Two Democratic candidates for Virginia’s newly formed 55th District for the House of Delegates told Nelson County voters May 9 how life experiences have shaped their politics.
Albemarle County emergency department nurse Kellen Squire talked about performing emergency abortions, treating fatal COVID-19 cases and responding to mental health crises, and said work in an emergency room has shown him “the intersection of all the things that go wrong in Richmond.”
Former Charlottesville City School Board member Amy Laufer said women’s reproductive health is a personal issue for her, and described her experience with a high risk pregnancy.
“I was either going to die or the child was going to die, and I can’t imagine a politician has any business in this decision at all and the fact that we’re talking about it at all speaks to how far backward we’ve gone,” she said.
As of 2021, Nelson County is split between the new 53rd and 55th House of Delegates districts; Laufer and Squire are vying for the democratic nomination in the district that includes all of Albemarle minus Charlottesville City, part of Louisa County, and an approximate third of Nelson County including the Afton, Greenfield, Woods Mill, Faber and Schuyler communities.
Both candidates appeared at a candidate forum at Rockfish Valley Community Center on May 9 and answered similar questions to those posed to State Senate candidates at a Nelson County Democratic Committee event last month.
Public education, LGBTQ rights
Both Laufer and Squire are parents of children in Albemarle County Public Schools. Squire has worked as a school nurse; Laufer taught middle school math and science after volunteering in the Peace Corps.
Asked about parents’ role in their children’s curriculum, Squire said when a child visited his school office he’d give their parents the “preeminent role,” and saw his colleagues do the same.
“I actually think what the Republicans are doing is the opposite of that. They’re trying to separate parents and public education because they know how powerful public education is. They want to keep our kids from learning history the way it actually happened. They want to attack kids that are different and refuse to let them be the way that they are.”
To a question about LGBTQ rights, Squire said parenting a trans teenager makes the issue personal: “We need to do everything we can to stand up to protect kids like my teenager and make sure that they can be who they are.”
“We’re just living in a kind of terrifying situation where we have a governor that is willing to use these children as political pawns and history as a tool to spread disinformation to an entire Commonwealth,” Laufer added.
On curriculum, she said “it’s ok for parents to want certain things for their children. It’s not ok for them to make it a policy or a law for all children.”
She called critical race theory a “made-up problem.”
“And the thing is we live in Virginia. This is our history, OK … We have Jamestown right down the road. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. We cannot disassociate ourselves with where we live, and telling the truth can only help all of us,” Laufer said.
Gun Safety, mental health
Both candidates said they’d be in favor of banning assault weapons, Laufer adding she’d like to see ammunition cost more.
Squire said an important related issue is extremism: “We have to tackle that. We won’t be able to solve this problem unless we do. That’s a lot harder to do but we can’t ignore it.”
To a question about mental health, Laufer talked about her current service on the Albemarle County Department of Social Services Board and the agency’s new approach to crisis response.
“And the other thing we’re implementing now, rather than having the police department respond to a lot of these issues which end up being a mental health crisis, we actually are getting together a team with a social worker, a psychologist and the police department to go to some of these emergencies to kind of crisis care at the scene,” she said.
Squire talked about seeing patients choose between their medications and paying their rent, and adults and pediatric patients having to wait days or weeks to get beds for mental health crisis treatment. He said the problem in his emergency room isn’t the number of beds, but a lack of doctors, nurses and social workers to treat patients.
“We need to make sure that we are funding things at a primary care level, that we are solving these problems before they become crises,” he said.
Clean energy and climate change
“Clearly we need to get Dominion out of politics because that is really holding back a lot of progress,” Laufer said. Squire agreed, adding that “one of the biggest things we can do for climate change honestly here in Virginia is get Dominion money out of our political system.”
Laufer sourced her geology degree and work experience: “As a water chemist we know how hard it is to clean water after its dirty, so talking about not only clean energy, but then the next step is how to keep water clean and air clean with our environment and really monetizing the idea that there is value in greenspace, there is value in trees because they give us oxygen and they take in carbon.”
Squire expressed concern about climate change causing a repeat of local history.
“I mean, if you think about Hurricane Camille, we still see the scars from that here in Nelson County, imagine if we have a Hurricane Camille every year. I get really concerned about what we’re leaving for our kids. … We need to act now and make sure that again our kids have a planet to inherit from us.”
As for working across the aisle, Laufer talked about growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin with seven siblings, Squire about working to solve problems in a high-stress workspace.
Early voting in the House of Delegates primary election is ongoing until June 17. Primary day is June 20.