Beverly Harrison is putting it on the line to change Virginia

Less than a month out from Election Day, topline numbers look very good for Democrats in Virginia, as a number of exciting candidates, including several we’ve featured here, are poised to flip both houses of the legislature. Pundits will hail that as a bellwether for 2020, but to truly ensure a brighter (and bluer) future, we have to dig past the suburban seats already trending our way and listen to candidates like Beverly Harrison, who is running for Delegate in Virginia’s rural 15th district.

Progressive activists have spent the last two cycles pushing to have (good) Democratic candidates run for every office in every district in the country, a herculean task made that much more difficult by the fact that the party largely abandoned (and was driven out from) rural America over the last 40 years. The silver lining of the endless, obvious treachery of Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, and their cabal of thieves is that it has inspired a record number of enthusiastic Democratic candidates, many of them first-timers. We consider these cheap local races to support, but we don’t always quite appreciate the high price paid by the candidates running in the ruby-red districts.

“The stakes are high out here. You’re going to lose friends, you’re going to be ostracized,” Harrison tells Progressives Everywhere. “You’re probably gonna get some hate mail and ridiculed if you lose. That probably happens in a lot of places, but in the country, where we all end up at the same Walmart or the Food Lion every day, it’s very personal. I have Republican supporters who will not publicly acknowledge they support me, nor will they put up a sign in their front yard. When you run for office, you’re putting your name out there.”

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Rural Democrats band together for game-changing Virginia organization

In Virginia, Democrats have a fantastic chance of flipping both chambers of the legislature this fall, with some excellent candidates running against the most vulnerable Republicans. But as with everywhere else, they shouldn’t be happy with narrow majorities. Good news: A handful of candidates in rural areas have teamed up to expand the map and give Democrats a real fighting chance of taking more seats, pooling their resources under the banner Rural GroundGame.

Elizabeth Alcorn is one of those candidates, running in the state House of Delegates’ 58th district. We spoke with her this week about her campaign.

Alcorn has spent her entire career, first as a dentist and now as a small farmer, involved in her community, volunteering her time and energy to addressing the problems plaguing rural America. She’s worked in endless medical clinics and advised Medicaid boards, providing services and expertise that addressed the symptoms of rapidly expanding economic and political stratification.

When Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, Alcorn decided that instead of addressing the ongoing symptoms, she was going to step up and help cure the cause of the national illness head-on.

“When that happened, I understood exactly why it happened; it made perfect sense why he got elected,” Alcorn tells Progressives Everywhere. “I live in a rural area and rural America has been ignored by the Democratic Party for decades. Democrats have given up on rural America and that’s why Trump is in power. So I said, if we want to take our country back, we have to step up and be there and run for these offices.”

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Phil Hernandez and the rise of the Obama generation

There was a record surge of young voter turnout in 2018, in part because we have young grassroots leaders running for office across the country, providing a new wave of energy and fight. That wasn’t a fluke, either.

This spring, as I interviewed candidates running for the legislature in Virginia, I asked their staffers and other activists who else I should highlight. The answer was pretty unanimous: talk to Phil Hernandez, a young candidate from Virginia Beach running for the House of Delegates. It was a lot of hype, but he more than lived up to it.

In his early 30s, Hernandez has the sort of resume that could get him just about any high-paying corporate job he wanted. The first member of his family to graduate from college, he went on to work in the Obama White House, moving up to the Domestic Policy Council. He later went to law school at Berkeley and became a civil rights attorney, working on behalf of low-income tenants and fighting on behalf of other people facing discrimination. He used his policy know-how to develop a bill that would help tackle homelessness in the state and it was eventually signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown.

Instead of cashing in on his experience, Hernandez decided to move home to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, and now he’s running to represent the 100th district in the House of Delegates. What follows is a lightly edited version of our conversation.

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Joshua Cole is running on divine inspiration in Virginia

Whether or not you believe in a higher power or divine influence, it’d be hard to argue that Joshua Cole wasn’t born to lead his community and help create progressive change in government.

Not yet 30, the Virginia Democrat has been involved in the legislative process since he was a teenager serving as a page in Richmond, first for the House of Delegates and then for then-Governor Mark Warner. He now works as a chief of staff for a delegate there, which is somehow only one of his public service gigs — Cole is also an associate pastor, community activist, and the head of his local chapter of the NAACP in Stafford County. That’s all in addition to running to represent the 28th district in Virginia’s House of Delegates, which he is doing for the second time after shocking everyone by nearly flipping the districting in 2017.

“I work an hour from where I live, so typically I get up in the mornings at about six and I’m on the road by seven,” says Cole, who has spent years making that commute from Stafford to Richmond. “I do call time on my lunch break. I come back home and typically every evening we have events. So whether it’s knocking doors, going to fundraisers, going to some community meeting, or something church-related, I always have something going on every day after work. And I’m normally not home until after nine or 10 o’clock and get right back up to do it all over again.”

It’s an exhausting schedule, though Cole is pretty good at keeping up the energy levels — we spoke after his work in the capitol was done for the day, and he was all geared up to talk about the campaign and the policy goals he wants to pursue; big focuses include criminal justice reform and ending the playground-to-prison pipeline, improving public schools and teacher pay, and access to affordable prescription medication. He talks with the excitement and confidence of a guy who knows he’s got a real chance of winning and doesn’t want to leave any stone unturned or ounce of energy untapped — after all, Cole knows better than anyone else that every vote counts.

Last time around, Cole, then a first-time candidate, lost his race by an excruciatingly minuscule 73 votes. Lawyers wound up getting involved, and there were enough irregularities that Cole could have easily been the rightful winner. The close call was especially brutal because it left Democrats just shy of flipping control of the legislature. Now, Cole is running again to finish the job — he’s just not going to be getting a rematch.

The Republican who beat him, Del. Bob Thomas turned out to be far more wingnuty than advertised — he’s the guy who said he’d welcome Georgia’s abhorrent new abortion policy in Virginia — and yet somehow, he was not quite insane enough for the local GOP. In part because he begrudgingly voted for Medicaid expansion (with work requirements!), Thomas got primaried by his 2017 GOP opponent, Paul Milde, and in a tight decision, the insurgent came out on top.

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Amy Laufer is taking out a coal-fed right-wing idealogue in Virginia

American government is by and large ruled at all levels by white men who were born rich, regard power as a birthright, and speak in platitudes vague enough to obscure the destructive, self-dealing policies they pursue in office. And then every once in a very long while, you get candidates like Amy Laufer, who obliterate all those corrupt plutocratic conventions and remind you that we can do things differently.

Laufer, who is running this fall for the Virginia State Senate seat from District 17, near Charlottesville, is a special mix of empathetic and no bullshit, with the life experience to understand how hard it is to get by and absolutely no patience for the people who make it harder. She’s a longtime teacher, member of the Charlottesville Board of Education, and the founder of Virginia’s List, an organization that recruits and trains women to run for office. Hers has been for a life devoted to progressive principles, shaped by her upbringing.

Biography doesn’t always translate to ideology in ways that seem logical to outsiders, but Laufer’s life experience has led her to active leadership in people-powered politics. That stands in stark contrast to the Republican incumbent she’s challenging, State Sen. Bryce Reeves, a virulently anti-abortion fear-monger who seems to misunderstand the point of democracy. Reeves loves to sue opponents and his top contributors — and, more importantly, beneficiaries — include coal executives, corrupt energy companies, tobacco conglomerates, insurance companies, and Republican dark money PACs. Continue reading “Amy Laufer is taking out a coal-fed right-wing idealogue in Virginia”