Spotlight: HD13 – Interview with Danica Roem

In late February, Battleground Virginia spoke with Danica Roem, one of the four Democratic candidates vying to take on the 25 year incumbent, Bob Marshall, in District 13 of the House of Delegates.

In contrast to other candidates who provided written responses to Battleground Virginia’s questions, Ms. Roem took part in a phone interview. As such, the conversation allowed for more expansive answers.

Below are Ms. Roem’s answers to the standard Spotlight questions, along with several other issues that arose in the interview. At times, quotes were lightly edited for stylistic reasons, though the substance was not altered. Elsewhere, Battleground Virginia paraphrased Ms. Roem’s positions for the sake of brevity and full responses are available at the bottom of the post. Paraphrased portions are in italics.

 

What is the most important issue facing the 13th District and what are concrete steps you would like to take to address the issue?

“The number one issue that I’m campaigning on, the biggest quality of life issue that we face in the 13th District is fixing Route 28. The big deal with this road is it has been backed up for more than 25 years. Delegate Marshall has had 25 years to address the backups from this road that leads all the way from Manassas through Manassas Park into Yorkshire  and Centreville. [It has been backed up] every working morning for his entire career, his 25-year career as a member of a 2-to-1 majority party. He not only has not gotten it done, but he even said a couple of weeks ago on the front page for the InsideNova that it was the prime responsibility of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors to take care of the road, not his.  This means, basically, that he’s willing to pass the buck on a major quality of life issue that affects thousands of his own constituents. I’m dedicated to fixing that road and this is how we’re going to do it.”

Ms. Roem then discussed a variety of measures to address traffic issues on Rte. 28, including (1) widening the road where this would not cause undue harm to local businesses or present eminent domain issues, (2) replacing traffic lights or stop signs and replacing them  with traffic circles in some places, and (3) means to reroute traffic to avoid school and residential areas. Scroll to the bottom  for Ms. Roem’s more detailed suggestions for improving traffic congestion.

“We also have to keep in mind here that when Delegate Marshall pre-filed all of his legislation this year, he did not include any transportation funding bills whatsoever in his pre-filing. None, not one bill was dedicated to transportation funding. It took until the death of his two explicitly anti-transgender bills before he submitted his first transportation funding bill of the year and just like most of the rest of his other bills, that one died in subcommittee too. In fact, the Republicans killed 27 of his 30 bills this year. That wasn’t the Democrats killing off his legislation. That was the Republicans. Twenty six of [his bills] died before crossover. That shows you that this is someone who has a futility rating of a freshman member of the minority party despite having 25 years in office and as member of a 2-to-1 majority party. With a record like that, it does not take much for a freshman Democrat to match and exceed him. I can do it, and I can do it in a much more collaborative fashion than Delegate Marshall has.”

Is improving transportation also the most important issue facing the Commonwealth?

“No it’s probably not the number one issue for the Commonwealth because in Southwestern Virginia, they’re going to have a lot different issues than we will have up here…. Here in Northern Virginia, we’re dealing with a lot of land-use issues and transportation problems, with a lot of things that come with dynamic, exponential growth. I remember interviewing Senator Chuck Colgan back in 2006 when he was telling me that there’s still tens of thousands of homes in Southside and Southwestern Virginia that don’t even have indoor plumbing. Now, that’s not consistently the case, all through,” she explained, while noting that she had visited southern and southwest Virginia, “but we have to look at the Commonwealth. We have common issues that we have to deal with, especially job creation.

“When we lost the naval drone base, that was proposed to help Wallops Island, when we lost that to Florida, how was that possible in a Commonwealth such as ours where we’re home the Department of Defense? Where we’re home to the world’s largest naval station in Norfolk? How do we ever lose a Navy project to Florida? To me, that means that we have to look at this from a comprehensive holistic view about how we deal with economic development in Virginia. So economic development is probably the biggest issue facing the entire state along with education, but transportation affects everyone. If they’re on I-81 and you’ve got a crumbling roadway, that’s dangerous. If you’re on Route 28 and you have the highest fatality on a secondary road in all of Northern Virginia, that’s a major problem. And by secondary road, I mean non-interstate road. So, it’s still a primary highway, but it’s a non-interstate.

“So when we’re looking at that, saving lives, of course, has to be our top issue, but you know, we’re talking about jobs here, we’re talking about education here. We’re talking about transportation here, but at the very least the conversation that you and I are having right now is entirely about quality of life issues whereas Delegate Marshall this year puts in four anti-LGBT bills, five abortion bills. A bill about pornography. A bill that’s saying that ISIS is bad, and by the way, he couldn’t even get ISIS is bad passed in a Republican Subcommittee?! Are you kidding? I mean that’s lay-ups right there. My five-year old could have passed that bill, and by five year old, I mean my cat. I mean, come on, you gotta do better than that.

“The problem that [Delegate Marshall] has is that when he pursued discriminatory social legislation, he’s taken his eye off the ball on the major infrastructure issues that we have in Northern Virginia and when he does that, his own party rolls their eyes at him. They don’t pass his legislation, and the proof is in the numbers.

“Last year he introduced 41 bills, and only one passed out of 41. This year his own party killed 27 of his 30 bills, and of the final three, one was a resolution celebrating the life of Senator Chuck Colgan, which of course, I support. [But] if you can’t get that through the General Assembly, then you’re just hopeless. Of the other two house bills, those were approved on entirely a party line vote for the ICE bill and then nearly party line vote for the school board bill.

“The ICE bill surely will be vetoed and the Democrats will sustain the veto. I’m not sure about the school board vote, but if that one is also vetoed then he will have passed one bill per year for the last two years, at a time in which he had introduced 71 bills over two years and passed two of them, and we’re talking about someone with 25 years of seniority as a Republican, a 2-to-1 majority, 66-to-34. How is that possible?”

