Author: Ben

True liberty requires economic liberty

FDR said that true liberty requires economic liberty: that we have the right to healthcare, to an education, to food, shelter, and a good job with a living wage. We’re not free without these things. I’m running for State Senate against Bryce Reeves to fight for a government that works for everyone, to bring civility and decency back to our politics so we can treat each other like neighbors again, to protect civil liberties and put people ahead of partisanship. I’m refusing corporate PAC money but that means I need grass roots support. Want to join the fight? Click here to contribute today!
–Ben

Orange County Schools

Tonight I attended the Orange NAACP and listened to a terrific presentation by School Superintendent Cecil Snead. I’m excited about the focus on votech, CTE, and STEM.

There were some terrific questions from NAACP members. An especially good one from one of the high schoolers present was: Orange has a great tech program (Hornet Tech) but how do we encourage more women and minorities to take computer science? One key solution is to diversify our teachers, guest speakers, and role models. My undergrad mentor and my boss at Columbia University where I worked as a research programmer were both women and leaders in their field (artificial intelligence), and simply by being role models they helped other women excel in the male-dominated tech industry. Visible diversity in positions of authority can give students that extra bit of bravery needed to challenge the status quo.

I’m inspired by Superintendent Snead’s efforts to focus on academic equity, and his book club with school leadership reading Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. I liked his response about how to diversify teachers by ‘growing his own’ by bringing back the Teachers for Tomorrow program.

Rural schools in smaller counties don’t always have as loud of a voice in the state legislature, and I pledge to be that voice and to work with the school boards in my district to advocate for them and for the students, parents, and teachers of the 17th district.

-Ben

Talking to Voters in District 17

What a beautiful Saturday! I met with both the Orange County Democratic Committee and the Louisa County Democrats today. We talked about a wide range of issues including campaign contribution limits, affordable housing, legal advocacy for the poor facing harassment and eviction, and more. One great question in Louisa concerned how to respond to the constant, indiscriminate accusations of ‘socialism’ (from people who don’t even have a clear definition of the word). My answer: patiently explain your position, be clear we ought to put people ahead of partisanship, and remember that social media is a playground that doesn’t accurately reflect what people genuinely believe, so stay calm and don’t take the mudslinging to heart. A thick skin is a must! -Ben

Progress on civil asset forfeiture reform

This is great news for advocates of civil asset forfeiture reform! In a unanimous opinion, SCOTUS incorporates the Eighth Amendment’s excessive fines clause, which means it now applies to the states [1].

The next step in Virginia is to require a criminal conviction before your assets can be seized. Here in Virginia, police only needs ‘clear and convincing evidence’ of a crime before they can take your car. In 2016, Senator Petersen proposed an amendment to require a criminal conviction first before your car or other assets can be seized [2]. But my opponent Bryce Reeves voted against it and the amendment failed. [3]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/20/us/politics/civil-asset-forfeiture-supreme-court.html

[2] https://lawreview.richmond.edu/2016/03/10/reform-virginias-civil-asset-forfeiture-laws-to-remove-the-profit-incentive-and-curtail-the-abuse-of-power/

[3] https://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?161+vot+SV0398SB0457+SB0457

Why we need the Equal Rights Amendment

URGENT UPDATE: There’s still a chance we can pass the ERA this session. Delegate Ayala has introduced a bill to allow a floor vote on the ERA. Call your Delegate!

Network NoVA believes these are the most urgent 8 Delegates to contact:

  • Speaker Cox (804) 698-1066 / DelKCox@house.virginia.gov
  • Tim Hugo (804) 698-1040 / DelTHugo@house.virginia.gov
  • Chris Stolle (804) 698-1083 / DelCStolle@house.virginia.gov
  • Roxann Robinson (804) 698-1027 / DelRRobinson@house.virginia.gov
  • Jay Leftwich (804) -698-1078 /DelJLeftwich@house.virginia.gov
  • Chris Jones (R) 804-698-1076 / DelCJones@house.virginia.gov
  • Bob Thomas (804) 698-1028 / DelBThomas@house.virginia.gov
  • David Yancey (804) 698-1094 / DelDYancey@house.virginia.gov

Why do we need the ERA when we already have the EPC?

My opponent, Senator Bryce Reeves, just voted against the Equal Rights Amendment. I disagree with his vote. Why do we need the Equal Rights Amendment when we already have the 14th amendment, which says nobody is denied equal protection under the law? It’s because the Supreme Court doesn’t think the equal protection clause protects sex as strongly as it protects race, religion, or country of origin.

The US Supreme Court decides whether or not a law is constitutional. If it’s unconstitutional, the law gets thrown out. The way SCOTUS evaluates a discriminatory law under 14A is by dividing laws into three tiers of scrutiny: strict, intermediate, and rational basis.

Strict scrutiny is the strongest tier. A law evaluated under strict scrutiny is only constitutional if it’s necessary for a compelling state interest AND as narrowly tailored as possible. Discriminatory laws reviewed under strict scrutiny are usually thrown out. Race and religion are protected under strict scrutiny, but shockingly, women are only protected under intermediate scrutiny, which just says the law needs to be substantially related to an important state interest.

Here’s an example: age laws for smoking or drinking. A law assigns different drinking ages based on race or religion? That’s discrimination under strict scrutiny, and the Supreme Court will throw it out. But a law that says men and women get different drinking ages? That’s intermediate scrutiny, and less likely to get thrown out. That’s not fair. That’s why we need the ERA.

Tools for small farmers

When the smartest people in the world spend most of their lives telling us climate change is real, then we should listen to them. Virginia will begin flooding in the next 30 years. In order to cut down on fossil fuel consumption, we need to get creative.

One of the biggest consumers of fossil fuels is trucks, and one of the biggest items transported is food. When grocery stores and restaurants buy local, less fuel is consumed. My solution to fighting climate change includes support for small local farmers. Small farmers can have as little as an acre of land or less and only a few animals. When they have the resources to turn that into a second income, it helps them and it helps us.

One of my priorities as State Senator will be tools such as community commercial kitchens and pasteurization salons, like the Carver Food Enterprise Center in Rapidan. The up-front cost of a pasteurization salon is around $50K. Pasteurization and cheese-making facilities must both follow very specific legal requirements. Most cheeses must be made from pasteurized milk, though there are a limited number of cheeses that can be made from unpasteurized milk after being aged for 60 days at temperatures above 35 degrees Fahrenheit. Either way, building and maintaining on-site pasteurization and cheese processing facilities is expensive while milk prices continue to drop, which is why community commercial kitchens that provide up-to-code facilities are an important way to lower the barrier of entry into the market. Small farmers depend on multiple income streams to get by. Grants for local communities to invest in tools like these will help farmers with small numbers of cows or goats enter the dairy market without the added stress of maintaining inspection-ready facilities.