Senate District 17 candidate responses
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Ben HixonAmy Laufer
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In three sentences or less, why are you running?Running for office was the last thing on my mind: when my partner of 15 years was offered his dream job at the Library of Congress here in Culpeper, I followed him, intending to turn my artificial intelligence research and engineering experience into a tech startup. But when Donald Trump got elected, my priorities completely changed; wanting to fight back, I jumped feet first into local politics, running for Delegate in 2017 in an ultra-conservative district and then becoming a full-time community organizer and party chair, successfully growing the Democratic Party here in Culpeper. Senator Reeves is a Corey Stewart Republican — in 2017 he even campaigned for Lt. Governor on preventing openly gay people like me from serving as judges — and lacks the values of tolerance and neighborliness held by our district, so he needs to go.I am running for State Senate because I am tired of people representing us that do not believe in climate change or vote against Equal Rights Amendment. I believe the people of the 17th senate district deserve better representation than they have received from Bryce Reeves. Bryce Reeves has supported such extreme policies as conversion therapy, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, and I am ready to step up and be a public servant to the people of this district.
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What would be your first priority in the General Assembly if elected?Vocational training and workforce development. Not everyone needs a 4-year degree. We need plumbers, carpenters, electricians. That’s why I support more opportunities and more dedicated funding for high school and post-secondary vocational training, trade schools, and apprenticeship programs.I believe that children are the future of the commonwealth, which means that education is paramount. I would work hard to ensure universal preschool because we know that when children come to us behind, it is that much harder for them to succeed. Additionally, I would ensure that students are able to graduate high school with a certification in a trade or technology so they are ready to enter the workforce. Technology is ubiquitous in higher education and the workforce. For this reason, I support making sure children have access to technology in schools. Our people are our greatest resource, and we absolutely have to be investing in them.
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Other than that, what do you see as the three most important issues for this district in the General Assembly?1. Agriculture: Make small farming a little less risky and open new markets with tools like mobile slaughterhouses, community pasteurization salons, and food enterprise centers. The new Carver Agricultural Research Center in our district was jumpstarted by a simple $63K grant from the Department of Housing and Community Development. I want to make sure it succeeds and that it inspires similar projects around Virginia. Jobs+environment, win-win.
2. Infrastructure: including affordable housing, rural broadband, and traffic solutions.
3. Criminal justice reform. We over-criminalize, over-punish, and enforce our laws unfairly. We need sweeping criminal justice reform, from legalizing marijuana, to ending incarceration for nonviolent minors, to raising the public defender and larceny limits, ending cash bail, and bringing back parole.
1. Many people in this district do not have access to broadband. People cannot run their businesses successfully. Children are sitting in parking lots outside of closed buildings to do their homework, because that is the only place they can access the internet. We need to provide reliable internet service to all.
2. The hate and bigotry we saw in Charlottesville on 8/12 cannot be our story. We need to fight for the end of structural racism and for equal treatment of all people. Relatedly, we need to end the policy of mass incarceration that rips families apart and ruins lives, and we need to help people transition back into society and provide automatic voter rights restoration. Finally, we absolutely must pass the Equal Rights Amendment that was blocked this year.
3. We need to be protecting our environment. The current ignorance about climate change is unacceptable. Clean energy has the potential to grow our economy through the creation of high-paying jobs, and we must be investing in it.
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Have you accepted any money from a corporation or a corporate PAC, or will you in the future?No, I haven’t and I won’t.I have not accepted any money from a corporation or corporate PAC, and I do not plan to do so in the future. I have pledged not to take money from either Dominion or Appalachian.
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According to the world’s leading scientists, we have 12 years to take action on climate change. Will you vote in support legislation that requires a transition to 100% clean energy resources by 2035?Our coastline is flooding now. It’s time to get aggressive on climate change. Fossil fuel companies have become entrenched thanks to collusion between regulators and the regulated. Technology is already trending towards clean energy, and I think the main reason we are still dominated by fossil fuels is the enormous subsidies and corporate welfare we’ve given to fossil fuel companies. Let’s end the subsidies and the collusion.I believe that transitioning to clean energy is essential for both our environment and our economy. I absolutely support us transitioning to 100% clean energy. I believe that rather than using industrial means to do this, we must allow our citizens to create an unlimited amount of their own energy and sell it back to the grid.
