by Brandon Jarvis

Delegate Lee Carter from Manassas made it official when he announced on Friday that he is seeking the Democratic nomination to run for Governor. 

Carter, who was first elected to the House of Delegates in 2017, calls himself a socialist and has quickly become the boogeyman of the right with Republicans trying to tie every Democrat to him and his policy ideas.  

“It’s clear the socialist ideas that Delegate Carter espouses and is building his campaign on are already the mainstream of today’s Democratic Party,” wrote Delegate Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), one of two Republicans currently vying for the Republican nomination for Governor. “All that’s left is to go ahead and give him the keys to the DPVA headquarters.”

Carter is joining a crowded field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination and progressive strategists fear that his candidacy will further divide the vote for their candidates in the primary. The reason for their fear is the existence of former Governor Terry McAuliffe in the race. The progressive wing of the party has been pushing back against his candidacy since rumors of his interest in running again first surfaced. Even so, McAuliffe is considered by many to be the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.

“McAuliffe has a lot of advantages,” said Dr. Stephen Farnsworth, Professor and Director of the Center for Leadership and Media Studies at the University of Mary Washington. “You’re talking about somebody with very high name recognition, a very successful fundraiser, somebody that has run and won statewide – these are very significant matters when you are talking about a state as diverse and large as Virginia.” 

Carter addressed these concerns along with much more in an interview with Virginia Scope. 

What is missing from the current field of candidates that inspired you to enter the race?

LC: I didn’t see a focus on issues in a way where it felt like any of the other candidates had a bold enough vision, a transformative vision that is on the kind of scale we would need to deal with the cascading crises that we are in. We have had hundreds of thousands of Virginians lose work because of this pandemic, we have had thousands of Virginians die because of this pandemic, and there is no one out there with a plan to make sure that when we rebuild our economy that it’s not just a series of corporate giveaways trying to beg more companies like Amazon to come in. We have got to rebuild our economy after this is over in a way that is owned and operated by the people of Virginia so that it cannot be outsourced again – so that another crisis cannot come and topple the whole house of cards again.” 

What would your priorities be to help Virginia climb out of the pandemic?

LC: “Regardless of who wins this [primary] election we still have another year under Governor Northam. For starters, Governor Northam really needs to step up when it comes to taking more aggressive measures to stop the spread while we distribute the vaccine. Also, he needs to step up with the distribution of the vaccine itself, the last report that I saw was that we distributed less than 20% of the total doses that we received. I understand that we need to prioritize but there really needs to be two silos for vaccine distribution: the priority folks getting vaccines as quickly as they are able to get it to them but then also we need to have for lack of a better term, a clearance bin, where we have got these vaccines that need to be used before they expire and those need to go to anyone who is willing to take them. I would much rather have this approach that gets doses in human arms than be so focused on trying to only target specific groups that we miss out on using doses entirely and they expire.”

The Virginia Department of Health has reported that over 87,000 people in Virginia have received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Over 400,000 vaccines have been distributed in total across Virginia. 

Carter continued: As Governor, my priorities would be on massive transformational change. When it comes to dealing with the aftermath of the coronavirus crisis, first of all, we have got to make sure that anybody who had an out-of-pocket healthcare cost from coronavirus has that compensated. Anything from $20 for a test up to $200,000 for an ICU visit. If any Virginian had an out-of-pocket cost for COVID-19, the commonwealth should come in and make them whole. It may take a while to do that, but we absolutely have a responsibility to make sure that those costs are paid for. We also have to deal with the economic fallout; what that means is stopping the massive corporate subsidies that we send out the door – the hundreds of millions of dollars every year that we give to companies like Amazon, Volvo, and Ikea. Instead of giving that money to out-of-state investors, we have got to keep that money here in the commonwealth and make sure that it goes towards starting new businesses that are cooperatively owned and operated by the people that work there so that it can’t be outsourced and downsized in the future. That way Virginians actually control the future of Virginia’s economy.” 

Carter calls himself a socialist, but he acknowledges a candidate cannot win without running as a nominee on one of the two major party tickets.

How would you describe being a democratic-socialist? What separates your platform from the mainstream Democratic party?

LC: “For starters, I don’t use the term Democratic-Socialist, I find it redundant. The definition of socialism is any economic system that is democratically owned and operated. So democracy is a fundamental part of socialism, therefore if it is not democratic then it can’t be socialism. The key thing that sets me apart from the rest of the Democratic Party’s candidates is my economic vision and analysis. The Democratic Party for a very long time has defined itself as ‘not the Republicans.’ It is not enough for me to simply not be the Republicans, to say look at the other guy. It’s not good enough for the hundreds of thousands of Virginians that are struggling to make ends meet. It’s not good enough for the Virginians who have no health insurance. It’s not good enough for the million Virginians who have health insurance but can’t afford to use it. We need a governor who is actually willing to analyze the economy and say what are the fundamental flaws in the structures that we have built that are causing people to go through these hardships in the first place. Someone who is willing to use all of the powers of the governor’s office to address that in real and direct ways that makes it easier for people to pay the bills and puts real Virginians in charge of decision making in our economy, not out-of-state investors.”

