The Rambler is pleased to present candidate interviews with those running for state Senate District 4, which encompasses all of Roanoke City and Salem City, as well as parts of Roanoke County and Montgomery County.
Roanoke City Councilwoman Trish White-Boyd is the Democratic nominee, and Sen. David Suetterlein is the Republican nominee. Early voting is underway in the Nov. 7 general election, whose outcome will determine all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly.
White-Boyd, 60, was elected to Roanoke City Council in 2020 and has served as vice mayor. She is the director of Blue Ridge Senior Services, an in-home caregiving business, and a resident of Roanoke City.
Interviews have been edited lightly for length and clarity.
Why are you the best person to represent the Roanoke region in the state Senate?
I think I'm the best person because of my experience, my experience in local government, my experience as a community activist, and also being a small business owner in the region for almost 19 years. So those three things are important to this area. It's the economy — which we all know that small businesses drive the economy — and local government, which I've been a part of a local government for the last almost five years. And the fact that I've always been a community activist, for the last 30, 40 years. So I feel like that qualifies me to represent the residents here in Southwest Virginia.
Tell me about a specific instance when you worked with members of the opposite political party to get something done.
There are a lot of instances. We worked across the aisles on the [American] Viscose Plant, you know, getting that redeveloped. We had to make sure that it was the best deal for the city because we did put in $10 million to get that project started. But it is going to produce $300 million in revenue. And we had to make sure that we all agreed that we would spend that kind of money on a project because we didn't know for sure how it was going to turn out. But we had to all agree that there was a vision for it, and that it would drive our local economy and we agreed to do that. So that was one thing.
The other thing was, you know, the big apartment complex [in Northeast Roanoke off Orange Avenue]. There were a lot of people who did not want that development, you know, ‘not in my backyard.’ But we know that there is a great need for affordable housing. And, you know, we're 4,000 units short, just here in Roanoke City. And we had to all agree, come together to agree on that. Those kinds of projects, you have to have a majority. That's something I've worked across the aisles to get done.
Obviously, Roanoke’s pretty Democratic. I mean, there are no Republican people on Council—
No, there are not Republicans but there are independents. I mean, there are seven people and we have to all agree. And so you have to work with them whether there's a letter behind their name or not. You still have to work with these individuals to get things done.
About 15% of residents in Senate District 4 are Black. Why should Black voters, in particular, support you?
The same reason a white voter would support me. The same reason a Hispanic voter should support me. Because I am going to advocate for a good economy. I am going to advocate for teacher compensation so that their kids are educated well and by a good educator. Because I am going to make sure that we have a good clean environment. Because I'm going to make sure that we do something about [Interstate] 81 because we have Black parents and white parents — even the mayor's granddaughters are going back and forth to Radford [University] — to make sure that we do that I-81 expansion. Because of public safety and just, there are a lot of reasons why. So I will not single out Black voters because to me they're just voters. They’re residents of Senate District 4. So it would be the same answer for any demographic.
A recent statewide poll identified Virginia public school policies as a major factor in voters’ decision this year. What policies related to public schools do you think either need to be changed or prevented from being changed?
First of all, we have to make sure that we create an environment for our students that's conducive for learning. We cannot, you know, tell the teachers what they should and should not be teaching as far as certain curriculum. I think that the teachers are certainly qualified to determine once the instruction has come down from their school board or whomever it is — you know, we have an appointed school board [in Roanoke City] — that this is the curriculum and this is what we want taught. I think that they should be able to do that. I don't think that it should be impacted by outside organizations.
But the main thing that I want to talk about with education is the fact that we are not attracting qualified teachers. And that's because they are not fairly compensated. Right now, Virginia ranks 25th in the [nation] as far as teacher compensation. That's better than it was. We were 37th. But 25th is still not good enough for us to be barely compensating our teachers. And we know that we have a problem with that because we have teachers who are coming from Roanoke County over to Roanoke City, because Roanoke City is doing much, much better than some parts of the state as far as teacher compensation. But I don't think that our teachers need to be uprooted from their communities where they work, they live, they play, to come over to Roanoke City to make $2,000 or $3,000 more. I think that's a problem, and we are losing teachers all over the state, you know. Or they’re just coming out of the profession altogether. I think that is the bigger issue and that's something I want to address, is the compensation, so that we can attract and retain and retain quality educators.
Sticking with education, your campaign literature mentions 'parental rights' and 'getting politics out of the classroom' as priorities. Where do you see politics at play in the classroom? (Note: The campaign later changed 'parental rights' to 'the fundamental right for parental involvement'.)
Telling kids that they can't wear shirts with rainbows on them. I mean, that's just crazy. These are small children. These are kids. And that has been a little bit confusing for a lot of people, because the Republicans use that term differently than what our campaign intended. And I had written a statement. I would like to use that statement because I took time to draft that and to clarify it.