Tell voters about your professional background. Why are you uniquely qualified to represent your district? Also, pay for the House of Delegates is paltry, yet it requires Delegates to spend a significant amount of time in Richmond and working with their constituents. So why do you want the job?

“All right, so thank you for that that question. So the pay for a member of the House of Delegates is $17,640 which also means that in the last two years, we will have paid Delegate Marshall more than $35,000 to pass two bills, one house bill and one resolution, maybe a second house bill if he’s lucky.

“I don’t care if it’s paltry pay or not, but when the taxpayers are fronting $17,640 a year and you make $35,280 over two years to pass two bills, you’re not earning your paycheck. You’re wasting our taxpayer dollars and you’re wasting your time on discriminatory social issues that single out, and stigmatize your own constituents.

“And what does he have to say about that? He told Inside Nova that a lot of his bills are meant to — and I quote – ‘start the conversation.’ You know when you start the conversation? At town hall meetings, at public hearings, during campaigns. As soon as the campaign is over, and you’re getting into the pre-filing sessions for the General Assembly, your job as a delegate is to be having those conversations behind the scene, to get the negotiations under way so that you’re creating win-win scenarios with other legislators who can pass your legislation.

“What the numbers show is that Delegate Marshall didn’t do that this year on so many of his house bills. The house bills are the ones that where the rubber meets the road. He had 15 bills to file this year. Guess how many had multiple co-sponsors? Just one: the bathroom bill.

“What that tells you is that’s where his priority was this year. Shopping around that bill to get extra support. Some of his resolutions had multiple co-sponsors, but the house bill is where the rubber meets the road. That’s where the Governor either signs it into law or vetoes it. That means that you’ve got to actually do your homework to get that passed.

“Simply put, when it comes to major issues we cannot trust Delegate Marshall to follow through and get the bills passed beyond just starting a conversation and in some cases the conversation that’s discriminatory in the first place.

“So, now let me talk about my background and why I say I can do a better job. Number one, I’m a life-long Manassas resident. I was born in Prince William Hospital. I have lived in the 13th district my whole life.

“Number two, I worked for the Gainesville Times and the Prince William Times as the lead reporter for nine years. I had an editorial staff of two full-time reporters dedicated to that paper, the Gainesville Times. My managing editor and me, that was it. That was our full-time staff solely dedicated to our newspaper and we had to cover, a jurisdictional area of about 500,000 people between Manassas Park, Manassas and Prince William County.

“So I had a cover every issue under the sun from transportation to high school volleyball to wine tasting to watching an execution take place before my eyes in the electric chair. I have seen a lot as a journalist in Prince William County and from issues related to Prince William County.

“In doing so, my job is to hold elected officials accountable and the only way a journalist can hold elected officials accountable is to know, not necessarily as much as the officials do on every single issue, but enough to be able to have a conversation with them to have the facts and research lined up ahead of time, so that when you’re talking, they can’t talk past you. They can’t just say something and you as a journalist accept it and move on.

“So what I would have to do as a journalist is, if Delegate Marshall is introducing a bunch of bills this year. I got to read them ahead of time. I’ve got to know how are they going to affect the citizens. I’ve got to know what is he focusing on that other legislators aren’t and what are they focusing on that he’s not.

“For example, this year, none of the other Republican delegates representing Prince William County put in a single anti-LGBT bill. Yet Delegate Marshall found it upon himself to put in four bills, three house bills and one resolution.

“That’s not taking care of our top priorities, right? Especially when I would hang out outside of polling places for over nine years at my job on a primary day, on election days and I would ask voters the same question: What’s the most important issue? When you decide to vote today, what was most important to you? What were you focused on?

“The economy. Transportation. How am I going to get to my kid’s swim practice on time? How am I going to get to this on time? Those three issues all went together. Transportation, economic development, and education. That’s the sort of stuff that was coming up over and over again.

“Sometimes it would be immigration. Sometimes it would be other issues, but I didn’t have someone standing outside of a polling place telling me that, you know, pornography was the top issue facing the people in the 13th district.

“We’ve got to focus on the quality of life issues affecting the people, so I worked for the Gainesville Times and the Prince William Times for nine years and for four out of five years at one point, I held two full-time jobs where I was working for the newspaper, to cover events at night and at weekends, or maybe sometimes I’d have to step out and take a phone call while I was doing my other job at the National Journal writing for the Hotline, covering congressional and state politics for three and a half years.

“I also wrote for Yoga Alliance, which is a nonprofit organization that basically credentials yoga teachers. I worked for them for a year and a third, so I’m used to doing a lot of work. Having a lot on my plate, which is something that is directly transferable to the House of Delegates where, in order to be a good delegate, you have to research. You have to listen. Listening is the most important part about being a delegate.

“You actually have to listen if you want any bills passed. If you want to get re-elected, if you want to do any of the things that you need to do for your district to thrive, you have to listen.”

How would your approach in the House of Delegates differ from your opponents? You’ve outlined how your approach would differ from Bob Marshall’s, but what about your primary competitors? I imagine there’s not a strong desire to bad mouth people from your own party, but what sets you apart from the other Democrats running?

“I’m the only candidate in the Democratic Party who’s a lifelong resident of the 13th District and you know, I’ve said all along I am not running against any other Democrat in this race. We are all applying for the same job. And the job is to be the Democratic nominee that defeats Delegate Marshall after 25 years.

“So whoever wins the primary, whoever it is, the rest of us have to be all in supporting that person, and I have said from the day I got in, from the first speech I gave, that if I lose the primary, I’m out knocking on doors in Manassas Park the next day for whoever it is that wins.

“I am completely in on the team concept here. Just because one of us didn’t win, doesn’t mean that we [can] turn our back and go away from the person who did. We’ve got to win this race.

