"I waited in line from 9am to 5pm just to apply for the job."
When I graduated college in 2008, I was eager to return home and start working. But, it was impossible to find a job, so I moved away in search of opportunities. The job market was so depressed that I remember waiting 8 hours in line at a job fair before I could talk to a recruiter. Waiting in line that day, I shared the anxiety and uncertainty everyone had about their future. I was one of thousands of applicants, and I was lucky enough to get hired. I understand that there were thousands of people that went home to their families without the same result and for them, the uncertainty continued.
For many in our district, their future is still uncertain. My priority in Congress will be to create jobs for our region so that people can get ahead, not just get by. That means growing our own local industries - supporting small, hometown and high-growth businesses, which create good-paying jobs that stay rooted in our communities.
The 6th District has the smarts and work ethic to compete with anyone in the global economy, but we need to fix the infrastructure that makes our economy grow and go. We will build new electrical systems that transport energy from renewable sources, install faster and more affordable broadband internet, and increase passenger train services to reduce the traffic on our roads. Let's give our district the right tools and we'll unlock it's full potential.
"We would drive from hospital to hospital, and I would wonder how this system could be so cruel to deny this person in their most desperate hour?"
Healthcare should be affordable and accessible - end of story. We are making progress to ensure that all citizens can afford to take care of themselves and their families, but we need to bring people back to the center of the health system.
As an emergency medical technician (EMT) I saw first-hand the cruelty of the healthcare system. As EMTs we are trained to bring the suffering patient to the closest hospital, but I would often escort the patient to the hospital that would accept their insurance - even if it was miles further away. Working with patients before the ACA, I saw the worst aspects of our health insurance system. It's designed to make the most profit and reward shareholders, not help patients.
In Congress, my first priority will be to stabilize the healthcare market. The best way I think of doing that is by supporting Sen. Tim Kaine's 'Medicare X' public buy-in plan. By giving areas that have one or zero insurers the ability to now buy in to Medicare, it has the potential to lower premiums by up to 30% while giving patients greater access to services. It is also important to protect Medicaid and other programs for those most vulnerable among us, including seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income families.
The opioid epidemic, in particular, is devastating communities with little relief in sight, and my goal in Congress would be to create a bipartisan, top-to-bottom action plan that tackles every part of addiction to stop this crisis once and for all. In that plan, we need to accept that addiction is a mental health issue and increase funding for programs that help treat addiction, not incarcerate the patient.
"I couldn’t survive without the delicious apples from Ikenberry Orchards."
The bounty of the Blue Ridge has fed our families and the nation for generations. To ensure our soil continues to provide for years to come, we need to become leaders in agriculture by boldly shifting to new farming techniques that improve our produce and air quality. We need to help farmers transition to the latest technologies and techniques and promote farming to new generations.
In Congress, I will support our farmers to become leaders in the agricultural economy. Our government needs to financially support pioneering farmers that want to acquire planet-friendly equipment and organic products. It makes good business sense. To stay competitive, we should be making our agricultural products better, tastier, and safer, not cheap as possible. Our farmers need to compete on the global scale, so our government needs to make smart trade agreements that continue increase our agricultural exports beyond our region, further stimulating the economic growth of our communities.
Our communities will also need to encourage millennial farmers to try their hand at working the land. They can provide fresh perspectives on how to make our crops stronger, more cost-effective, and more delicious. We can only do this by making small farms viable again by nurturing local demand for their goods. By focusing on the future of agriculture, we can tap into new markets and boost the profits of hard-working farmers around the region.
"You can't stand on top of Mill Mountain at sundown and tell me that you aren't proud to be from here."
Growing up, I used to visit Smith Mountain Lake on warm summer days and hike the Appalachian Trail when the leaves were brilliant auburn hues. Our mountains, rivers, and national parks are part of our identity, and this natural beauty is worthy of our protection.
In Congress, I will fight to keep pipelines out of our district. They present risks to the safety of our community, and the destruction of our picturesque landscape harms our ability to grow a thriving eco-tourism industry. As an economic planner, I worked to protect communities from unstable and extreme weather patterns due to climate change. So, I know firsthand how floods, tornados, and mudslides can devastate our man-made and natural environments if we do not take action.
As modern technology improves and our cars, trains, and planes become more fuel-efficient, we are losing valuable gas tax revenues that fund our roads, bridges, and highways. One priority is to implement a carbon fee which will allow us to appropriately regulate carbon emissions. This lets us protect the air we breathe while funding the important work of connecting the 6th District to the global economy.