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UVA recently announced it would be paying every employee at least $15 per hour starting in January 2020. Do you support raising the minimum wage in VA to $15/hour?I support allowing localities to independently raise their own minimum wage as well as an overall minimum wage increase in VA. A minimum wage is an efficient way to boost the local economy, protect workers, and promote individual freedom and opportunity. I would also couple minimum wage increases with tax cuts on small businesses such as family-owned restaurants and mom-and-pop stores that might not survive a wage increase.I absolutely support raising the minimum wage in VA. Many families in Virginia are supported by a single parent or earner who is working a minimum wage job. We need to ensure that people are earning a living wage so that they can take care of their families and continue to thrive. No one working a full-time job should be concerned about being able to feed their children.
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What will be your first legislative priority to address gun violence in Virginia?There are many proposed solutions to explore, but in my opinion the most effective solution and my first legislative priority will be to expand mental healthcare, including making mental healthcare more affordable and more available, increasing the number of psychologists and counselors in our schools so they can teach harm prevention and anger management, and in general ending the stigma on mental healthcare. 2/3 of gun deaths in our country are suicides. Mental health checkups should be as commonplace as a cleaning at the dentist.I would support, mandatory background checks to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, criminals, domestic abusers, and those with a history of violence. I would also support Mothers Demand Action proposed weapons curriculum on how to be safe around guns and how to secure guns and ammunition properly. The military holds our servicemen and women responsible for their guns, and we should hold citizens responsible for their guns.
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Will you support legislation that allows a special driver’s privilege card to be issued by the DMV to undocumented immigrants in Virginia?Yes. I will work for the best interests, health, and safety of all my constituents, documented or not.I believe we need to have a path towards legal citizenship for undocumented immigrants. Having a special driver’s privilege card makes our communities safer because it allows people that are going to drive anyway to be trained in our road laws. Offering a driver’s privilege card would give immigrants an opportunity to better their lives and contribute to our economy.
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Will you support legislation that allows localities in VA to decide whether to remove or modify Confederate monuments in their jurisdictions?Yes. It’s important to understand our history. My own ancestor died in the Civil War fighting for Alabama. But understanding our history isn’t the same thing as celebrating it. The Vietnam Memorial doesn’t celebrate: it mourns. Private individuals can put up whatever statuary they want. The government can’t censor private speech. But if Confederate monuments on public property funded by taxpayers celebrate the worst of our history instead of memorializing it and mourning our dead, then localities should be empowered to remove them.I absolutely support legislation that would allow localities to make that decision. We need to be a welcoming Commonwealth for all people regardless of race, nationality or religion. The way we speak about our history of slavery and the Civil War must change. We must allow localities to take the steps they feel are appropriate to reflect their community needs.
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Do you support construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline? If not, what would you do in office to protect our environment?No. I’ve refused to take money from Dominion (or any corporate PAC) and as legislator would vote to ban all contributions from public utilities. It’s a conflict of interest for regulators to be financed by the companies they regulate.I do not support construction of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. As a person with a science and geology degree, I visited where it is to be built and the erosion that would occur on that land is unfathomable. Additionally, the pipeline is a backwards looking solution to our energy problem being constructed with tax payer dollars and will not contribute to the commonwealth of Virginia. We need to be looking forward towards clean energy.
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What experience do you have in organizing in and supporting local communities?I have a proven record of success fighting for progressive values and growing the Democratic Party in conservative areas. As Chair of the Democratic Party of Culpeper County in 2018, I instituted forward-thinking reforms that revitalized our local party. Innovative fundraising ideas, an active new Culpeper Young Democrats group, postcard campaigns for voter education, exciting events throughout the County, and technology-driven precinct operations all raised the profile of the Democratic Party in Culpeper. On my watch, Abigail Spanberger won all 4 precincts in the Town of Culpeper. Prior to that, I ran for the House of Delegates against Nick Freitas. I was the first Democratic nominee in my district to win a precinct since the 1990s and one of the few Democrats in Virginia in 2017 to match the Governor’s performance.In the Charlottesville region, I have worked with several non-profits and committees that support local initiatives such as Welcoming Charlottesville, Special Education Association Committee, Black Male Alliance, Commission on Children and Families. I also founded Virginia’s List, a state wide PAC that helps women get elected to state office, because I saw that there were not enough women representing us in Richmond. Additionally, I have helped several local candidates with canvassing, phone banking, donating furniture, housing and fundraising events.
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