“It’s so important to win this race this year, because when turnout drops in 2019, then what we’re going to be dealing with here is: do you have enough name ID? Do you have enough power and pull already that you can get re-elected? Because it’s so much harder to get elected for a Democrat in a lot of these districts as a first-time [incumbent] candidate in a low turn-out year. You have to know the numbers, you’ve got to know this place precinct by precinct.

“What I’m bringing forward that I think is unique is my public policy understanding and knowledge. I’ve already explained to you just from the questions that you asked me here, the responses that I gave, that I know my stuff.

“As a journalist, I covered Delegate Marshall for more than nine years. I covered his campaign in 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2015. I interviewed him more times than I can count. I know Delegate Marshal’s record probably in some cases better than he knows his own record.  I don’t have to pay a dime for opposition research because I’ve already done it myself.

“I am thoroughly well-prepared to take on Delegate Marshall in the press, and at any debate any day of the week because he won’t be able to steamroll over me on issues, because I’ve covered them. I know them and I know his record.

“For example, between 2012 and 2016 he introduced 162 bills as a chief patron to the House of Delegates and 152 of them died. Suffice it to say that since 2012, the first full year after redistricting, when basically the 13th district completely took shape, what we’re talking about here is someone who has introduced 192 bills and maybe has passed 11 or 12 of them. When you’re talking about a failure of a 181 or 180 bills out of 192, that’s ridiculous, and that’s the sort of stuff where I’ve gone into his record and I dissected it up and down.

“There’s always going to be contrast. There’s always going to be negative campaigning, but what I’m trying to do here is bring inspiration. I’m trying to be that person here who says, ‘yes, I know public policy and at the same time, I can help you make history. I can help you implement that public policy. I can get bills passed, because I know how to work with other people.’

“Chuck Colgan was my legislative role model growing up. Harry Parrish, who was a Republican was one of my legislative role models growing up because I interviewed these people for nine years. Because I know the issues inside and out and I have a regional perspective too from being a news editor. I had to know stuff about Metro, I had to know stuff that links Virginia and Maryland together, so I have a broader perspective than just my district, even though that’s my focus and that’s where the rubber meets the road for my campaign. At the same time, I’ve got a perspective about Virginia and an understanding and knowledge about Virginia that is in-depth.

“I’ve got passionate volunteers who are working hard for me, our first canvass on January 28, we had 25 volunteers show up. Most of them were women and most of them were people I had never met before. It was just like people who, who were actually coming over, and two of those people were members of the Fairfax County School Board who I had never met before.

“I asked them, ‘why did youecide to come out here? What about my race inspired you? Why did you decide to invest in this one? And one of the School Baord members  told me, that when Delegate Marshall came in front of the Fairfax County School Board to tell them why they should be discriminating against LGBT kids, when he crossed the border, left his district, left his jurisdiction to go into someone else’s turf to tell them what to do… this was her chance to get him right back.

Let’s imagine June 13 comes around and you win the nomination, then November 7th rolls around, and you manage to defeat Delegate Marshall. It’s a time of some serious partisan polarization in our country and in Virginia and Democrats need to win 17 seats to take back the House of Delegates. Even if Dems manage that, the Virginia Senate will still be held by a slim Republican majority, so bipartisan collaboration will be needed to pass legislation that affects the daily lives of constituents. What are concrete measures you would take to foster bipartisan collaboration in the General Assembly?

“From interviewing a lot of local politicians over the years, I developed good working relationships with Republicans and Democrats alike. I’ve had to because those were my sources. I’ve had to have good working relationships with them.

“The day before I got in, or the day I got in, I decided to call our local officials and I told the Democrats first. And then I called some of the Republican delegates and I said, you know, if we both win, I will call you the next day and ask what legislation can we work on together. That’s the sort of thing where it’s like, you know, they’re not rooting for me to win, I’m not rooting for them to win per se, but you take off your partisan hat on after the race is done, and you sit down and say all right, surely we can find common ground. I can point to some form of legislation that all the Republican delegates in Prince William County, including Delegate Marshall have worked on where I can say, you know what? That’s a good bill. And I support that. I can do that.

“In Delegate Marshall’s case, he’s worked on autism stuff in the past. That’s really good. That actually helps people. The problem is that when he goes off on this unnecessary discriminatory stuff, it damages his credibility with his own party, and it certainly doesn’t do anything to help any Democrats who wants to co-sponsor his legislation or help him pass anything. “So, that’s a problem in and of itself.

“You need to have credibility along with everything else, and for bipartisanship on this, Chuck Colgan and Harry Parrish were the only Democrat and Republican in the state to hold a joint fundraiser together. They did so and raised $40,000 and split it $20,000 each.

“I grew up with Chuck Colgan’s grandson [who] was in my fourth grade class. His son-in-law was my middle school basketball coach. One of the first interviews I did at the Gainsville Times was with Chuck Colgan at the Manassas Regional Airport in his office, one-on-one for 45 minutes having a conversation just like you and I are having now when I was 21 years old.

“I learned from Chuck Colgan how to get stuff done. Chuck Colgan was the most beloved member of the General Assembly and the most powerful member as well, maybe only second to the Speaker of the House, because he wielded enormous power.

“Chuck Colgan was the sort of guy who you look at and you say, okay,. If it was a Republican administration and they did something where he thought that there would be more good than harm, he would vote for it.

“For example, a lot of Democrats got really, really upset when he supported one of Governor McDonnell’s budget bills. They called him Dino [Democrat in name only], they called him every name in the book. Well, I talked to Chuck it and i asked him, why did you vote for that? Why did you vote for the budget when a lot of the Democrats said, this is going to slash spending for a lot of good public core services and stuff?

“He said, ‘because if we didn’t have that, if that budget didn’t pass, then we would have a lot of state workers who are going to be furloughed tomorrow, and we’ll have a lot of state workers who are going to lose their jobs tomorrow. I did that to save their jobs.’

