Protect Undocumented Immigrant Rights: Immigrant families have always been huge contributors to our society and economy, and should not be persecuted under xenophobic and racist policies. I understand the passion that drives immigrant families, as well as their concerns better than most, because I too am an immigrant. Immigrant families are facing increased discrimination under the Trump administration, and not enough is being done to reassure them that Virginia will remain welcome. If elected, I will fight tirelessly to promote measures that protect the rights and dignity of undocumented immigrant families. The Trump Administration has unleashed a flurry of divisive policies that are ripping our communities apart in an effort to scapegoat minorities. That is why the very first program hosted under my administration as president of the NAACP was on this topic. The program featured local elected officials, law enforcement as well as representatives from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). I also successfully lobbied to end the practice of holding incarcerated undocumented immigrants beyond their scheduled release date in Fairfax County.
Develop our Workforce: Workforce development must be a strategic priority for northern Virginia. We need a unified approach in order to grow and maintain a skilled workforce capable of meeting the needs of our rapidly evolving job market. A better educated and more flexible workforce is better for our employers as well as our communities as it helps both to remain competitive. Under my leadership, the Fairfax County NAACP created its first Economic Development Committee and partnered with Opportunities, Alternatives, and Resources (OAR), and New Hope Housing to launch host a job fair featuring over forty employers that were open to hiring returning citizens who deserve a second chance to be productive citizens.
Support our Unions: Wages are higher, workplaces are safer, benefits are better, and our society is stronger as a whole because of unions, and I reject any attempt to weaken them by extending Virginia’s Right to Work Laws. While I wholeheartedly believe that a $15 per hour minimum wage is worth fighting for, I believe it is more important to strengthen our unions’ ability to negotiate salaries based on the circumstances in their localities.
Build on our Tech Industry: We should capitalize on what is already one of Northern Virginia’s strengths, the tech industry, to expand our investment into renewable energy. Despite the efforts of the Trump administration, renewable energy is still a burgeoning industry with huge growth and employment potential. Given that 10% of Virginia’s workforce is employed by the technology industry (most of whom are concentrated in this area), we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of this growth, but we have not been creative or aggressive enough in our attempts to build on previous growth. Employment in Virginia’s tech industry only expanded by an estimated 1,460 jobs in 2017, and we experienced a 20 % jump in emerging technology job postings between 2016 to 2017, according to Cyberstates. Virginia’s Cyberstates Innovation Score, a ranking based on analysis of new tech patents awarded, tech startups and new tech business establishments placed us at 7th, down from 6th last year. We can reverse these trends by attracting more technology oriented renewable energy and defense technology jobs to the Northern Virginia.
Having spent over fifteen years in the intelligence and counterterrorism field – both in the military and as a government employee – I understand more than most that our security solutions will require better technology innovation. Every year our state and non-state adversaries alike find new ways to utilize technology to circumvent our defenses, and our intelligence agencies are struggling to keep pace. Northern Virginia, already a leader in both the defense and technology industry, is uniquely positioned to help close these security gaps while simultaneously boosting our economy.
Encourage women, minority and veteran owned small business growth: The key to closing the earning gaps and building long-term wealth and independence for women, minorities, and veterans lies in our ability to foster entrepreneurship. As the co-founder along with my wife, of Veteran Career Counseling Services, a career coaching and document preparation company founded in 2012 that helped over 700 transitioning veterans find employment, and K&S LLC, a real estate company founded in 2007, we have a first-hand account of the challenges minorities, women, and veterans face when starting a business. But I also have a first-hand account of the personal and community benefits of small business ownership. I will leverage those experiences to guide my efforts to increase the number of small businesses in our region. It’s not only beneficial for these segments of our community, but for the state as a whole.
Increase Minimum Wage: Northern Virginia is one of the most expensive places to live. The fact that many of our residents are forced to live on a measly $7.25 per hour is nothing short of a travesty. As your delegate I would fight to raise wages and make them adjustable based on the cost of living. To those who argue that wage increases hurt employment, I challenge you to show me the evidence. The fact is that this is simply a scare tactic employed by companies who are either themselves misinformed or are intentionally misleading the public, but this assertion remains unsupported by scientific evidence. The reality is that putting more money in the hands of our working poor benefits us all in the long-term because it not only increases their spending power, but also reduces the chances that they may have to turn to public assistance to offset our area’s high cost of living, or rely on inconsistent affordable housing programs. Rather than being a drain on the economy, a minimum wage increase is far more likely to generate economic growth.
Improve Transportation: The commute in Northern Virginia has always been a nightmare, and it has only been compounded by population growth and increased tolls. I would fight for alternative revenue to fund transportation expenses. Neither our roads or public transportation services have adequately kept pace, and I would work closely with employers, local government officials, and transportation executives to devise creative solutions to this problem.
