the state. Delegates have the ability to attract companies and other entities to come to certain regions of the state, and our current delegation hasn’t done much of this. I would bring my experience as a marketer to my role as delegate to advocate for investment in the 51st and Prince William County.

All of the major jobs I’ve had contained some sort of service or relationship aspect. I would draw upon that experience and develop relationships with actors on all levels of government and potential partners elsewhere. If all of us are in this for the common good, it only makes sense for us to coordinate and work toward that together.

I believe in serving because currently you have to be lucky to make it in life. Our system is such that you struggle with poverty and hopelessness unless you’re born into certain conditions or catch a lucky break. I was lucky, others aren’t. This is Virginia; this is America. That’s not how things should be, and I know we can fix the system to work for everyone.

How would your approach in the House of Delegates differ from your opponent(s)?

I view Delegates as citizen-legislators, critical-thinkers, and standard-bearers for their districts.  That means my legislation and votes should be centered on improving the lives of my constituents, not scoring points with my ideological base.

That also means looking at the root causes of issues in our communities rather than simply addressing the symptoms. A quick and great example is distracted driving. My opponent advocates for adding to the types of activities that are considered distracted driving and increasing penalties for them. Distracted driving in Northern Virginia is often a result of folks having to spend nearly two hours on the road in traffic everyday; if we invested in transit solutions that got drivers off the road, that would actually address distracted driving AND one of the leading causes of economic stagnation in the region.

I’m not taking corporate donations either, which means I’m accountable only to actual people.

Finally, [I would act] as a partner and voice for local officials to amplify their efforts. Every year, the Prince William Delegation is given legislative priorities by the County, and often times these priorities are ignored or heeded on a very limited level. I would take these priorities and make them just that – priorities – instead of tabling them like many of the good bills that get tabled in committee in Richmond.

What are concrete measures that can be taken to foster greater bipartisan collaboration in the House of Delegates?

Redistricting reform, voter education and expansion are the biggest solutions to the current partisan climate in the House of Delegates. Making more competitive districts would help ensure that hyper-partisan candidates don’t win elections, and that elected officials have to work toward the needs of their constituents rather than ideology. A robust, dynamic and educated electorate would hold officials accountable, and would engage their delegates to ensure that they are voting in a productive manner.

As for the House of Delegates itself, actually listening to the other side (both in terms of constituents and fellow delegates) would go a long way. Often, folks on various parts of the political spectrum may very well want the same end goal, but differ on the terminology they use or the exact method to get there. Environmentalists and Conversationalists have quite a lot of the same interests, for example, but may emphasize different aspects of protecting our natural spaces.

Learning and understanding the terminology used by those with differing opinions is the first step. Being willing to vote in favor of good ideas – regardless of the party of origin – is the next. Finding a fellow delegate from across the aisle with a similar district and similar needs is another pathway, as they often have similar issues in their districts, and thus will be open to solutions that help both districts.

What’s your position on voting rights in Virginia? Are there steps that should be taken to expand access to voting (End voter ID laws? Reinstate voting rights of former felons? Change the election day from a Tuesday in early November to a weekend? Expand absentee voting access? Provide opportunities for early voting? Other ideas not listed here?)

Voting should be accessible and easy for everyone eligible.

Basically, a 21st Century Voting Rights Act. That means: automatic restoration of rights for former felons who complete their sentences (including parole;) same-day registration; expanding the acceptable forms of ID (if not outright ending voter ID laws;) true early voting as offered in other states; no-excuse-necessary absentee voting; extended voting hours the two weekends immediately before Election Day, automatic registration of teenagers who turn 18; and the ability to straight-ticket vote.

Other forms of ID that should be acceptable are: Social Security Cards and Student/College IDs from out-of-state schools as long as their residency in Virginia can be verified. Setting up polling stations on college campuses – especially ones outside of a certain distance from a pre-established polling location – is another step in the right direction.

What changes, if any, would you like to see to the redistricting process in Virginia?

Legislators should not be in charge of drawing district maps. A non-partisan, independent commission should be responsible, and they should follow fair criteria including compactness, existing boundaries of other jurisdictions, equal population, keeping communities together, and having logical connections – a district of two neighborhoods connected by a single, small bridge makes sense; a district of two neighborhoods connected by a stretch of 50-mile road, and nothing else, does not.

What else is absolutely necessary that voters know about you and the election in November?

I will legislate and advocate to the needs of working, struggling Virginians because I’ve lived that life, and I continue to. My brother has been in and out of the criminal system for his entire adult life; my father is scraping by on social security; and my mother was homeless at 17 and passed away at 63. I was lucky enough to escape the type of poverty that 45 million Americans cannot escape, and I will do everything in my power to ensure you no longer have to be as lucky I as was to survive.