“That’s the sort of common sense that our legislators have to bring to Richmond, the idea that you know what? Yeah, there are some points where we should get into our partisan foxhole and say no. We’re not coming out of here, because what they’re proposing is frankly crazy, but on the other hand, there are certainly times where if we’re talking about the Virginia Values Veterans Program there’s no reason why a bill like that shouldn’t pass 100-to-0 in the House of Delegates, right?

“There’s no reason why a lot of other good legislation shouldn’t pass the House of Delegates just because someone else has an R or a D next to their name. That’s the sort of understanding that I grew up with.

“At the same time, being a transgender woman running for the Democratic nomination, of course I support progressive policies in terms of on social issues especially, but when you hear me talking on the campaign trail, you hear me talking about quality of life issues that bring people together in the first place.

“Fixing Route 28 isn’t a Democratic or Republican issue. Why? Because Democrats, Republicans, independents, libertarians, Green Party members….everyone gets stuck on Route 28. It doesn’t matter what your party affiliation is when you’re stuck on the road. It doesn’t matter what your gender identity is when you’re stuck on the road. It doesn’t matter what your sexuality is when you’re late for your kid’s soccer practice, when you’re late to get to work in the morning because traffic was bad 25 years ago and bad today and that’s the sort of stuff that I’m focusing on that is inherently bipartisan. In fact, quite frankly should be non-partisan.”

In Virginia, restrictions on voting rights and redistricting issues have come under some public scrutiny. What’s your take on these two topics?

“Let’s start with voting rights. While Chuck Colgan is my legislative role model, in modern public service, one of my heroes in Oregon governor Kate Brown. I love Kate Brown.

“What did she do when she was secretary of State? She championed automatic voter registration, which Oregon now has. Now, Oregon has it with an opt out clause. That’s the way voter registration should be done in the first place.

“We shouldn’t have to have third party groups going out all over the place and saying, “Hey, are you registered to vote yet?” And “Let me collect this and let’s deal with papers.” Because you do inherently come across human errors, even by well intentioned people. Sometimes intentional mistakes are made, but we’re talking extremely small scale.

“We try to honor the work these people do, but I’m telling you: automatic voter registration cuts out the middleman. If you want to eliminate fraud, if you want to eliminate waste, if you want to do something that’s frankly good for the environment, so you don’t have to have so much paper, then have automatic voter registration with an opt out clause.

“Make people opt out of being registered and then if you have that at that point if you’re in the book, then what’s the point of even showing your photo ID in the first place when you get to the poll, right?

“In Maryland, they have same day voter registration. In Maryland they have early voting that goes for at least more than a week anyway. I think it goes for 10 days or so. We in Virginia, we have excused absentee balloting, in-person absentee and mail in absentee version. And you look at those and you go, well, why should I… It’s not the government’s business to tell me what my excuse has to be. The government needs to focus, needs to function on the time of the people, the people don’t need to be functioning on the government’s time. So if a person wants to cast an early vote, let them! If they’re an American citizen who’s 18 years or older and they are registered to vote and it is perfectly legal for them to vote, then why are we making it more difficult for them to vote. For a barely existent fraud problem?

Can you tell me a little bit more about that. The retort from the GOP would be that these are necessary precautions to take to prevent voter fraud. And I think a lot of voters hear on the news that this is a non-existent issue from the Democratic side. And then there are persistent claims that this is an issue from the Republican side. So how can we clarify this.

“You are more likely to be struck by lightning than you are to find a fraudulent voter on election day. It’s ridiculous! I mean look at the numbers. Look at the numbers and that’s all you need.

“[This] is a straw man. It is a red herring. It is a ‘Oh my god! Our election are being swayed wildly by all this illegal voting!’ Remember when Donald Trump said there were 3 million illegal voters. He didn’t have anything to back it up. And then, when he does that, he tarnishes the entire system of government that we have completely unnecessarily.

“There’s a lot of problems in government, but people casting their ballots? It should be easier for them. And by the way, 3 million didn’t illegally vote. He just pulled that number out of thin air because it came up on Twitter one day. That’s ridiculous. I mean let’s get real about this.

“Let’s be perfectly clear, If you want to cut down on voter fraud then you need to have automatic voter registration with an opt out clause. There’s no good reason not to have that. Oregon passed it and participation went up in Oregan. And by the way, their governor was just elected to a full term.  So, this is clearly someone here who has the right idea.”

Let’s move on to redistricting. There was a bill passed in the Senate with bipartisan support that was trying to reform the redistricting process and it died on the House side. Tell me your thoughts on redistricting in Virginia.

“There are very few issues where you hear me take a very strong partisan stance. Allow me to take one on redistricting. The Republicans in the House of Delegates have no incentive whatsoever to have independent redistricting. They don’t.

“They kill every bill that comes up. And in fact, they honestly do think, they genuinely do believe – I know this because they have told it to me themselves – that the politicians in this case should have the right to draw their lines. Their philosophy on this is that they, as elected officials, are doing the people’s business and the people’s business is drawing the lines and it is an inherently political process so it must be inherently partisan.

“And that, you know, ‘yeah, they should be able to do that.’ Can you look at the 73rd house district in Virginia and tell me that is compact? It is barely contiguous, let alone compact.

“You look at this over and over again, and you go: how is that allowed to fly? But it’s so hard to challenge this stuff in court all the way through. How many years does it take for a redistricting lawsuit to work its way all the way to the state Supreme Court or in the federal case, up to the federal Supreme Court? How long does that take? It takes a long time to petition this stuff. Because when you have partisans being elected to office, they will naturally be inclined to protect themselves first. That’s the nature of the system, unfortunately.”

A challenge you might get is, look, there’s partisan redistricting in Virginia, and despite that, in 17 districts held by the GOP in the House of Delegates, Hillary won. So clearly this is more an issue – I’m playing devil’s advocate here – this is an issue of Democrats’ ability to turn out the vote rather than some diabolic scheme by the Republican party.

