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Q&A | Kellen Squire on the record

Kellen Squire is an emergency room nurse and a candidate for the 55th District seat in the Virginia House of Delegates.

He previously was the Democratic nominee for the House District 58 seat in 2017 but lost to Republican Rob Bell.

Ahead of the Democratic primary on Tuesday, Squire sat down with The Daily Progress to discuss his plans for the district and the state.

The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

You and your opponent both consider yourselves progressive Democrats. Where do your policies differ?

I think that my policy stuff is more geared towards on the ground, like the differences between what Richmond wants to happen and what actually happens here.

I get sort of a front-row view of that in the emergency department. We are the last line of defense of the social safety net. So for whatever reason, people end up in our laps and we’re expected to fix it, because if we don’t, it doesn’t get fixed.

About 10 years ago, the opioid crisis was really at its highest swing. Big Pharma was still telling people that you can prescribe as many narcotics as you want to, and actually it’ll increase your patient satisfaction score. There was a pharmacy in Norton that was dispensing more prescription narcotics than some entire European countries. That’s not an exaggeration. Clearly, there was a problem, and so what the General Assembly did was effectively write a law that made it harder to write for prescription narcotics, which was great. That needed to be done. But they didn’t have anybody in the building that was an emergency services provider, social worker or a doctor. Nobody that was on the front lines.

So what happened was almost overnight, people went from having access to [Food and Drug Administration]-certified pharmaceuticals to nothing. A person’s brain chemistry changes when they’re addicted. So they went out looking for whatever they could find on the streets, which was often mixed with who knows what and is very dangerous. And so the number of opioid overdoses went up by 400 or 500% almost overnight.

I remember one young patient, and probably for 60 to 90 minutes we worked to try and resuscitate this person. But the thing about CPR is that it usually doesn’t work. That’s the sad truth of it. It’s just a last-ditch attempt and is not very graceful. At some point, you’re breaking ribs and stuff like that.

I was the primary nurse so I was the one that got to go out to the waiting room and tell the family. And I’ll never forget it, because the mom was like, “How’s my kid? Are they OK? Are they alive?” And I mean, I didn’t say anything, but they saw the look on my face and I remember her scream out. She was wailing.

I got home that day and I had a letter from Rob Bell about what a good job he had done fighting the opioid crisis. And the thing is, I think Rob was sincere. I’m sure a bunch of Democrats or Republicans across the commonwealth sent similar letters. I think that they truly thought that they had done a great thing. But the reality was, all they’d done was make it harder for us on the front lines.

And so when I talk about the experience that I’m bringing, it’s on issues like that. It’s seeing what Richmond wants to happen and what actually happens out here.

I want to take this experience to Richmond to be in those conversations: Here’s what you guys are saying, here’s what the actual reality is or here’s what we need to fix it.

You’re the first to bring up opioids in any of our candidate interviews. Do you think that conversation has gotten too quiet?

Yeah, absolutely.

The proliferation of Narcan has saved I don’t know how many thousands of lives. The story I just told you was the emergency department. They didn’t even have Narcan on ambulances back then. In fact, the argument then was if we make Narcan more available, it’ll actually make the opioid crisis worse, which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard come out of a politician’s mouth. Today, that Narcan is available and people are able to overlook stuff like that, but it is interconnected to so many things. And it is frustrating that people are able to overlook it, because as an emergency services provider that sees this every single day, to watch people be like, “Oh, it’s not that big a problem anymore.”

Your campaign has several priorities it has listed. If you’re elected, what’s going to be your first order of business?

It’s probably going to be trying to push for a right to privacy enshrined in the Virginia constitution. Because that’s going to take multiple years to get done. Many people talk about codifying Roe v. Wade, and but I think that’s also under the aegis of the right to privacy.

We’ve seen in Western states where abortion is still legal, they enshrined a right to privacy in their constitution. But it also covers things like the right for interracial marriage, for same sex marriage, for transgender health care and things like that. I’d like to be more optimistic about the way things are going with the federal government, but I’m not. And so I’d like to make sure that we can enshrine those protections here in Virginia. So that whatever happens there, we’re good here.

I think to have the right to privacy, in theory, you’d find some Republican support for that if they’re sincere in their conservative or libertarian leanings.

Do you see yourself as a Democrat who can work with Republicans if you don’t have a Democratic majority in the House?

I certainly hope so. Because I understand the realities if we don’t.

There are things I’m not willing to do. I totally loathe and abhor what I call Solomon politicians. It’s like the Solomon story. Like, “Let’s just cut the baby in half and everybody will be happy.” And that’s not how it works. There’s got to be ways that we can find common ground without doing that to be able to move forward.

And so I’m more than happy to work with Republicans on things like school funding. Or when I go to Nelson, the number two consensus issue when I knock on all these doors has been, “We’ve got to get semis off of Route 151.” It’s a hyperlocal thing, but tell me we can’t find some common ground on that.

I’m prepared to do whatever it takes without abrogating our own values to make sure we bring progress home to our people. I understand what happens if we don’t. lf I come back home and have to tell people, “I did what I could and I couldn’t deliver” — I mean, people take a pretty dim view if you’re like, “I did my best.”

Because they’re feeling that pain now.

Do you think the back-and-forth between yourself and Amy Laufer has helped voters make up their minds or just confused people?

It’s definitely helped people make up their mind but not in the way I would prefer. Prior to all this, the number one sentiment I heard was, “We’re so lucky to have two fantastic candidates.”

I’m really appreciate that people said that. That they’ve been disabused of that notion has been very disappointing. We were running a very cordial race. For the first time in 30 years, we’ve got a winnable district and so our people deserve a positive race. And so I hate that it’s had to be done this way and that people have had to draw a distinction because of what happened.

With the sort of double-, triple-, quadruple -down that Ms. Laufer has done, knowing that I’d been endorsed by Planned Parenthood in 2017 and knowing that I am pro-choice but still decided to go with this. A lot of people were initially confused. We showed them Planned Parenthood in 2017 saying, “We interrogated him and endorsed him because we understand he was trying to invert the rhetoric of Republicans in the most gerrymandered district and we understand that he was a fierce advocate for choice.”


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