Virginians get the first large-scale electoral response to last year’s election cycle and the new administration. Anyone who wants to turn their emotions into action needs to realize that we have the first chance to let the world know that we do not stand for the type of rhetoric and division that currently dominates our politics.  

We have the opportunity to set the tone for the next four years, and we can send a clear message: Virginians stand for progress, inclusion, and solidarity.

As someone originally from New Mexico, I can’t help but ask about your experience organizing in NM. What did you learn from your time there and how would you apply it to being an effective representative in the Virginia House of Delegates? (Also: green chile, red chile, or Christmas?)

I learned that simply voting, and simply showing up every four years, does nothing to affect positive, substantial change in our politics or our lives. We only began to sway hearts and minds after we built groups of dozens of volunteers into several neighborhood teams across Albuquerque.

I also learned that one of the biggest challenges we have on the Left is keeping our coalitions together; there were many who didn’t want to fight for the Affordable Care Act because it wasn’t single-payer, and there were others who refused once the Public Option was removed. Finding a group of die-hard activists is key, and I managed to find some who were willing to canvass with me in 100+-degree weather. Partnering up with like-minded organizations was also key.

Keeping that cohesive, community-driven engagement in the issues and legislation are what I want to bring to Richmond. I will be building neighborhood teams this year during my campaign, but they will stay there after November; those teams can be used as information networks to share updates on bills being raised, and can be mobilized to leverage support and pressure for key pieces of legislation. If they know folks in neighboring districts that should support a bill, they can be called upon to mobilize those folks as well.

You gave me an out by offering Christmas as an option up front, but… I enjoy green on most dishes, except for tamales. I like red on those.

Hillary Clinton won HD51 50 percent to Trump’s 44 percent, yet Democratic turnout in off year elections in Virginia is notoriously low. What’s your plan to ensure voters show up to the polls on November 7?

A rigorous grassroots ground game that starts this month (February!) That ground game will incorporate cleaning up the voter information we have by knocking every door, voter registration, persuasion, and voter education. In many cases, folks don’t even know we have elections this year, so half the battle is making sure they do, and what their options are. Education and encouragement on absentee voting is also a must, as a large segment of the 51st’s population is commuter.

We should be organizing and mobilizing like this is a presidential election year. I’ll be doing just that.

After the 2016 election, many on the right and some on the left decried the Democratic Party’s appeal to “identity politics.” As potentially one of very few multiracial representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates, what role do you think identity and multicultural understanding has to play in the race, if any? How has being from multiple racial and cultural backgrounds shaped your political outlook? Have you faced discrimination due to your multiracial background?

We should always have the most qualified folks representing us, regardless of color or creed. At the same time, our representatives in Richmond should be representative of the diversity of the districts they serve. That doesn’t only mean racial or religious diversity; it should also mean socio-economic, age, and occupational diversity.

I [just turned] 30, and I’m still in the workforce. I’m still saddled with college debt, and I work in insurance.  All that said, I believe that I connect with a lot more of the constituents of the 51st District as I’m still living the same challenges that they are. Education truly matters to me since one day I want to have kids; transportation matters to me since I’m not retired and still depend on the 95 corridor for work; criminal justice reform matters to me since I fall into a demographic which is jailed at a disproportionately higher rate than most.

I’d also approach issues and legislative solutions in a much different way than the slew of doctors, lawyers, and retirees that make up the predominant amount of our delegates. Having folks who come from different walks of life – and have different occupational experience – provides for a much more diverse set of solutions.

All that said, I believe race does play a role. Early on, I was also predominantly raised by my father – who is white – and so many of my initial notions of race and social conditioning come from the experience that most white children have. Unfortunately, I’ve also been asked before if I was adopted because I look different than my father. My mother became a much larger part of my life through my teens and early twenties, uniting me with my black roots as well.

Many from the white community have seen me as only black, while I’ve also experienced many in the black community view me as white. Often times, I was called upon to choose “sides,” which usually included a racial aspect; there shouldn’t be “sides,” but that’s the reality of the world we live in currently.

People of color make up around one-third of the population of the 51st district, and I believe many of them will be more motivated to vote for someone who has experienced the struggle.

I am uniquely sensitive to many of the benefits and barriers associated with being white AND a person of color and how large slews of mainstream society view both. Being aware of those often-subconscious biases allows me to parse through issues of race in a way many wouldn’t be able to.

 

This interview is part of Battleground Virginia’s Spotlight: The Swing Districts initiative – a project to bring Virginia voters more information about key races in the 2017 House of Delegates elections. Read more about the initiative here.

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