“Actually, I’ve got two issues with that. Number one is: yeah, when Hillary Clinton won Prince William County by 21 points and she won the 13th district by more than 14 points and, in other years, like in 2015 or so, Delegate Marshall won by 10 points or so, you go, okay, we do have a turnout problem amongst Democrats. That is wildly true, there is no question about it.

“But that’s part of the equation in the first place. When the Republicans are drawing the lines – and, by the way, the Democrats do it too; they did it in the state Senate, they did it in Maryland, they did it in Illinois –  I mean, this is what happens when you have partisans in charge. As opposed to what Iowa has. The independent redistricting commission that Iowa has. You look at those four congressional districts in Iowa and you go, ‘Oh, those are compact, they’re contiguous, and they don’t look like Tetris pieces, other than the block.’”

Moving on, I would like to get to a point where your identity as a trans woman is completely incidental, but I don’t that we’re there yet. And I think that, given the positions that Delegate Marshall has taken on LGBT issues, it is certainly something that is drawing a lot of attention to your race. So, I’d love to hear how you think your identity as a trans woman impacts you and how it maybe would impact you as a Delegate, or if it wouldn’t.

“Let me put it this way: if you are a Democratic primary voter this year and you want to provide immediate contrast with Delegate Marshall; if you want someone who can take his core issues, what is supposed to be his strength, and flip the script on him, because that person knows first hand how factually wrong he is and how discriminatory he is and all the other problems in depth, down to the medical part of it, then I’m your girl this year.

“I’m telling you that being transgender is an issue….I’m succeeding and I’m transgender. I’m running for the House of Delegates and I’m transgender. I’m doing this not despite my identity, but it’s a part of me, just like being a journalist is part of me. Like having brown hair and being right handed is part of me.

“And I look at this issue and I say, all right, when Delegate Marshall is spending so much time litigating transgender issues, put a transgender person who knows in depth public policy up against him and watch him wilt.

“I wonder if Delegate Marshall would even debate me. I seriously wonder if he would. Because he knows that, number one, I know my stuff on the issues.

“Number two, he knows that as a reporter, I had the reputation in Prince William County as being the toughest interviewer in town, regardless of whether you were a Republican or Democrat.

“And the way I took my approach to interviewing was, I don’t care what letter is next to your name. You represent the people or you’re running to represent the people. You better know public policy up and down, so that your knowledge base isn’t just a mile wide and an inch thick. It’s got to be a full cube: mile thick, mile wide. You’ve got to know what you’re talking about on every public policy issue if you’ve spent years working on them.

“I’ve gotten to this point in my life because I’ve spent years working on public policy and at the same time I can still relate to the 14 year old kid who came out to my campaign to volunteer as a walking buddy for someone two weekends ago who is transgender.

“That’s the sort of kid right now who Delegate Marshall is actively discriminating against by saying that kid is gender confused. That’s a line that Delegate Marshall loves to use; that transgender people are gender confused. That we’re not who we say we are. And more importantly, who our doctors say we are.

“You’ve got to be kidding. You’ve got to be absolutely kidding me. And I look at this up and down and say, all right, if Delegate Marshall wants to have a debate about transgender issues, bring it on, I’m here for it because I’ve lived it. I know the fear. I know what it feels like to be looking into Delegate Marshall’s eyes, have him say some of the stuff that he has said here and feel invisible.

“I’ve been Delegate Marshall’s constituent for 25 years. I’ve been his constituent for his entire tenure. Do you think that he represents me in Richmond? Do you think that he represents any other transgender person who is like me who is his constituent in in Richmond? No, he doesn’t.

“Instead he demagogues us and instead he puts in all these bills that are destined to fail in the first place.

“In other words, I have the understanding that comes from compassion, that comes from empathy, that comes from wanting people to succeed because of who they are, not despite who they are.

“I come from the mindset that, you know what, civil rights should not be determined by state boundaries. I come from the mindset that says, why is it that Maryland can say that they’re going to not discriminate against their children, but in Virginia we’re not at that point yet.  Why is it okay for Arlington to go ahead with its non-discrimination policy unanimously among its school board, but in Prince William County we struggle to do so. Why would that possibly ever be okay to discriminate against a child? Why?

“Because they have this fantasy world where some man is going to take advantage of a policy that is meant to prevent discrimination against a transgender person, go into a restroom, and violate a child. Guess what? In the United States of America, we’ve got a big problem with men raping women, but we do not have a problem with transgender people assaulting anyone in any restroom or any locker room.

“So, from that alone, what we’re talking about here is saying, hey, when a transgender person is in a restroom and a sexual assault happens, it’s happening against a transgender person. When a transgender person is too scared to walk down the street –  you know, I was that person.

“I know what it’s like to hold my hair over my face before I walked into a restroom, before I walked into a bar, before I walked into someone’s house where I knew I could feel safe. And Delegate Marshall doesn’t understand that the rhetoric that he has used in his public policy speeches, he doesn’t understand that the legislation that he has put forward for 25 years has perpetuated the narrative that transgender bodies are immoral.

“[He doesn’t understand] that he has perpetuated the narrative that we are not to be trusted and he’s perpetuated the narrative that transgender people are liars, that we’re not who we say we are. And when he does that, he creates a society, he helps create a society that allows this level of discrimination to happen against transgender people in the first place.

“As a reporter I had to cover two brutal murders of transgender women, of black transgender women in Montgomery County, which is actually a pretty progressive community. And at the same time, one of them was stabbed so many times her family had to put her body in a full gown that went from her wrists to her ankles. They put so much makeup over her face, just so her memory could have the dignity of an open casket funeral. And even the open casket had a veil over it. That’s the level of hostility that I’m talking about that I’ve had to cover as a journalist.

