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Augusta Free Press endorses Sam Rasoul for lieutenant governor

sam rasoul#TeamAFP has made its second endorsement in the 2021 Democratic primary, backing Roanoke Del. Sam Rasoul in the race for the lieutenant governor nomination.

“We’ve known Sam since his first run for political office, back in 2008, when he ran for the Sixth District seat in Congress. We were impressed with how hard he worked in that campaign, visiting every small group of Democrats and independents and others he could meet with, and we’ve seen the same from him in his eight years in the House of Delegates,” AFP editor Chris Graham said in announcing the endorsement.

“His experience as a small business owner also stands out to us,” Graham said. “We’re progressives who are ourselves small business owners. We believe that Sam’s support of a public option in healthcare is the right thing for both individuals and for business. We also admire Sam’s diligence in pursuing expanded access to the ballot, and his continued efforts to reach out to Democrats, independents and Republican voters, with the belief that in the end, we’re all Virginians, we’re all Americans.

“We’re proud to be on #TeamGrit,” Graham said,

Graham conducted an interview with Rasoul for AFP’s “Street Knowledge” podcast on Thursday to announce the endorsement.

Following is a transcript of Rasoul’s answers to our questions, edited for clarity.

On the importance of visiting each locality in Virginia

I remember growing up and hearing about the presidential candidates who would go to Iowa and visit every one of the 99 counties in Iowa. And so I said, Man, I’m running for lieutenant governor, I want to visit every one of the 133 cities and counties in Virginia, and gather the stories and struggles of everyday Virginians and uplift those stories. So that way, we’re a better-connected Commonwealth. And I’ve been from tip to tip Accomack County on the Eastern Shore to Lee County. And there’s about 10 hours in between them. So it’s it’s a big Commonwealth for sure.

On his COVID recovery plan

We’ve done some great things actually over the past couple few years as far as improving access, expanding Medicaid, but having a true public option so that everyone can buy into some of the state-run plans that we have, to me, it is critical to make sure that access is there, for sure. as we as we move forward. In addition to that, making sure that we’ve got access to healthcare providers, expanding the scope where necessary. When we are talking about rural health equity, we need to do things like what we’ve just passed this past year, which was my budget amendment to bring a nursing program to rural Virginia.

We see that women have been disproportionately impacted as far as the economics are concerned during this downturn. And it’s not just the money, it’s really there’s a lot of trauma there, with lives being turned over. And so at the at the state level, what we need to be doing is at least stepping up and helping out providing comprehensive childcare, paid medical and family leave, paid sick leave, even child caregiver tax credits, because many Virginians, including myself, for example, we’ve got young ones, and then we’ve got our parents that we are taking care of, and those caregivers need to be valued somehow here in the Commonwealth.

We also have businesses that are struggling, and we’ve seen so many shutter during this difficult time. And so by making those additional investments and rebuild Virginia by having some tax rebates specifically for Main Street businesses, I think are some ways that Virginia could step up.

Especially our smallest businesses, there’s Mom and Pop mainstream businesses that are struggling to make ends meet. Look, the reality is, is for some of the larger businesses, they’ve been able to take better advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program and some of the other incentives there. But we certainly have more work to do. And we we all know that it takes some time. For any economic downturn, it takes some time for our workers to really catch up because many of them are the first ones hit.

Why run for lieutenant governor?

Yeah, it wasn’t an easy decision. I’ve certainly enjoyed my eight years in the General Assembly, and especially over the past year and a half being in the majority, we’ve been able to get a lot of great work done, for sure. So, you know, the tradeoff for me was taking these issues that I care very deeply about, and having a new and higher platform with which to discuss many of them, casting those critically important tie-breaking votes in the Senate, working with the incoming governor, whoever she or he may be, to try to bring a different perspective, whether it be an education, with some of my education work, my healthcare work, environment, or having a regional perspective that might be unique to the administration.

Lastly, wanting to do more of the work that I really love, which is building these broad coalitions to do something about the shifting in politics, that complete alienation and tearing of each other down, which is not the way we should be approaching things. And so for me, what we’re calling Virginia grit, visiting every city and county in person, to the Impact Center, which we started, and which has trained over 2,000 candidates and activists to the Democratic Promise, which says why don’t we as part of the way we campaign and connect, actually help people with the government services that they need. There are some, some great ways to reform the way we approach politics, especially on the Democratic side, that I think would be helpful, and I hope to be able to do more of that as your next lieutenant governor,

How would you use the lieutenant governor position to benefit the people of Virginia?

