When I started this journey nearly 10 months ago, I had two supporters - my husband Malcolm, and our dog Rula. Unfortunately for me, they are both immigrants, so if I wanted to win I had to venture out to find someone who could actually vote. So I hopped in my car and I’ve been there ever since. I have put exactly 27,660 miles on my Prius since I started this campaign. If you drove around the entire equator of planet Earth, you would still need 2,759 miles, or roughly the distance from Roanoke to Quito, Ecuador, to catch us.
Every mile represents a story from the people of this district - people who have shared their hopes and fears for the future of our home.
Before the odometer cracked triple-digits, I met Cindy. Cindy is almost 60, she works two full-time jobs here in Roanoke, one at a restaurant, the other at a store. She told me how she worries that she may never retire. Cindy is like too many people in our district - hard-working, good-hearted but struggling to get by. We need to help her get ahead again. As an economic planner, my day job was to help communities create good-paying jobs. I see every day how much those are needed here in the 6th District. We need infrastructure upgrades to grow new jobs, we need to make it easier to start new businesses, and we need to improve wages and the rights for workers to speak up for them.
After about 5,000 miles on the road, I met Pam in Lynchburg. Pam received two organ transplants that saved her life. After working hard her whole life, she receives $1,500 a month from her retirement. Of that, $1,400 goes to pay just her health insurance premiums every month. Her retirement is in danger because our health system is broken. When healthcare is so crucial to our everyday lives, it has to work. That’s why I am supporting Senator Tim Kaine’s Medicare X plan, because I believe it can help the people of our district avoid financial ruin because of illness or accident.
With 2017 in the rearview and 2018 just beginning, I spoke with a group of educators. They told me how they were struggling to get a 1.5% raise, even though inflation went up 2.5%. Along with salaries, you see everywhere that our education system is woefully underfunded. My mom was a teacher at Oak Grove Elementary, and I watched year after year as she bought her own classrooms supplies. In Congress, I will fight to get every school the funding it deserves, and fight Betsy Devos’ attempts to undermine public education.
Around mile marker 20,000, we drove outside the district to see for ourselves the pain and destruction being caused by pipeline construction. The majority African-American community of Union Hill in Buckingham County is the future site of a compressor station for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. Twenty-four hours a day, 365 days a year, this community will have to deal with the loud, polluting and dangerous site in their backyard and they had no say in the matter. As I sat in the pews of Union Hill Church, Aida told us how she feared for her safety and the safety of her grandchildren. She feared for her well-water and of course the ever-present threat of an explosion. She told us how painful it was to tell her grandchildren they may not be able to visit anymore. Aida doesn’t live in my district, but the injustice happening to her and her community cannot be ignored. Our congressional representatives should be protecting us - our civil rights, our rights to our land and our environment - not allowing companies to take what they want and give us nothing in return.
As mile number 27,660 comes across the odometer, I pull into my driveway. I walk in and see Beth our Roanoke Chair on the phone calling volunteers. I see Alison our field director organizing phone banks and canvasses. I see a dozen new volunteers and friends pitching in and fighting for the opportunity to represent our community. From our tiny circle of three, the campaign has grown to include hundreds of volunteers and thousands of supporters from every corner of the Blue Ridge. The stories I’ve picked up on the road have made an impact on me, and with them in mind we’ve been able to build an organization ready to take on Ben Cline and win in November.
We did all that, and it only took 27,660 miles. Now imagine what I could do with 27,660 more.
It is for all of the above reasons that I ask for your vote on Tuesday, June 12, in the Democratic primary and to represent you in the upcoming general election.