“I fear [that], just being a stepmom myself, I fear that being a transgender woman myself. I know that I have it better than a lot of other trans people in the United States because the color of my skin isn’t going to be the reason I’m going to be attacked. But at the same time, I also recognize the inherent threat that when one transgender person is attacked, that’s a threat to all of us.

“What that says is, it’s okay to dehumanize us. What that says, it says it’s okay to treat us as less than anyone else. And Delegate Marshall, even if he will never physically threaten a transgender person himself, he has contributed over and over again to that narrative that we aren’t to be trusted. That maybe it is worth dehumanizing us.

“He’ll say that he’s supporting anti-bullying legislation. Well anti-bullying legislation doesn’t do a whole lot when you’re going on national television and talking about the immorality of LGBT people. That’s ridiculous and I can’t…this is the sort of passion that I’m going to bring to the debate. This is the sort of hope I’m also going to bring to the debate.

“If I get elected here, we fundamentally change the conversation in the United States, not just Virginia, about transgender rights and about what it means to be a transgender American and a transgender Virginian. When people can look at me and say, you know what, she’s a stepmom, she’s a journalist, she’s a transgender woman, and look what she’s doing for her community. She’s helping it. She’s doing something positive.

“Whereas the conversation that Delegate Marshall is: ‘oh my god, what has Delegate Marshall done this time.’ The conversation about me, what I hope happens, is: ‘wow, look what Danica got done this time.’”

Have you experienced any threats or violence since announcing your candidacy? Have you experienced any overt displays of discrimination?

“I got an email on the seventh day of my campaign. It came from a pro-conversion therapy advocate. The email was sent to Delegate Marshall and was sent to the Speaker of the House, Bill Howell. It was sent to the executive editor of my former newspaper, The Gainesville Times.

“In essence, what this person did, was blame my father’s death for me being transgender and said that my grandfather was an inadequate male role model for me. They will never ever understand what that has attached to it. They will never understand how factually wrong that is in the first place, both based on science and the numbers that were cited in the email that came along with it.

“And that was day seven. That was the end of the first week and I was already dealing with that stuff. And you know where they got their information from? From an obituary for my grandfather that I wrote.

“I lived with with him for 18 years. I loved and adored my grandfather. He was one of the greatest role models in my life. And to pick apart my family’s tragedy, to exploit my family’s tragedy for political gain, is ridiculous. It is harmful. It is horrible. And that sets a standard that that’s okay to do to other transgender people.

“If you can explain away their being trans without ever meeting them, without ever talking to them, without talking to their doctors, without ever understanding what it actually means. Just because your worldview is so warped, that you think that somebody who is who they are shouldn’t exist in the first place, that is so wrong on so many levels.

“As someone who spent 13 years in Catholic schools, who was baptized and confirmed at the same church that Delegate Marshall attends – All Saints Catholic Church – after 13 years of being at the same masses that Delegate Marshall celebrates, I can tell you here first hand that a line from St. Francis is all I need to explain my gender to anyone. And that’s: ‘Be who you are and be that well.’

“If you are religious and you believe in a deity, then guess what, God decides who is transgender and who is not. If you’re not religious and you don’t believe in a deity, then at the very least, maybe people should just leave you alone, so you can be the best interpretation of yourself that you know how to be.

“By coming out in the first place, my quality of life improved beyond words. My mental health improved. Because what people like Delegate Marshall don’t understand is that gender dysphoria is like having a hand to your throat that slowly over the years closes and closes and closes, until you feel like you can’t breath anymore because you feel like it is suffocating you.

“Gender dysphoria never goes away. Someone like Delegate Marshall thinks that you can be transgender today and not tomorrow, and it will be just fine. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a 10 year old child crying themselves to sleep in their bedroom because of who they really are, because of people like Bob Marshall who are saying that, ‘oh no, you go to for hell for that.”

“No, no, that’s ridiculous. That’s awful. Why is that ever okay? But that happened to me as a 10 year old. I was the one who was crying myself to sleep when I started understanding my  sexuality.

“I was the person who in college for two days at one point just locked myself in my dorm room because I couldn’t go out and face the world while presenting as male for another day, but I was too afraid to do it as female. Now, I ginned up the courage, I got back out there, but I know what that dysphoria is like.

“I know what it’s like to be at the tipping point, when you’ve started transitioning, but you’re still too afraid to disappoint your family that you think by that by being yourself you’ll somehow be a disappointment. Whereas the reality is, you’re introducing who you really are for the first time and that should be celebrated. It shouldn’t be scorned.

“And in the end, because I came out as transgender, I met my boyfriend. Because I came out as transgender, I became a stepmom. And because I came out as transgender I had the courage to run in this race.”

I’m wary of narratives that immediately place transgender people in a victim role; however; trans people, especially trans women of color are victims of violence at much higher rates than other folks. So I wonder if you have any concerns about your safety or your family’s safety as a result of your increased public profile?

“Yeah, I mean before I got into this race, I talked about what safety measures my family would have to take and put in place. Obviously I’m not going to talk about that, but yeah, that was huge in my mind.

“I’ll tell you that during the first week of the campaign, it was like day five, it was a Sunday, and I was at the dinner table. I got up, walked over to the couch. Talked to my boyfriend. He walked over and I was clutching my heart while lying down on the couch. And I said, honey I’m having an anxiety attack.

“I lost so much sleep over night and night and night, because I worry about how it affects my family. I worry about how the weight of the world is on your shoulders when you address the Prince William County School Board, who are there to oppose a policy that you support?

“You realize at that moment, that you’re the only transgender person taking that microphone because it’s not a safe place for transgender students to be. Because if they did that, what happens the next day, when they get to school. They get picked on, because oh my God, anything could happen.