I first always have this one philosophy. am I standing on the right side of history? I mean, I think Virginians appreciate someone regardless of the current politics of the time who is trying to make the decision that is on the right side of history, that is in the best interests of the Commonwealth. And during my time in the legislature, Over the past eight years, I’ve tried to be a good team player in lots of different ways. But it always comes back to the decision that I make the votes that I cast, they need to be in the best interest of the people. And so, if just so happens to party politics is going one way, and the interest of the people is going another, I’m not afraid to stand up and say, this is what’s right for Virginians. And as your next lieutenant governor, I won’t be afraid to do that. And I think that Virginians will welcome that.

On Gov. Northam’s recent marijuana reform proposals

The reality is that the amendments are voted on and adopted independently, and so it may be that not all of it passes the House and Senate. But we’ll see what happens. I will say, however, this was a very big bill, lots of different components. I wish it wasn’t one bill, I wish it was broken up. I think some of the criminal justice reform pieces needed to be bold, and be included on the bill that passed. The House did not have all those reforms in there that passed the General Assembly at the end, because the Senate had pulled some of that out. And so for me, there’s a few things that we look at.

Comprehensive criminal justice reform has to be part of the equation. Number two, any revenues that are produced, I think, a higher percentage than what the governor has proposed needs to go back into these communities that have been disproportionately impacted over the years. And I hope that we can do more to reform it, for sure. And that, however we approach it, the commercialization question needs to be done in a very equitable way. We should not allow powerful special interests to take over any of these issues, where it’s just serving the wealth of a few.

This is one where I like to say and point out the Koch Brothers and President Obama and others agree. We clearly have spent so much on this prison industrial complex. We are wasting a lot of tax dollars by keeping folks locked up, and especially because we’ve criminalized mental health, instead of trying to really approach it with a very solutions-oriented model. And so as we proceed, I hope that we’ll be able to reform the way we think through some of this, and bring people together, because I know that there are people on both sides of the aisle who think that there’s a better way to use some of these tax dollars.

On voting rights reform

We’ve come such a long way. I’ve been on the Elections Committee all eight years that I’ve been in the General Assembly, and I’ve seen this consistent attack on our ability to vote. And fortunately, over the past couple of years, we’ve made some significant progress, from 49th in the nation, to now 12, as far as ease of access to vote.

The reality is, they have not been shy about their attack on voting rights. And for me, you just go back to some of the leaders of the modern conservative movement. I look back there on YouTube, in 1980 of the founders said at the Republican National Convention, we don’t want everyone to vote, the more people that vote, the worse we do. And I think that that was really a lot of foreshadowing for many policies that now have really alienated so many people.

But we’ve made a lot of progress here in Virginia. One game-changer has been bringing on early voting. And so you know, we think that there’ll be some record turnout for the primary that starts April 24. And moving forward, but we have a little bit work. A little bit of work still left to do.

We need to be bold about our stance here. And make sure that people have access to the voting booth. This is deep in our history where we’ve gone back and forth on this. The dark history before 1865. And then you had the Reconstruction movement, which brought in more rights. And then Jim Crow took away more rights. And then we had to wait for the civil rights era. And then the new you know, kind of war on drugs and war on crime and finding different ways of taking people’s ability to vote. But people should just have the access to be able to participate in our democracy. And we should push back with everything that we have against the attacks and threats there.

On K-12 education post-COVID

Yeah, you know, our schools, many of them were struggling to begin with, for lots of different reasons. One project that I’ve been doing is to substitute teach in every school in my city here, until COVID hit. And I just saw firsthand how difficult it is, and then lay COVID on top of that. Look, number one, we have no excuse for not paying our teachers at least the national average, and we’re so far below that. So as a Commonwealth, we have to invest in our teachers, so that way we can have the workforce to be able to get it done. Right now, there’s just so much turnover, so much stress.

Number two, getting our help to these localities, and into local school districts that are really struggling. Right now, we’re making them make some difficult decisions in some spots. Now is the time for us to invest. Virginia has a budget surplus, and we have not touched our reserves. And it seems like now would be the time to make sure that our localities are invested in, especially our schools.

