Katrina Callsen is running for the 54th District seat in the House of Delegates.
She is the sitting chair of the Albemarle County School Board as well as deputy city attorney for Charlottesville.
Ahead of the Democratic primary on June 20, Callsen sat down with The Daily Progress to discuss her plans for the district and the state.
The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.
What is your plan to make housing more affordable for people?
My response to that depends on whether or not we still have a split assembly or if we have Democratic control. I think if we have Democratic control, there’s a lot of things that we can do.
What I would like to see is investment in an affordable housing trust. I would like to see investment in a land trust. I would like to see a relaxation of the Dillon’s Rule to allow localities a better ability to craft housing solutions that work for them because localities have very different needs.
If we remain a split assembly, I feel like the best way to tackle the issue would be to find ways that we can get bipartisan support. Where I see that being possible is giving incentives to developers so that we can get more stock. I know from being on the school board that one of the biggest, most prohibitive costs associated with development is infrastructure and utility hookup.
The bottom line is we need to invest in affordable housing.
In 2019, you signed a petition opposing rezoning and development in the Rio29 corridor, which cited a need to “preserve the character of existing neighborhoods.” Why did you sign that petition?
No one has ever asked me about that. I honestly didn’t even remember having signed that, but I do remember that meeting. It was right after I studied for the bar. And I went to that meeting, and I had big problems with a developer.
One, he started the conversation by assuring all of us that we didn’t need to worry, the "right kind of people" were going to be in those houses. They were going to make sure that the income level that was required was going to make it so that we had "the good neighbors."
I didn’t like the developer, I didn’t like the tone, I thought it was racist and I didn’t think he was a good guy. So I was very unhappy after that meeting.
I don’t control who the developers are, and we need to build where we can build.
How do you think your time on the Albemarle County School Board has prepared you to be a leader in the House?
I think it brings a lot of skills. For one, it brings the ability to listen to people. I’ve had to do a lot of listening when I was on the school board.
It brings a thick skin. I’m the only currently elected leader running for this office, and the political climate has certainly changed. It’s changed just since I started on school board. I got elected in 2017, and I think the ability to continue to have a vision and progressive goals and work towards them despite the atmosphere that we’re in is a strength that I would bring to the role.
Many Republicans are getting elected by attacking education, and so I think it gives me a depth of knowledge about the issues that they’re talking about, and the truth behind those issues and what’s actually happening in our schools.
Your campaign has said that you’re the only candidate that has had to meet Republicans head on. In what ways have you had to meet them head on?
Well, we’ve passed the first anti-racism policy in the state. I’ve had to respond and talk to the people that were very, very, very opposed to that.
We were threatened with lawsuits when we were going to ban Confederate imagery. That’s a tactic I feel like many people are using nowadays where they threaten litigation to prevent you from taking action on items, and I have been very bold and continue to take the action that I feel is right even when litigation is threatened.
You and your opponents seem to share similar values on reproductive rights. How do you differ from them on this?
I would push back on us sharing similar feelings about that. I don’t think either of my opponents have identified it as the number one issue, and for me, it is the number one issue. It’s the first thing that needs to be done.
I’m the only one who has the REPRO Rising endorsement. My opponents did not earn it. I also have the endorsement of Emily’s List. I have the endorsement of the National Organization for Women. I’m the only woman in the race. Only a third of our legislators are women right now.
I’ve been pregnant before. I have children. I’ve had to go through the health care system as I’ve had a pregnancy. So I bring personal experience and investment into this issue that I don’t think either of my opponents can bring the same level.
The first step would be codifying it [abortion] in the Virginia constitution. It has to go through two cycles, so we’d want to get that started as soon as possible. The other thing I would like to see is making sure that we have expanded access, especially around the borders of Virginia, because we’re the last state in the South to allow abortions after six weeks, or at least that’s the way it’s heading.
I would like to see legislation around the experience that women have if they have to have an abortion. Making sure that they’re not threatened, making sure they’re not having to engage in multiple invasive exams after already getting an opinion that they need an abortion or if they want an abortion.
Some teacher union organizers and supporters feel that Charlottesville moved fast and Albemarle moved slow on reaching a collective bargaining agreement. Do you think that’s a correct characterization?
So I’m a local government attorney. I was with the city when we were talking about collective bargaining, and I knew how long the process was going to take. The enabling legislation from the state is so sparse that we in essence are having to craft our own collective bargaining agreements with no framework from which to work.
The implication was never that I’m against collective bargaining. I did not say that. That is not true. It was making sure that when we do it, we do it well. We do it with intentionality and the way that we want. Our motion said we won’t look at it right now. And then we brought it within six months. And that was based also on the advice of our staff. We were getting a brand new HR department, we were getting our pandemic learning loss scores. I never said that I was against it.
I’m pretty sure we’re on pace for the same time. So although Charlottesville started it more quickly, they’ve had more hiccups along the way, whereas we’re moving at a much quicker pace with better resources aligned.
I wouldn’t say it’s a fair characterization to say that one of us wanted it and one of us didn’t and that we were slowing it down. We’re arriving at the same goal. We’re trying to be intentional and make sure that we get what we want and I’m really excited about it.