“And maybe their parents talked them out of it. It takes a lot of bravery for a transgender child or teenager to take the microphone on live television and say anything. But as a 32 year old to take the mic took a little less courage, but I can still tell you what it’s like to have your heart beating so hard you feel like your shirt is about to vibrate as if you were in front of the speakers at an arena concert and the double bass is kicking.

“I took the microphone and the first word out of my mouth was wooo! I was so nervous the first time I spoke. And the second time I spoke when the hall was packed with so many opponents to that policy and you listen to the rhetoric that they used: that transgender people are an abomination, are damnable and damned by god. That they are perverse sexual sinners. All of the other lines that you hear.

“Then you realize, those are from the adults who are saying that. They’re the ones who are setting the example for their children. And that’s in a controlled environment like a school board meeting. Where it’s mostly adults talking about policies that affect kids. And then you go: well, what’s it’s like then for that trans kid to be on the bus when they don’t have that control?

“What’s it like for that trans kid who is forced to use the wrong restroom for them when they’re not safe and they just get the crap knocked out of them?

“I got a message from the first week of the campaign  from a mom who told me that she told me this story of her 10 year old daughter. Her 10 year old daughter decided that no matter what happened on election day, she was finally going to start presenting as female at school.

“Keep in mind that people like Delegate Marshall are the ones that deliberately misgender children like that in the first place. Who insist to a parent like that, that that’s your son. Who’ll say that’s a he, that’s a him. They won’t call her what she is.

“And so she got to school. She wore her dress and she got beaten up by three other girls in her school, just for showing up. Just for showing up. The woman told me that one of [the girls’] fathers said a lot of nasty stuff to her too. But yet the kid persevered. But yet, she persisted. And yet she carried on and she’s still insisting on being herself. It makes me think of that quote, ‘nevertheless, she persisted,’ [by US Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell in reference to a speech by Elizabeth Warren].

“But then I looked at the last sentence of what that mother wrote me and she said, ‘you are giving us hope.’

“At that point, you realize, you know what, the race I’m running is about local issues and I’m focused on them, but the effect that this race is having nationally, that the people who are looking for hope in the darkness right now, they’re finding it.

“They’re finding it in Manassas, Virginia. And they’re finding it in someone who drives a ’92 Dodge, who doesn’t come from money, doesn’t come from wealth, who is a stepmom, a journalist, a heavy-metal  vocalist, a yogini. You know, I’m a member of my community.

“And at the same time, when they’re telling me: ‘you are giving us hope,’ I realize it is my job as a candidate not just to win this race, but to inspire a child like that so she can look up to me and say: ‘there I am as an adult. That could be me.’ And I can look back at her and say, you know what, I’m just your grownup self. That’s all I am. If I can make, if I’m from here and I made it, then you can too. And if there’s any help that you ever need in your life. If anyone ever gives you grief about your identity, I’m here to help you find the most authentic sense of self that you can be and be that well.

“That’s what I want to be able to do in this race: set a good example so that a transgender kid at Battlefield High School can look at me and say, ‘you know what, she’s running, maybe I can too.’

“And this isn’t about taking someone who’s not transgender and magically making them transgender, or taking someone who’s not gay and oh my god, now I’m gay. That’s not how this works. You’re born transgender. It might take you a long time to feel safe enough to express it or even to come to terms with it, to even accept it yourself, that’s wildly common. But it’s always inside you anyway.

“Some people realize it when they’re adults. Some people realize it when they’re children. And you know, I think it’s….I think I’m in a unique place right now in Virginia history. And I think I’m in a unique place in women’s history where I can say, you know what, I’m here to be part of this movement. I’m here to say to every person who’s reading your blog, I’m here to say to every person who follows me on the campaign trail, we can do this together.

“And, I succeed when we succeed. My district succeeds when the people who believe in me succeed. I’m not going to tear down anyone else personally. Even all the stuff I’ve said about Delegate Marshall, it’s completely based on his public policy rhetoric and his public policy proposals. I’ll never take a direct shot at him personally. That said, I don’t have a problem contrasting myself with him. And I think that I’m the best candidate for the job. I can do it.”

DETAILED PROPOSAL ON TRANSPORTATION: “The Northern Virginia Transportation Authority has allocated $300 million for improvements of the I-66/Route 28 intersection. basically to remove traffic lights and make it flow a little bit better, much like what happened when they took out the traffic lights between Sterling and Chantilly several years ago.

“At the same time, the private conglomerate that plans to toll I-66 – they are offering $300 million for that same project. Now, I’m against tolling. I do not want any more tolls in Northern Virginia. At the same time, we have to accept the reality that those tolls are going in. That’s just how it’s going to go.

“We also have to appreciate the fact that Governor McAullife  is an extremely skilled negotiator and because we have this $300 million to replace the NVTA funding as soon as they make good on this, that the conglomerate holds up its end of the bargain, what we can do then is allow the NVTA to de-allocate its $300 million from the 28/66 intersection and keep that money on 28 by moving it south.

“What we can do with that is we can widen the road, right near the movie theater, just south of US-29 where we already have pre-existing public right of way. We can put an overpass at the Route-28 Compton Road intersection, which is a major bottleneck.

“We might be able to do other traffic easing measures through Centreville and possibly even Yorkshire as well, but for Yorkshire, the big issue that we have is we have so many new businesses that go right up against the road on Route 28. So you have very little room to work with, so the idea of widening the road for instance is just not going to happen.

“It’s wildly expensive in terms of eminent domain and second, you have so much private property in that area that you would be destroying the livelihood of a lot of people, especially at a time when we really need commercial property taxes to make up a larger chunk of the Prince William County budget than it already does.

“So instead, what I’m doing is I’m going door-to-door through Yorkshire, Manassas Park and Manassas and I’m asking residents what do you want to see? Do you think if we took out this light at Leland that that would help? Do you think if we took out a light over at one place or another, at Orchard Bridge that would help as long as we replace it with something else like a traffic circle or  rerouting traffic through an ulterior way? What can we do to ease your commute?