Number three, we have schools that are crumbling in every corner. Now, whether I’ve been on the Eastern Shore or down in Southwest Virginia, we have this inequity in our school infrastructure in in the resources that are put in when you have all these schools who can barely offer some of the some of the basics, like certain language programs, certain math programs. Equity means that everyone has access to be able to succeed. And so in the short term, there, there are some things that we definitely need to be focusing on.

On the challenges facing police

This past fall, I went on a ride-along with a lieutenant here in Roanoke City. I went on a late night, Friday night shift with the Roanoke City Police Department, and the lieutenant and I traded some ideas, but also I was able to see firsthand what they’re dealing with day to day.

We were pulling out at 9 p.m., and immediately were summoned to a stabbing that was happening. And so we go to an immediate crime scene, and it’s kind of so frantic. And then, you know, a series of stops and things that happened throughout the evening, but in between all of it, we had a pretty deep conversation. This was the night there was a shooting in Atlanta in a Wendy’s parking lot of an individual by an officer, so that was a pretty heated time. I was able to see some of that perspective.

Putting his experience as a small business owner to work in his political work

Just understanding the basics of how our budget works, and being able to appreciate cash flow, you’ve got revenues and expenses, and where are you going to get the funds from, certainly gives you a different perspective. You really want to think through the different struggles that mainstream businesses go through. As somebody who’s owned and operated several of them, I feel like there’s Main Street, then there’s like, the larger small businesses that maybe have 200 employees, and then they get bigger from there.

My first business was a little video store. Remember these little Blockbusters? It was like a little video store out in the country. This is going back almost 20 years. When you actually have to go through the churn and all the above, it’s not easy. So we want to really empathize with the folks who are struggling, and I feel like my business background has helped me decipher who’s really struggling and where we should be putting some of our resources, and empathizing with those who need us the most.

When I was at the age of five, I remember standing on a milk crate ringing the register as customers are coming through my parents’ corner store. And looking back, it’s probably where I learned quote unquote politics, because politics is really just a people business, right? Rich, poor, black, white, brown, everyone that came in, you learn to relate to them. I remember just loving to go to work with my parents. I was working two jobs through high school and college, finishing high school a year early finishing college year early. I was just always in a hurry to just get things done. I wasn’t the the top of my class in high school or anything like that, but I know I wanted to get things done. And then all of a sudden, one day I started running for office. It wasn’t that  I had thought, I’m always going to run for office. But you know, I’ve been very fortunate, and I think a product of a good upbringing.

Coming from working class roots, there’s always that little fire, right? It’s always like, I’ve got to make sure that I’m on my toes, because something could go south pretty quickly. And that fire, in some respect, has helped me, because I’ve always felt like I needed to keep pushing on.

On Democratic Promise and the value of constituent service

Voting is not a logical decision. It’s based on a citizen’s emotional decision. We can either appeal to the emotion of fear, which we see most of the time in politics, or the emotion of trust, building quality relationships with people. And so to me, it makes great sense that, especially being a Democrat, a person who believes that these institutions play an important role in our lives, that in our campaigning, in our connecting, we should be helping people along the way.

I met many people in my district who maybe don’t know all of the policies and the votes that I take, but they remember if I was there for him, if when they call,  I picked up the phone when they needed help. We were we were doing our best to advocate for them. So this is critically important, and I think that’s the way we build goodwill and trust in politics and institutions, and even at the at the party level.

Why should people cast their votes for Sam Rasoul for lieutenant governor?

I believe in a better way to win a different type of politics, fundamentally, the challenges, the way we engage, the way we approach each other. From my first run, as you remember, Chris, when I ran for Congress back in 2007, 2008, I believe in this grassroots style politics that really use new age relational organizing to build these relationships, and not think about, well, who’s red, and who’s blue, Democrat and Republican, but really to think about, what can we be doing to bring people together to fight for the common good?

And so in the General Assembly, over the past eight years, I’ve tried to do that. I’m a member of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, as well as the Virginia Legislative Rural Caucus. And together we push for equity, whether it be in the education or the criminal justice reform. To me, this is the future of politics, if we want to make some real progress. So let’s keep building on these coalitions that we’ve built. And to me, we don’t want to sit as just innocent bystanders.

I want to be your next lieutenant governor so I can play an active role in moving the needle, about the way we connect and the way we are as neighbors to one another.

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