Elizabeth Guzman is a Democratic candidate for House District 31 in Prince William and Fauquier counties. She is running against Sara Townsend in the Democratic primary to be held on June 13. In November, the Democratic nominee will face off against Republican Scott Lingamfelter, the incumbent, who was first elected to represent HD31 in 2001.
Below are Guzman’s responses to Battleground Virginia’s Spotlight questions. Battleground Virginia has contacted the Townsend and Lingamfelter campaigns. If the candidates elect to participate in the Spotlight: The Swing Districts initiative, their responses will be posted on the Battleground Virginia website as well.
What is the most important issue facing the district where you’re running and what are concrete steps you would take to address it?
The lack of Early Childhood Education Programs in the form of Early Head Start and Head Start is one of the most vital issues facing the 31st District. Currently, we are only serving 1% of the population of children under five with these programs. We are putting this responsibility on the public school system while schools are facing their own issues such as overcrowding, high employee turnover rates, and low teacher pay. I would facilitate agreements between local governments and the state to assign the administration of these programs to non-profits while local governments could provide the space to run the programs and the schools could provide special education to children with Individualized Education Programs to meet children’s individual needs. The federal program could provide 65% of [support] for these programs.
What is the most important issue facing Virginia and what are concrete steps you would take to address it?
One of the most important issues facing Virginia is the minimum wage. Right now the minimum wage in Virginia is $7.25. This is not a livable wage and it is unacceptable. We must increase the minimum wage to a livable standard so that struggling families across the state can prosper. This is a family issue because when parents have to have three jobs just to make ends meet, they don’t spend enough time with their children and that’s how their children get into gangs, substance abuse, and alcohol. We need to increase the minimum wage to a living wage so that parents can spend more time with their children.
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 am a public administrator and a social worker. I am currently working for the City of Alexandria Government as a Division Chief of Administrative Services for the Center for Adult Services for the Department of Community Human Services. I worked in Fairfax County Government in the Early Childhood Education department before and prior to that in Fairfax County Public Schools. My experience as a public servant in local governments throughout the Northern Virginia area has equipped me to do this job well. I want to take time away to represent my district because it is time to bring the diversity of the 31st District to Richmond. I am a long-time resident of the 31st District, where I have raised four beautiful children in Prince William County and I fully understand the needs of ordinary people that live here.
How would your approach in the House of Delegates differ from your opponent(s)?
If elected I will make myself accessible to my constituents. They voted for me and they deserve the best customer service from their representative. I believe in connectedness, so it is important for me to understand their needs in order to be able to represent them and connect with their needs. I have seen some elected officials blocking their constituents [on] their Facebook accounts because they differ [in] opinion with their representatives. I disagree [with that approach.] I feel that we need to listen to our constituents and come to a consensus, so they feel listened to and understood.
What are concrete measures that can be taken to foster greater bipartisan collaboration in the House of Delegates?
We need to work together for the benefit of Virginians. This is beyond partisan interests. A clear example is the expansion of Medicaid where our GOP representatives did not think about the people, but their self-interest. The expansion of Medicaid is not only the right thing to do, but it also makes fiscal sense. It has not been approved; so we left 400,000 low-income Virginians uninsured and we gave up 7 billion dollars that we could have used not only in health care, but other expenses like public schools, for example. Our tax dollars went to other states, such as California, that offer Medicaid for all.
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?
I am a strong supporter of expanding voting rights in Virginia. I support Governor’s McAuliffe’s law to reinstate voting rights for former felons. We need to look at the act of voting as a right, not as a privilege.
We need to accept voter registrations seven days per week. DMV office hours are the working hours of many Virginians, who are not able to leave work just to register to vote. Moreover, we need to expand early voting so that people who are not able to come out and vote on Election Day are still able to make their voices heard. The Virginia Department of Elections has increased efforts for people to register to vote, but we need to partner with other organizations to promote voter registration drives. We have new citizens every year. It should be an ongoing effort.
What changes, if any, would you like to see to the redistricting process in Virginia?
Redistricting in Virginia has been a mess. We need to stop the outrageous process of gerrymandering and keep county precincts together as much as possible instead of splitting them up for partisan gains. I was hopeful that redistricting reform would be approved this year, but once again, the bill was killed when it got to Committee. It is impossible to have a fair process when Republicans who support and have benefited from gerrymandering control the House of Delegates and the State Senate.
What else is absolutely necessary that voters know about you and the election in November?
I am running against a 15-year incumbent who only represents 16% of the voting population. I am running to bring diversity to Richmond and give a voice to the myriad of minority communities in the 31st District and across the state, who feel like their leadership does not represent them. As the first Hispanic woman in the Virginia State Assembly, I want to stand up to those who threaten to divide us, because our diversity is something to be embraced, not disrespected.
HD31 is the largest of all the districts in which Prince William Progress Coalition candidates are running. What challenges does this pose, both for the election and for representing the district?
With nineteen precincts in Prince William County and five precincts in Fauquier County I am working extremely hard to be present in both counties. It is important to promote community involvement and participation across the 31st District. Every vote is important and I will work hard to gain each vote in the 31st District. Many women in Virginia want to be represented and I will be their voice for equality and fairness in Richmond.
The Democratic Party in both counties has been working to increase the number of members in their committees. The involvement of committee members will be crucial as well. I will need their support and dedication.
Hillary Clinton won HD31 51 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?
I spent all day during election day [in 2016] introducing myself to voters in the 31st and when I spoke to voters they were excited to see a diverse candidate who will represent the range of voices in their community. I rely on their support. Additionally, this election cycle will be the first opportunity to tell Mr. President how unhappy we are with his decisions. Virginians need a strong state government who is ready to fight back against a federal government and hold divisive figures like Corey Stewart, Chair of Prince William County Board of Supervisors, accountable for his discriminatory policies.
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 Hispanic representatives in the Virginia House of Delegates, and the only Latina in the House, what role do you think identity and multicultural understanding has to play in the race, if any? How has being a Latina shaped your political outlook? Have you faced discrimination due to your racial, ethnic, or national background?
I am a long-time resident of the 31st District. I live in Prince William County and, unfortunately, discrimination has been allowed and promoted in Prince William County. As a Latina, I have been frequently profiled as undocumented and I have been questioned about my immigration status. I still remember my 25-year-old daughter coming home from school crying when she was 13 because she thought I would be deported due to Corey Stewart’s discriminatory policy. Recently, my 9-year-old son came home from school after Trump was elected. He feared that we had to leave the country because we speak Spanish. I could not stay silent anymore.
Latinos are the second largest population in Prince William County; thus, it is time to be the voice of the voiceless. As the first Hispanic female representative in the Virginia House of Delegates, I would stand up to those who divide us because our diversity is something to be embraced, not disrespected.
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.