With better connections via rail, road and air, I envision a thriving eco-tourism industry with hikers, campers, and day-trippers seeking a natural, relaxing getaway. I want us to grow our own jobs here in the Blue Ridge, and that starts by protecting our environment and investing in infrastructure.
"Why on earth do I pay more interest on my student loans than on my home's mortgage?"
The world's technology is advancing faster than ever, and the jobs that brought a steady, quality lifestyle to our parents' and grandparents' generation are fading out of our area. For the Blue Ridge to thrive in this fast-paced world, our children need to have a top-notch education - but one that doesn't pull families into insurmountable debt.
Because my mother was a teacher, education was extremely important to my family. I saw how hard she worked to inspire a new generation of learners, but barely had the funds to make it happen. My priority in Congress will be to support our public school systems. From pre-K to college, Congress needs to act now to make sure the American education system is world-class, affordable and relevant to the changing needs of our students.
To do this, I will start with solutions that reduce the personal costs associated with education. As more students graduate with five-figure loan debt (on average, $37,712) and stagnant wages that barely cover the interest, our nation is facing a crisis. With this financial burden, young people are struggling to get by, discouraging the creation of new families, farms and businesses. Congress also needs to support pre-K and after school programs that provide vital services beyond education.
"My grandfather jumped-ship in New York harbor and never looked back."
My grandfather was an Italian merchant marine who was so eager to chase his American dream that he left his ship while it was docked in New York Harbor. While his entry does not meet today's immigration standards, his fearless leap represents the courageous ambition that has marked our country as a shining example around the globe. In Congress, I will push for a complete overhaul so that our immigration system is clear, and simply works better for Americans and people that are seeking a better life.
When my grandfather left his boat, he was welcomed into the arms of Lady Liberty. One of our strengths as a nation is our desire to help and include others. Businesses thinking of moving operations to a new community often ask, "Is your area inclusive?" The people of our district have big hearts, in Congress I will promote our region as a fantastic place for anyone to live and run a business.
Finally, the answer to our immigration problem, does not lie in the forceful removal of an estimated 11 million people from our country. Instead, let's create a pathway to citizenship for law-abiding people, who pay their fair share of taxes, and have contributed to the betterment of our nation. Like my grandfather, immigrants are hard-working, entrepreneurial people and we should encourage them to be part of our American dream.
"No research topic should be 'off limits' in a free and democratic society."
Already this year, there have been over 2,600 deaths from guns in America. This includes 45 children under the age of 12 and 47 police officers. If something isn’t done, we can be sure that we will continue to see senseless gun deaths on a daily basis. There is a lot that Congress can do today to improve gun safety in America. First, if we are going to pass gun laws that work, we need good data. While the the Dickey Amendment was technically "repealed" this year, the CDC still has no financial support to study gun violence. Congress wants to make it as hard as possible to obtain this information. Simply, no research topic should be “off limits” in a free and democratic society.
Second, we need to address the mental health aspect of gun violence. Suicides are the #1 cause of gun deaths in America. We need to increase funding for mental health services, not decrease it like the current budget does. As well, we need to keep guns out of the hands of people who are a danger to themselves or others. Several states, red and blue, have passed laws that allow courts to issue “firearm restraining orders.” In these states, law enforcement officers or family members can petition a court to temporarily restrict a person’s access to guns if that person is believed to be a threat.
Domestic abuse is also a leading cause of gun violence. On average, 50 American women are shot to death each month by their partners. We need to make sure people involved in domestic abuse cases cannot buy guns.
High capacity magazines, bump stocks and armor-piercing bullets should not be available to the public. These features are not necessary for self-defense or hunting, and the risk to the public and the police is too high. We need to incentivize gun manufacturers to create safer, smarter firearms. Biometrics safety features can help ensure that only the gun owner can fire their gun. This is where we need the input of the gun-owning community. Which safety features work and how can we make them popular?
Finally, as Democrats, we haven’t always done a great job bringing gun owners to the table. This has to change. In the interest of making money, the gun lobby has convinced people that Democrats are out to take everyone’s guns. We need gun owners to understand that this is simply not true. In fact, we need gun owners to provide their input and expertise to shape policies that really work to make guns safer and to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people. We need gun owners to help us create national gun safety standards. They are the end consumers, if the gun-owning community demands change, it will happen.