One of the reasons I decided to run was because I grew up in the former Soviet Union where government corruption was rampant. Where despite the official mantra of government taking care of all the citizens the Soviet government was a bunch of self interested men who could not care less about the needs of ordinary people. I want to make sure that our state government is transparent and responsive to all Virginians. To achieve this goal we need to ensure that state legislators do not take money from the public utilities like Dominion Energy that they are supposed to regulate. I signed a pledge as a candidate not to take any Dominion Energy money. We must enact a campaign finance reform. Virginia has some of the most lax campaign finance laws in the nation, with no limits on personal contributions and no well defined rules about personal use of campaign funds. We rank 47th out of 50 states on campaign finance rules and received an “F” grade from a State Integrity Investigation. We have engaged in extreme partisan gerrymandering in many of our districts and have tried to stack the odds in favor of certain legislators. We have not made voting as accessible as it should be, instead creating more obstacles with more recent ID laws. That is why together with over 32 other state legislative candidates I signed a letter to the members of our General Assembly expressing our
frustration with the influence of big money on our political system, lacks of transparency with respect to finance reform, our state of gerrymandering, and voter rights restrictions. We all promised to fight for clean government and our democratic values if we are elected and we plan to keep this promise.
Career & Technical Education
We cannot build and maintain a robust economy that allows everyone the dignity of work without educating our children in a way that matches their needs and talents with the needs of the society. Our schools must both prepare kids to go to college or equip them with employable skills by engaging a rigorous and relevant career and technical education (CTE) system. CTE should be integrated with academics and be a vital component of middle, secondary, and post secondary education. In Winchester, the Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center is currently under development. The Center, a public/private partnership, will be a state of the art facility and an example for CTE centers around the country. Employers and community leaders in our district are committed to the Center’s success as it will ensure a qualified labor force. As a delegate I would make every effort to support CTE programs like this one and to expand their reach.
Teachers make a difference. If we value our children, we must value their teachers and support a salary that allows for them to live close to the schools where they teach, as opposed to being forced to commute from other communities. The legislature’s 5% increase in teachers’ salaries in 2019 is a good start, but teacher salaries are still below pre-recession levels and as your delegate I will work to value the teachers who change our children’s lives as fully as possible.
Decades of studies prove that kids who attend public preschool programs are better prepared for kindergarten than kids who don’t. This is particularly true for children who come from lower income levels. Fully funding pre-K education for all gives every child the fair start they deserve in life and the legislature should make this a priority.
With Medicaid expansion, the Commonwealth is now a major payer for healthcare services in Virginia. Along with this obligation comes the opportunity to shape treatment for the deadly chronic diseases that affect members of our district. Chronic lung disease, heart disease, and cancer are more common in the Northern Shenandoah Valley than in the rest of the Commonwealth and the rest of the United States and Medicaid recipients are likely to be affected. These diseases are difficult to treat, affect all aspects of the patient’s and family’s lives, and can be economically challenging as patients face expensive medications and many doctors visits. As your representative, I will advocate for legislation to reduce the impact of tobacco and other preventable causes of chronic disease and support the creation of Medicaid funded programs that encourage improved treatment for the victims of these deadly illnesses.
The Opioid Crisis
For nearly 10 years, the Northern Shenandoah Valley has been at the epicenter of the national opioid crisis, and the community response has been dramatic. The successes of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition in the prevention, education and treatment of substance abuse show what we can all achieve when diverse groups come together to solve difficult problems. Using the tools at the legislature’s disposal, I pledge to support these efforts through appropriate funding and expansion of services related to substance abuse and those who provide critical intervention.
As a Board member of the Northwestern Community Service Board I can attest to the great progress that has been made in the provision of behavioral health services in our district, especially in the area of substance abuse disorders and mental health. But even this documented expansion of services and the improvement in their quality cannot keep up with the immense need that exists in this area, especially with respect to the opioid addiction. We need to fund the ongoing expansion of behavioral health services, particularly for those with fewer economic resources.
I-81 that runs through our district is both a conduit of commerce that benefits our community and a source of long standing frustration for its residents. A long and expensive study undertaken by the VDOT showed that the stretch of the interstate that traverses the City of Winchester and the Frederick County is disproportionately prone to accidents, often fatal, and long overdue for improvement. The residents have been promised improvements for years if not decades. Many avoid traveling along this road by all means possible. Despite the promise of action during the most recent legislative session of the Virginia Assembly the transportation committee of the House of Delegates reported the I-81 bill without any tangible plan for fixing this serious problem, rejecting a proposal from the Senate to pay for the repairs by instituting tolls. Yet another study has been offered to substitute for a substantive fix.
This community cannot wait another year to come up with a solution to this problem that is not just an inconvenience but poses a real threat to people’s lives. We need to identify a number of revenue sources that could help us cover the shortfall between the cost of the overdue expansion of the interstate and what the federal Highway Transportation Fund has to offer. Establishing state owned concessions within the highway rest areas, a proportionately small increase in the cigarette tax (Virginia has the 50th lowest cigarette tax in the nation), along with tolls and a gas tax increase should all be studied for its benefits and potential downsides, both as individual sources and as a package of measures. As a Delegate I would be committed to leaving no stone unturned in search for funding solutions. None of them may turn to be perfect but inaction is simply not an option any longer.
Protecting our planet
One of the most unfortunate realities of our current politics is that somehow protecting the environment has become a partisan issue. We can’t let this happen. Nearly all scientists agree that the Earth is warming and immediate action is crucial not only to prevent devastating changes to Virginia’s beautiful coastline but also to protect ourselves from the increasingly severe weather changes that climate change will bring. The truth is that powerful companies own today’s energy sources and make millions of dollars providing that service. They won’t give this up easily. They will do whatever it takes to keep the status quo and try to convince us that the scientists are wrong. They’ll tell us that we have to choose between a robust economy and protecting the Earth. This couldn’t be further from the truth and as your delegate I’ll fight those companies and promote a green economic boom that will include our rural communities. My environmental/economic priorities include:
- Reduce the influence that Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power have on Virginia’s government. I will not take money from Dominion and I’ll encourage all of my colleagues to do the same;
- Promote state programs that invest in wind and solar technologies and create hundreds of jobs for engineers and technicians in these fields;
- Invest in technical education for both new graduates and mid career changes;
- Ensure that Virginia’s farmers are protected from neighboring industries that can pollute their water supply;
- Insist that our partners in industry do their share to ensure our environmental stewardship.
We don’t have to choose between economic success and environmental protection. We need a government that will resist corporate pressure and do the right thing for Virginians, our children, and our children’s children.