Mike Pruitt is a candidate for the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors running for the Scottsville District seat.
Running unopposed, he is expected to take over for current board Chair Donna Price.
A self-proclaimed “housing guy,” the Navy veteran moved to the county in 2021 and is currently attending law school at the University of Virginia.
Pruitt recently sat down with The Daily Progress to discuss his campaign, his background and what he plans to do if elected.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
Tell voters about yourself.
I don’t try and hide the ball with the fact that I’m relatively new to town. I grew up in a rural corner of upstate South Carolina in the Blue Ridge, very similar geographically, less so culturally, to Albemarle. It was a former mill town, but there were no opportunities anymore. On top of that, I knew from a relatively young age that I was queer and Williamson, South Carolina, in the 1990s is not a great place to grow up queer and it’s not a place you’d necessarily feel welcome or even safe.
I went to college on an ROTC scholarship, and then spent eight years in the military as a surface warfare officer. During my last year, we almost went to war with Iran. I realized that without really intending to, I’d accidentally become one of the world’s leading experts on Iranian surface naval tactics. And suddenly that was a very important skill set to have. So I, in my last year in the Navy, found myself doing a lot of my most important and really deeply meaningful work that I hadn’t at all expected to be doing.
I thought I wanted to transition to law, and this was going to be the first time I could control where I was going to live. Albemarle was a place that contained all the things I loved about where I grew up, but was better, it was more welcoming, it had more opportunities, a place I realistically see myself building a family. I wanted to get involved in my community, so I got involved in our Democratic committee.
It was really frustrating, because I’d come to law school to be a housing attorney specifically. It seemed like we had a particularly dire situation around housing in the county. It also felt like there was not a powerful political will around it. So it felt kind of obvious to me that the only way that meaningful change could be pushed on this advocacy was to be one of the voices in the room. Then a few months later, Donna Price told me she wasn’t running again. She told me it would be very hard and time-consuming, but that I should run.
Considering you are relatively new to the area, do you think you know the community well enough to represent it?
I don’t think that’s a problem. I have knocked over 1,000 doors, and the number of people who say, “Oh, I’ve just moved here” or “I am going to move before the election.” Especially when you’re looking at the urban ring or the Biscuit Run precinct or the Mountain View precinct, you’re looking at actually a really transient population, often a very newly moved population.
I think the idea of being new to the county is part of the experience of being from the county. Donna Price also was relatively new to the county. Jim Andrews was relatively new as a resident. So I don’t think it’s unusual. I don’t think there’s a degree to which I would say I don’t understand these issues.
I grew up country in a small town, half an hour away from the nearest place that people got employed, on a river. What have I just described? I’ve just described Scottsville. Point being, the experiences that are really defining to a lot of these communities are either ones I share or they’re universal.
I am not a radically different person from these people. And I’m not proposing some kind of radical change in living. I’m not saying we’re going to bulldoze the rural area and throw up high-rises. I’m not saying we’re going to get rid of the agricultural tax exemption. We’re not doing any of that. I’m a person who grew up rural and blue-collar, and I shape my policy based on what my rural constituents claim they need and desire.
What do you plan to prioritize when you take office?
I don’t think it is a secret that I am a housing guy. It is the animating issue that brought me to run for office. It is the one that I think I have the most opportunity to make actually meaningful strides on.
We are in the process of iteratively implementing the different elements of the housing Albemarle plan that have already been laid out. I think that’s going to be where I can provide a lot of value, and it’s something I’m really passionate about. So that is a top priority.
I think there is an inclination when we talk about economic development at the local level to talk about growth. Growth matters, but I feel like we sometimes neglect to actually concentrate on what types of growth we’re seeing and what level, what income quartiles are being served and what types of jobs you’re creating. I worry that we do a really good job of producing talent in the county; we don’t necessarily always do the most thoughtful job of connecting that talent into the existing opportunities we have. So, we have a sorting problem. I think that we have the opportunity to rely on a lot of different levers to improve the sorting of that.
We go through really onerous negotiations when employers come here, just through our monopoly on land control. I think that sometimes presents an opportunity to try and figure out how we can actually set up meaningful pipelines that might have X number that they’re hiring from our different career technical training programs. It might involve a contribution of X many dollars into career and technical education training for their employees. I think those are all meaningful connections that I’m not seeing built out, but I think could be.
On top of that, I think there’s a really important role for the county, as an employer, to look really hard at how we’re engaging our own workforce and what we’re doing to actually build out the skilled workforce. We don’t have registered apprenticeship programs with our own arms of government. This is such a no-brainer to me.
We have facilities maintenance classes and certifications that are taught at CATEC and PVCC. We have people who are facilities maintenance specialists who are hired by the county. There is a registered Department of Labor apprenticeship program for facilities maintenance with grants available. We do not have a DOL-registered apprenticeship pipeline between our own arm of government to our own arm of government that we could get grant funding for. Those are people who are having inadequate job sorting. That is money that we’re leaving on the table, federal dollars that we could capture and a really robust career pathway for young people in our community that just does not exist.
We need a community that allows people to remain in if they love it and that allows people who are aging in our community to stay in it. The way we do that is we try and rebalance the cost of living and the wages here, and I think we can do a little bit on both ends of that problem.
What are the top one or two concerns you’re hearing from voters?
Housing is a really pressing concern. I also hear concerns from voters that are not in my immediate power.
When I started door-knocking in August of last year, the thing I was hearing more than any single other issue was the bus driver shortage. I don’t have the ability to directly address that because that’s a school board problem. But bus driver shortages can at least in part be addressed as a housing problem, because most of our bus drivers don’t live in the county; they live in Fluvanna, they live in Buckingham. When you have a three-hour shift in the morning and a three-hour shift in the afternoon and you have to double back to Fluvanna every day, then hell, I’d rather work with the Dollar General even if it pays less than make that onerous trip just to get six hours on my bill at the end of the day. So I do see that as a housing problem.