Increase Teacher Pay: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Virginia ranks dead last in the country when it comes to teacher pay gap. The average teacher’s annual salary in Virginia is just over $50,000 compared to all other college graduates who earn an average salary of $85,000. Between 2000 and 2018 our teachers’ salaries went down by 8%. We should adopt the goal of increasing teacher pay by 10% over the next 5 years. We are destined to struggle to attract quality teachers or retain the ones we do have unless we make a concerted effort to make our pay more competitive.
Close the Opportunity Gap: Achievement gaps are the manifestation of unaddressed opportunity gaps. It is unfair to expect a student who does not have a stable home environment, who does not reside in a safe community, or whose parents lack the ability to consistently provide basic necessities to perform at the same level as a student that has all of these resources at their disposal. Our education system, once the standard-bearer for the nation, has suffered from a decreasing investment in our neediest students, teacher salaries, and the surrounding communities that feed into these schools. All of our students deserve a high-quality education. But in order for that to occur we need to empower and reward our teachers, and dramatically increase the level of investment in our students. As your delegate I will make it my top priority to make sure all students have an equal chance to succeed. As our region becomes more populated with people of diverse incomes, backgrounds and cultures, our school systems should also be more agile and prepared to meet these challenges. Many of these students are under tremendous stressors and some are even suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders due to hardships they’ve endured. If these schools are to be brought on par with schools in wealthier communities, we need to do more to identify students in need and provide them with complementary resources such as hiring more counselors, mental health professionals and social workers.
Expand Early Childhood Education: Virginia is also one of the worst at ensuring access to early childhood education – particularly for those whose parents cannot afford it. Just 18 % of 4-year-olds in Virginia were enrolled in state-funded preschool, worse than the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland, according to the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. Overall, the report ranked Virginia 29th in preschool access. The General Assembly started the Virginia Preschool Initiative in 1995 to provide quality preschool for at-risk 4-year-olds who were not being served by the federal Head Start program, however Virginia only served 18% of 4-year olds, less than half the national average. These preemptive measures will reduce student drop-out rates and improve test scores of low performing schools. In the long-term these investments will benefit the community as a whole and save taxpayers money by increasing students’ earning potential, and reducing the likelihood they will turn to a life of crime. I successfully lobbied for increasing funding for early childhood education in Fairfax County. One of my signature accomplishment was getting the county to fully fund a study to determine what it would take to cover all low-income children in the county; and I would fight to do the same in Richmond.
Reduce Standardized Testing: We are also in dire need for standardized testing reform in Virginia. As a parent of two high school boys in Fairfax County Public Schools, I know firsthand the stress placed on our children and families due to over-testing. The results of standardized tests should not be used in a punitive manner to determine school funding or teacher performance. The number of tests should be reduced; and the tests should be constructed in a manner that disincentivizes teachers from dedicating significant portions of the school year to preparing for the test. As president of the NAACP I tasked our Education Committee Chair to create a Curriculum Sub-Committee to explore ways to improve the quality of the education our students receive.
Promote Criminal Justice Reform: While serving as both the Fairfax County NAACP and the Virginia State Conference NAACP Criminal Justice Chairs, I fought tirelessly to reform both local and state laws, policies and practices to reverse the horrendous policies linked to the failed “War on Drugs”. In 2018 I led a successful effort to revise Fairfax County’s School Resource Officer program to make it more fair, transparent, and accountable to parents. In November 2018, I led a joint effort along with the Virginia ACLU, NOVA Coalition, and the Virginia Civic Engagement Table to host the first ever statewide symposium on the State of Criminal Justice Reform focussing on prison and police reform, and sentencing reform. The massive public response sent a clear message to legislators present that there is a great appetite for criminal justice reform. I’ve worked with several members of both the State House and Senate to pass criminal justice reform legislation, and as your delegate I will continue to make this a top priority.
Our criminal justice system preys on the mentally challenged, the poor (who are disproportionately African American or Latino) and people with disabilities. Virginia incarcerates about 550 adults per 100,000 people, which is a rate about 15% higher than the national average. These misguided policies continue to drain hundreds of billions of dollars of hard-earned tax payer dollars each year, and the results are abysmal. Here in Virginia we spend over $800 million of our hard earned tax dollars to incarcerate almost 40,000 individuals on average per year. I will fight to reverse these trends and put more of our financial resources into proven crime prevention methods. My focus would be to reorient our efforts to prevent people from turning to crime, and providing rehabilitation for those who have so they are better prepared to be productive citizens after paying their debt to society.
Reduce Hate Crimes: Since 2016 hate crimes have gone up by as much as 70 percent in some states and 47 percent nationally. The horrible event in Charlottesville which led to the death of Heather Heyer, in addition to several acts of vandalism, and bomb threats against Northern Virginia religious institutions are stark reminders that our citizens are more vulnerable to acts of hate and terrorism than ever. Over the past two years I’ve worked directly with the Office of the Attorney General and state delegates to pass legislation that would make it more difficult for white supremacist terrorists groups to operate in Virginia. The Fairfax NAACP also lead the successful effort to rename a Fairfax County Public School that was once named after a Confederate General, and is also currently leading the charge to rename another. I firmly believe that our buildings and institutions should be named after individuals who reflect our values, instead of those who fought to protect the unholy institution of slavery and white supremacy intact.
