Thursday, May 19, 2022

What are you willing to do?

Protecting rights to abortion care is the reason I am in the General Assembly today.   

When I got married, although my wife shared my political leanings and admired my involvement in the community on the various boards and commissions for which I volunteered, she had no interest in being the spouse of an elected official. And she certainly didn’t want the demands of elected office taking me away from our young family. 

Something changed, though, one night when we were watching late night TV in 2012Virginia was in the headlines for passing a bill requiring anyone seeking abortion care to be subjected to an invasive transvaginal ultrasound regardless of whether it was deemed medically necessary or not.  

That was when we decided that it was worth our family making those sacrifices to fight to protect abortion rights. I ran for the seat of my retiring mentor in 2013 and took office in 2014. Our small little Democratic minority, barely able to prevent a Governor’s veto from being overridden, fought to win seats, one election at a time, until finally in November 2019, we were able to take the majority. And then, in 2020 we were finally able to repeal that transvaginal ultrasound mandate in Virginia.  

We used that majority to fight for other rights too. We protected the right to vote by increasing voter access, moving Virginia’s ranking up 37 spots for ease of voting. 

We fought to protect human rights, creating a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, the Virginia Values Act, to prevent discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.  

We worked to protect the rights of all kids to feel safe and respected in their schools, creating model policies for the treatment of transgender students, allowing them to focus on learning in an environment free from bullying, bigotry and fear.  

Workers’ rights to earn a living wage for an honest day’s work were strengthened through our efforts to promote collective bargaining and raise the minimum wage.  

Our right to be able to enter public spaces free from the fear of gun violence was respected with common-sense gun violence prevention laws, including empowering localities like Fairfax County and Falls Church City to restrict firearms from public buildings and parks.  

We accomplished so much in those two years. Now, we’re dealing with a very different Administration that is intent on rolling back this progress, much like we’re seeing in other states and in Congress. 

Last week, I attended the Spring Conference of the DLCC in Annapolis Maryland where I had a chance to meet and talk with Democratic state legislators from around the country. When they saw Virginia on my name tag there were like “oh, Virginia” – and gave me a knowing sigh or nod.  

In all our Virginia odd-year election cycles we say that the country is watching Virginia.  As often as I’ve said it - I never knew if it was really true or not. Turns out it is true.  

In spite of the fact that more than 6 in 10 Loudoun County voters went Democratic, what people saw on the national news was the noise a small minority was able to generate there. 

Legislators from New Mexico have developed talking points about Critical Race Theory and are working on a strategy for making sure parents know how much they matter and how important they are in making educational policy.  Folks from Florida see our Governor trying to out DeSantis their Governor and told us just how damaging their new “don’t say gay” law is turning out to be.  

The Governor knows he’s being watched too. We Virginians, particularly those of us here in Northern Virginia, are no longer his target audience.  

The regular session is over. Reconvened session, the one-day session where we vote on whether or not to override Governor’s vetoes and adopt his recommended changes to our bills, has come and gone. All without a budget for the Commonwealth.  

During our veto session I made some headlines comparing the Governor’s plan to force the entire Loudoun County School Board to stand for reelection a year early (and two years in a row) to something a dictator like Vladimir Putin might do.   

Was that over the top? Or was it an apt comparison?  

We’ve all been impressed watching ordinary Ukrainians going to extraordinary lengths to fight for their country and their right to self-determination.  

What are we willing to do to protect our rights?