“There’s a very basic thing that people could do. On the parallel Route 28 where Old Centreville Road goes up to Ordway Road – at the intersection of Ordway and Compton over in Centreville, removing the stop sign there and replacing it with a traffic circle is something that the NVTA Route 28 Steering Committee has already approved of, and that’s something that we could easily implement that would cut down on major backup where you have people who live in Manassas Park try to avoid Route 28 and they take that back road and yet it backs up sometimes all the way to Yorkshire Elementary School which is wildly unacceptable.

“So, by having something as simple as a traffic circle that leaps over to Compton, and if we had the ability to put an overpass in at Compton, then we would actually be able to see a consistent flow of traffic through that area and at a point where it is a major bottleneck.

ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND ITS RELATIONSHIP WITH TRANSPORTATION: “I’m a reporter. As a journalist, one of the first interviews I ever did was with then-Lieutenant Governor Tim Kaine in 2005 when he was over in Woodbridge to give a speech when he was running for Governor that year. I was 20 years old, it was right before my 21st birthday and I remember him, all the way back then, saying that we have to link land use to transportation.

“We hear that all the time. And another thing that I learned as a journalist, especially from covering the Haymarket Town Council and from covering the Prince William Board of County Supervisors was the idea that you can’t build property without existing infrastructure in place. You can’t approve a property, a residential development, and say, well, we’ll eventually have a school, so we don’t have to worry about overcrowding too much. We’ll have another fire department coming down the line eventually. We don’t have to worry about whether this development will put a stress on an already thinned-out fire department. We don’t have to worry about, another police station because our proffers are supposed to match and take care of that stuff.

“Well, here’s the problem. When  you’re approving residential developments without existing infrastructure for transportation, for fire, for police, for any other county services, what you end up doing is: one, you stress the system more. But second, when there’s a budget deficit, when there’s a shortfall of some sort, when capital improvement projects are pushed back, then the original bill of goods that we were sold is no longer valid.

“Instead, we have homes popping out, but we don’t have the extra infrastructure in place to support them. And that has been a problem that has gone on for decades in Prince William County.

“We have a big, major problem with what’s called “sale zoning” where developers will buy land, and then decades later, they’ll develop it. But keep in mind, that they don’t have to refinish the site plans when they do that, so they don’t need a new transportation impact analysis. They don’t need another environmental analysis. They don’t need a lot of other stuff even if the surrounding geography has substantially changed through other construction or just through other events.

“So what we’re talking about here is, we have to be a lot smarter with how we actually approach transportation in the first place. So, what I would suggest, is if there was a way, whether it happened at the local level, whether it happened at the state, by state mandate, where we said to a developer: okay, if you purchase a property, you have ten years to develop it, and if you don’t develop it within that ten years, you have to resubmit [the development plans]. Whether it’s to the Planning Office, whether it’s the Planning Commission, whether it’s the Board of County Supervisors, City Council, Town Council. Whichever group it is, you have to resubmit your site plan for approval to make sure that it’s still consistent with the county comprehensive plan or whichever locality you’re in, or the municipality’s comprehensive plan.

“We need to make sure that the transportation infrastructure there is sufficient. That there is water infrastructure there to support it. That all the fire and EMS are not being over-stressed, and most importantly, that our schools around it aren’t already over-crowded.

“How often do we have developments come up in our localities where they say, oh, this only adds another nine students to Stonewall Jackson High School. This only adds another ten students to Osborne Park High School. We can put them in. Well those schools are already over-crowded, so what are we doing here?

“Every time we approve that, it’s just another – it stresses the system even more. So what I’m calling for here is: one, the foresight for how we handle transportation and development, that’s number one. Number two is sometimes it’s – you know what the best thing to do with land often is? Just leave it alone.

“In the Western Prince William County, we have what’s called the Rural Crescent. And the thing with the Rural Crescent, is it’s that supposed to be rural, where you have, you know, one property for every 10 acres.

“Well, we have so many proposals, and so many properties that infringe on the meaning of the Rural Crescent in the first place that we’re basically losing the essence of why it’s there and why it exists, and that’s because it’s beautiful. It is a gorgeous place in Prince William County.

“Let’s remove ourselves from all the wonkishness and everything and if you’ve ever spent a day at Silver Lake; if you’ve ever gone up and down Pageland Lane, where they actually have the bi-county parkway go through, or if you’ve ever just spent time perusing through Manassas Battlefield.

“If you’ve ever just gone through the beautiful scenery that we actually have where you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains, where we just have farms and open land. Over and over again, we see developmental proposals where they build so many properties and they build them so densely and they get their special use permits to do it. That infringes upon the very meaning of having a Rural Crescent.

“So my solution for that is keep the Rural Crescent rural. No, we say no to the bi-county parkway. We say no to major development where you have to cobble together a whole lot of houses just so the developer can make a couple of quick bucks, and sure, it’s good for the economy in the very short term. It’s good for laborers, and I understand the economic development impact that development has. So, it’s not like I’m entirely anti-development but what I do have a big problem with is when we don’t have the foresight to ask what happens when the project is done. What happens when the short-term gain of this is gone?

“Cause remember, farmland lost is farmland lost forever. Now, how that relates back to 28 is that if we don’t have the foresight of planning, then more developments like the Orchard Bridge apartments come up. And look, the Orchard Bridge apartments are right in my district. I want to earn their vote, and I’m happy to have all of our neighbors there, but we have to look at the development and why that was approved and why that was allowed to happen in the first place for a property that was built, or purchased in the 1980’s and only recently developed when the county has added hundreds of thousands of more residents since then.

“We’ve got to be a lot more practical with our planning, and the way that I like to phrase this is we have to have a department of planning, not a department of wishful thinking.”

 

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