Improve Police Oversight and Accountability: Public trust and accountability is a critical component of our democracy, and nowhere is that more vital that when it comes to our law enforcement. I support implementing institutions such as the Civilian Police Review Panel and independent auditors, and worked with Fairfax County officials to appoint member to the serve in that capacity. I also believe all police jurisdictions should be equipped with body-worn and dash-cameras. I’ve advocated for their full implementation in Fairfax County, and helped draft the Fairfax County police body-worn camera operational policies.
Decriminalize Marijuana: Twenty-two states have decriminalized the use of marijuana, and it is time for Virginia to follow suit. Not only is marijuana relatively harmless, its medicinal benefits have been well documented. As the ongoing opioid epidemic has shown us, anyone can fall susceptible to drug addiction for a variety of reasons, and piling on further punishment to compound their woes only serve to overburden our already strained justice system and divert funds that could be better spent to improve our schools, healthcare, or transportation systems. I’m currently working with legislators to pass marijuana decriminalization laws, and I hope to be the deciding vote in 2019.
Expand Affordable Housing: Despite the unprecedented economic growth our region has experienced in the past decade, little attention has been paid to ensuring that this growth is sustainable, and that it is generating equitable outcomes. As we fail to adequately address the issue, our poor and working class citizens will continue to be pushed further and further out. Many of our teachers, first responders, and service sector workers are already fighting to make ends meet, and we owe it to them to ensure they can afford to remain in our communities. Ensuring affordable housing is not only a moral imperative, but also an economic imperative as businesses are also finding increasingly difficult to staff positions. The projected housing price increase that will accompany HQ2’s arrival, and the projected development in and around the Herndon and Sterling area will only exacerbate the housing crisis in our area. As the president of the Fairfax NAACP I created a Housing Committee and tasked them to devise a strategy to address this growing problem. We hosted one town hall in the fall of 2018, and are planning addition ones in the 86th District in 2019. In addition I am currently working with local, county, and state government officials to devise innovative and multifaceted approaches to address this issue.
Protect the Environment: Taking steps to protect the environment and slow down climate change is a top priority and that why I’ve teamed up with groups like the Sierra Club to advocate for sustainable energy solutions. I oppose the the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Vailly pipelines for both moral and economic reasons. Not only is it harmful to the environment, but the number of jobs it would create pales in comparison to the number of green jobs we stand to make if we decide to invest more in bolstering these industries. The perils of climate change are more evident than they’ve ever been, evidenced by one record setting disaster after the other. Yet, the Trump administration refuses to accept the reality that coal and fossil fuel is not only harmful for our environment, but also a threat to our economy. The entire world spoke with one clear voice by signing of the Climate Change Accord, and with that the race to dominate the clean energy industry began. Coal consumption fell to its lowest levels ever last year. Whether you believe climate change is real or not, the undeniable fact is that the world is shifting away from fossil fuels and the future is in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs. Herein lies an economic opportunity for Northern Virginia if we can successfully leverage our robust technology and innovation sectors to lead the charge for sustainable innovation and jobs.
Take Care of Our Veterans: As a veteran who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, I vow to fight with every fiber of my being to improve the quality and access to health care for our veterans. I’ve had the unfortunate experience of having to wait months to receive appointments, or having my benefits cut unexpectedly, or denied unjustly. Our veterans deserve the best and the current level of service does not even come close. In 2012 my wife and I founded Veteran Career Counseling Services LLC, a company that helped over 700 veterans find meaningful employment by providing resume writing and career coaching services. As president of the Fairfax NAACP, I started a Veteran’s Committee to address the needs of area veterans. We hosted a business expo to highlight veteran-owned businesses in the area; and will host a job fair specifically aimed at getting veterans hired in 2019.
Protect Women’s Rights: Women have made significant strides in recent years, and if the November 2018 elections are a preview of what’s the come, women will be shattering several glass ceilings in the future. Two of my proudest moments as the president of the Fairfax NAACP was launching the Women in the NAACP chapter in the Fall of 2018, and speaking at the Women’s March on Washington earlier that year. I believe that no one has the right to infringe on a women’s right to chose, and I will defend that right vehemently or “i will always defend that right. I also fully support the Equal Rights Amendment and if elected, will proudly cast my vote to make Virginia the 38th and final state needed to ratify that Amendment.
Protect LGBT Rights: The LGBT community deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Currently, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Virginians can and are denied housing, loans, and access to education, and can be and are fired simply because they are LGBT. I would work to prohibit the practice of forced “conversion” or “reparative” therapy for minors. Clinical efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity have been demonstrated not to work, and may cause harm.