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ICYMI: Who we’re backing for governor of Virginia: Jennifer Carroll Foy

Jennifer Carroll Foy
Jennifer Carroll Foy

Original article published on Feb. 3, 2021

The moment that we’re in – 200,000 Virginians out of work due to the pandemic, students out of classrooms for nearly a year, on the verge of being lost forever, the racial justice reckoning that has stalled – doesn’t call for more of the same.

Jennifer Carroll Foy, a Petersburg native, a VMI alum, a mother of two, public defender, is our choice for governor in 2021, because we see her rising to the moment, and inspiring us – from Main Street to the Capitol – to fight past more of the same to be able to address the issues head on.

She has the right answers, which is important. Her focus at the outset on the jobs issue is fixing the obvious, embarrassing deficiencies in the Virginia Employment Commission, to boost what those out of work get in terms of benefits.

On schools, she supports extending school into the summer, adding an hour to the school day, doing what we can to make up for the lost time.

She speaks with the experience of a public defender who has had to work with innumerable clients suffering from a variety of mental health issues about the importance of investing in our ability to provide mental health care to those in need.

And as an African American mother who daily faces the reality of having to make ends meet on a tight budget, she will make it a priority that the state build on the momentum already there to boost pay for essential workers, to level the playing field.

Related: AFP editorial board interview with Jennifer Carroll Foy

You’ll hear a lot of similar things from the frontrunner in the Democratic Party gubernatorial race, the former governor, Terry McAuliffe, and from the other candidates in the race – State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, State Del. Lee Carter.

It’s important to be right on the issues, to be able to articulate policy positions.

What we see in Carroll Foy, and why we’re backing her for the Democratic Party nomination, is that we see in her the ability to inspire.

And if we ever needed to be inspired, it’s now.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel with respect to COVID-19, but even once we’re on the other side, that’s when the work to pick up the pieces will just begin.

Among the deficiencies exposed in the past year is the disarray in the Virginia Employment Commission, the first point of contact for the people that we like to call “essential” workers, who also happen to be the most “expendable” workers when it comes time for job market corrections.

Our mental health system may actually be in even more disarray.

Carroll Foy pledges to address those areas, to continue work toward reducing the impact of gun violence on our communities, to make sure that our work in racial justice in the wake of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor doesn’t end with a few statues removed and the names of public buildings and schools updated.

We were able to talk with her in-depth last week, and we left thinking: she reminds us of somebody.

We faced another moment in 2008 – a deepening recession that would force millions out of work, the scars of two wars that would turn us on each other.

Barack Obama wrote in his memoir, A Promised Land, that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had shared with him the observation that, oftentimes, in politics, it’s the person who chooses the moment, when it comes to running for public office, but the ones that stand out are when it’s the moment choosing the person.

We see, in Jennifer Carroll Foy, the person that the moment is choosing.

Her story itself is inspiring – raised by her grandmother, she was one of the first women to matriculate at VMI, went on to earn a law degree, and then confounded her family by foregoing a chance at monetizing the degree by becoming a public defender, recognizing that people are more likely to go to jail if they were “poor and innocent than wealthy and guilty.”

“I had a problem with the system. So I said, you know what, I can continue to be a part of the problem, or I can do something about it,” she said.

Another “I can do something about it” moment would face her in 2017.

The incumbent Republican in the Second House District, Mark Dudenhefer, had decided not to run for re-election.

The Second had been a yo-yo politically. Dudenhefer had defeated Democrat Joshua King by 125 votes in 2015, after losing a re-election bid in 2013 to Democrat Michael Futrell by 223 votes.

A 50-50 district, and then, King had his hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination, and the backing of top Democrats in Richmond.

It seemed a foregone conclusion.

“Something my husband says to me all the time, he’s like, Jen, when are you going to take your cape off? It’s something that has been in me for a very long time,” said Carroll Foy, who made the decision to jump into the race to challenge King.

“When I saw Trump being elected, the most incompetent, racist, bigoted, xenophobic, misogynistic person, being elected the leader of the free world, and to see a lot of their rhetoric down in Richmond, with the transvaginal ultrasound bill, the constant attacks on women, I decided to do something about it,” said Carroll Foy, who, despite being outraised four-to-one, defeated King, ultimately by 12 votes.

It was 10 votes on primary night.

She’d have to wait out a month-long recount that would add the extra two votes as cushion.

Didn’t mention that she was pregnant with twins throughout all of this, or that they’d be born prematurely, and end up spending four months in neonatal intensive care.

The moment had chosen her.

The 50-50 Second ended up giving Carroll Foy 63 percent of the vote that November, and 61 percent in her 2019 re-election campaign.

She decided, heading into the 2021 cycle, to step down from her House of Delegates seat to focus on the gubernatorial race.

Déjà vu all over again, once again, there’s an establishment candidate, in the form of the formidable former governor, McAuliffe, who already has nearly $6 million in the bank, the backing of scores of top Democrats.

One thing that he doesn’t have in abundance: the ability to inspire.

McAuliffe was a solid governor in his term from 2014 to 2018. He prioritized Medicaid funding, didn’t get it done, but his successor, Ralph Northam, did, and what Northam was able to accomplish there almost certainly wouldn’t have happened without the groundwork from McAuliffe.

State government purred along, the economy kept pace.

There were no scandals that anybody can remember.

A second McAuliffe term would likely be more of the same.

The moment doesn’t call for more of the same.

This isn’t a time for politics as usual – backroom deals, horse trading.

It’s a time to set out a vision, and then, inspire others to want to work toward making it happen.

Jennifer Carroll Foy, of all of the Democratic Party candidates for governor in 2021, is the one that we see who really gets that.

It’s an uphill battle for her, to be sure.

What we like, and what we think we need to see more of, across the board, right now, is that she’s ready to fight.

“They say, you’re a firebrand, upstart, you’re new, you’re taking on this machine, and you’re unafraid. How is that possible? I say, well, you know, I’m built for this, I’m built for this, because I’m always ready to meet the moment,” Carroll Foy said.

“I was taught by my grandmother at a very young age, you always put service above self, and if you have it, you have to give it. It wasn’t a ‘but,’ right? It wasn’t a caveat. ‘But’ if you have enough money, ‘but’ if there’s a road to win, ‘but’ if only if you’re the favorite. None of those things.

“It’s never steered me wrong. Once I’m led to do something, I don’t question it. I just go for it. I go all in, I put my head down. I work hard. And I know I’m fighting for the right reasons. That’s what matters.

“It’s never failed me in the past. I don’t think it will fail me now. And in this moment, I think Virginia is ready to move forward and not back. They’re looking for a new leader who’s right for this moment. We want to shake up the status quo in politics as usual. And you can’t do that by recycling same old politicians and the same old policies.

“I’m excited that people say it can’t happen, because what I always like to say is, everything is impossible until it’s done.”

Story by Chris Graham


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