Carter is joining the crowded field of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, one of those candidates being fellow-Prince William resident Jennifer Carroll Foy. Prior to Carter’s entry into the race, Foy, a contrast to McAuliffe, was considered the most progressive candidate in the race. Democratic strategists told Virginia Scope on background that they fear Carter and Foy will both split the progressive vote in the primary, handing a victory to McAuliffe. 

In addition to Foy and Carter, Senator Jennifer McClellan from Richmond is also seeking the nomination. McClellan, a heavyweight in Democratic state politics has often aligned similarly with McAuliffe. However in her candidacy for Governor, McClellan has been pushing to the left – potentially dividing the progressive vote even more. 

How would you respond to the people that say your candidacy helps Terry McAuliffe and hurts the other candidates like Jennifer Carroll Foy? 

LC: No. This primary campaign is going to be about issues. I am going to make sure that this campaign is going to be about issues and outcomes. All five of us that are running are going to have to go out there and talk about the sorts of outcomes that we are fighting for. Like I said, it is not enough to just not be the Republicans, which has been the message from the Democratic Party for too long. We have to talk about exactly the types of things we are going to change that people are going to feel. When we go out there and we talk about making sure that more people can get healthcare, not just access – but healthcare, and when we talk about putting people directly in charge of their workplaces, and when we talk about putting people back to work on infrastructure projects, and when we talk about making sure that we feed Virginia’s children with Virginia-grown produce, people are going to respond – they are going to realize that this is an opportunity to vote for someone that is actually going to make their life better. That is what is going to push us across the finish line, that is what is going to get us to the Governor’s mansion, and from there, we are actually going to deliver on those changes. It is not about any other individual candidate in the race, it is about what I am going to do to help Virginians as long as they help me get there.” 

Carter championed legislation during the 2020 legislative session that placed a cap on insulin prices for Virginians with insurance. That legislation went into effect on January 1st. 

How does it feel to see your legislation begin helping Virginians? 

LC: “We have been waiting a long time. It was a necessity because it had to do with health insurance plans and health insurance plans take effect on the first of the year generally. It is good to actually see my legislative efforts go into effect and to have people start going to the pharmacy. Instead of facing down a $300 or $400 copay for one month’s insulin, that price is now $50. Of course, there were some limitations to the bill, unfortunately, it doesn’t help people who are uninsured. But there are thousands and thousands of people who it does help and it is amazingly impactful. It is the best feeling in the world when a change that I fought for is actually making people’s lives better.”

Carter has never accepted campaign donations from corporations or interest groups. He has not ruled out accepting donations from billionaire donors, however, saying he will take each situation on a case-by-case basis, also noting that he does not expect any billionaires to want to support him after hearing his ideas. 

LC: “From day one of my time in politics I have not accepted a single dime from for-profit corporations or industry interest groups. When it comes to individuals it is a judgment call. I have taken money from Michael Bills for my House [of Delegates] campaign in the past. That was because there was a temporary alignment of our interests where he was funding anyone who refused to take Dominion [Energy] money and I was already refusing to take Dominion money. When it comes to the gubernatorial race I don’t anticipate that any billionaires will be particularly fond of my message so I don’t think that is going to be a problem. When it comes to individuals it is going to be a case-by-case thing.”

Marijuana legalization is now front and center in Virginia with Governor Northam recently stating his support of legalizing cannabis in 2021. Carter has a plan to use the revenue that would arise from legalization to pay for reparations.

LC: “The biggest political question of this legislative session coming up is going to be on the legalization of cannabis. I think it is no longer a question of whether or not we legalize it, but a question of how we do it. What I am going to be fighting for first when it comes to legalization is making sure that the immediate harm of prohibition is stopped. This includes expunging the records of people with non-violent cannabis convictions and releasing anyone who is currently behind bars for anything cannabis-related. Long term we need to make sure that we sequester every single dime of cannabis revenue into a fund for reparations. This is a moment where we can begin to make up for some of the wrongs that Virginia’s government has been complicit in the past. We can do that with a revenue stream that doesn’t take anything existing from anybody. It is kind of hard to object to using this revenue stream for the purpose of reparations. We need a commission to determine exactly what that money needs to be spent on to accomplish the goal of paying reparations for Virginia’s complicity in slavery, redlining, Jim Crow, and the war on drugs.” 

Can you explain your stance on changing the so-called “Right to Work” laws in Virginia? 

LC: First of all, the name is an intentional misnomer, it has been that way since the 40’s. It is sort of the first half of a sentence that they were a little bit more explicit about back then it was the right to work without an integrated union. It was designed to create this animosity between black workers and white workers to stop them from joining unions to fight collectively for better workplace conditions. Under current law, unions are required to bargain on behalf of everybody in a workplace whether they are members or not. But, the so-called right to work law stops those unions from negotiating a contract where they get compensated for the services that they provide to non-members. By repealing that, we are not saying that everyone has to join a union, although I would love it if everyone did, but what we are saying is that unions and employers can now come together and negotiate contracts that include compensation for the services that the union provides. That’s it. Republicans are making this out to be the end of the world, but there is still 22 or 23 states that do not have these laws on the books – including some of the most economically powerful states in the union like California and New York. This is about providing a better environment for working people to organize and putting more power in the hands of the people who are actually working day in and day out, rather than the big corporate bosses who currently dictate everything in our economy.” 

You can find more information on the candidates running for Governor from both parties on the Virginia Public Access Project

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By vascope