STANARDSVILLE — A Greene County Democrat is officially on the November ballot, vying for the 58th District delegate seat occupied by long-time incumbent Rob Bell, R-Albemarle.
Sara Ratcliffe, who grew up in the Midwest before coming to Washington, D.C., for college, has spent her career around politics.
“I studied political science and I spent 30 years working in Congress in mostly nonprofit advocacy — working on preventative health issues, working on reproductive rights, working on a number of issues around health care access,” she said.
Five years ago, she and her husband found their dream home in Barboursville.
“We just love the community and we love the area and the people are so amazingly nice,” she said. “Over the last five years, we spent as much time here as possible and I care a great deal about our representation in Richmond, being that politics has been my business for a long time.
“And, I watched Rob Bell really be a very nice and community-oriented representative, but I didn’t feel that his work in Richmond really sort of represented what I was hearing as I was talking to my neighbors and community members.
“And so right now we have had so many unprecedented challenges as a society and we’re in just this great movement of change. And I really think after 20 years of the same solutions and the same thinking, it might be time for someone who has some new approaches and new ideas about how to represent the 58th District in a better way. I hope to be that person.”
Bell has represented the 58th District — which encompasses all of Greene County and parts of Rockingham, Fluvanna and Albemarle counties — since 2002.
Ratcliffe said one area of interest for her is the disparity in broadband access highlighted by the coronavirus pandemic — whether for small businesses, students, workers or telehealth.
“Having spent most of my adult life in a major metropolitan area, I really didn’t appreciate the broadband divide until I came out here,” she said.
“Even cellphone service is not very good. There are times — and I have experienced this myself — when you need to make a phone call. For someone willing and able to jump in a car to find another outlet, that’s fine, but many folks don’t have that. Broadband and access to technology should be both affordable and reliable and seen as a utility, just like electricity.”
Ensuring localities receive a fair amount of federal and state funding for infrastructure is also important to Ratcliffe, as is access to health care and mental health care.
“It’s something that I think people really don’t think about until they have the need for it, but it’s a pervasive problem,” she said. “I also have had experience in that my mom suffered from a mental illness for most of my life and it was a struggle. It was a struggle to fight the stigmatization.”
Ratcliffe said utilizing community mental health services instead of people calling police is a change she’d like to see happen.
“Being a law enforcement officer is a really hard job and I think we can find better community solutions,” she said. “People don’t know who to call so they call the police. And I think we need to work with law enforcement to make sure they are also part of knowing when they’re not the person to take a call.”
Additionally, Ratcliffe said she’s ready to tackle the impact of the pandemic on small businesses throughout the 58th District.
Ratcliffe would like to see more people become involved with — and pay attention to — what happens in Richmond.
“We need more people involved at all levels,” she said. “Politics seems really far away, but the truth is it’s not. I’ve had the honor to work with state legislators in particular across the country, including folks in Richmond, and the one thing that I found is true, is that state legislators are the folks who make the most difference in people’s everyday lives.
“You know, folks who work in Congress, or at the national level, kind of get a little bit more attention, but they focus a lot of times on the thousand-foot level. And all of the really daily things that touch our lives most often happen at the state level.”
As COVID-19 precautions begin to ease, Ratcliffe said she looks forward to attending events and meeting more residents and would welcome a debate with Bell — whether in person or online. She said she wants to hear from people in the 58th District about what they feel the district needs.
“My goal is to give people in the 58th a solid, seasoned professional choice to decide whether or not they want to be represented differently than they have been for 20 years,” she said.