Those two words, parental rights, you know, it shouldn't be a bad thing to say those two words together. And that's unfortunate that the Republicans have done that, but that's where we are.
In the state Senate, what policies would you advocate to protect trans and non-binary youth?
Well, these are basic rights, right? These are human rights. They should not have any specific right for any specific group. It should be all human rights, right? They should be treated just like you or Patrick [Giallorenzo, campaign manager] or myself. You know, Blacks, Latino, Hispanics, bi, trans. I think we all fall into that category, and it's under human rights. And so I would do everything that I could to protect those rights, just like I would do everything to protect women's rights. So we have rights already. They just need to be protected.
What do you believe Virginia’s laws should be when it comes to regulating abortion? Why?
I think the law is good where it stands. I think we're in a good place. I think we're a safe haven for women who are seeking safe and affordable abortions. I know that our Planned Parenthood has been able to accommodate women from South Carolina and North Carolina, Tennessee, other places because we are still a safe state to work for those women. I would like to see it stay that way and I would fight to protect that. You know, we definitely don't want to lose our rights here in Virginia and women are afraid that might happen. I'm afraid that might happen. We don't want that to happen for women, not only in those Southern states, but here in Virginia. And all across the country I think folks are watching Virginia because they are afraid what happens in Virginia could happen in Maryland, and then it sets us back decades and decades. So I think the way the laws are written here in Virginia are fine just the way they are. We just need to protect those rights.
And why do you support the laws as they currently are?
Because I support women's rights. I support the access to affordable reproductive health care. And that's just my position. I support that and I will fight to protect those rights. And it is just not fair that women have been set back, you know, 70 years. I mean, they're afraid of losing their basic rights, something that they should be able to decide for themselves. You know, that decision is for that woman and her doctor or her husband or her family. Government should not be involved in that. That is our personal right. Nobody tells you what should happen when you go to the doctor, right? Nobody tells these guys [campaign managers] what they should do. Nobody even knows when they go to the doctor, you know? Why do women have to do that? That is just not fair. And I'm afraid that we might lose our right to make our own decisions.
You've called for an end to Virginia's personal property (car) tax. Why is that? In Roanoke City, more than $30 million of this year’s budget, about 10%, comes from the collection of that tax. How do you envision local governments would make up that funding if the tax is eliminated?
Well, it's a regressive tax that does not help working-class families. It just does not. For example, you know, if you lived in Northern Virginia, or any metropolitan city, you could get a subway, you could get a train, you could get a bus that runs all night long, you know, that doesn't stop at 6 o'clock or 8 o'clock. Not in Southwest Virginia, not in rural Virginia. You almost have to have a car, and if you don't, sometimes it creates challenges. They need cars in order to get back and forth to go to church, to go see their families, to go to work. You just have to have a car.
The state already supplements the portion that's not paid by the resident. I think when you have $5 billion in a surplus, that tells us that we're not doing something right, because we should make sure that our residents are keeping that money in their pockets. Now, it's nice to have a surplus, but a $5 billion, for the last several years, could be longer. I know for the last three years, for sure, we've had a surplus. So let's just get rid of the car tax, right? I know that the localities receive that car tax. I know that. But I'm thinking that if we have $5 billion in a surplus with what we're doing, then maybe the state can go ahead and finish paying the difference in that portion that the state has already committed to paying.
What we should take a look at is the income tax bracket. You know, that has not been updated in 30 years. That's outdated. That's very outdated. When you start at $17,000 for the highest tax bracket. You know, $17,000, that's a lot of people, right? You know, that's your CNAs, maybe, it could be your restaurant workers. $17,000 is a very low amount of money to be paying the highest percentage of taxes that is in that bracket. And you're paying the exact same thing as somebody who makes $600,000 a year. That, to me, is absurd. That says to me that Richmond has completely failed us. And we've both had opportunities, right? The Democrats had an opportunity to do something and did not, the Republicans had an opportunity. So I'm not saying it's one side or the other. I'm saying that Richmond has totally failed us in regard to the income tax. So that's what I would like for us to take a look at it, and I don't think it's an unreasonable request. I think that I will have other colleagues in the Senate who would agree, You know what, it's time to take a look at that.
What policies have you advocated that are helping to mitigate climate change?
I was the first person on Roanoke City Council to advocate for [electric vehicles] for our fleet, and for our buses, and our new transit station is equipped for EVs. I went to Greenville, South Carolina to visit Proterra, the EV plant. I went on my own expense, no, the city did not pay. I came back and it took months and months before we even had the conversation. And I just kept saying it over and over again, ‘We've got to do something.’ And we are working on switching out our gas vehicles to EVs, and they are expensive. I mean, they will be worth their money in the long run, but you just can't go buy a new fleet of EVs, right? That's not realistic. So what we're doing is trying to incorporate them into our fleet. Same thing with the buses. We have two or three buses coming that we got through grants that will be added to our bus fleet.
And you know, I've gotten a lot of pushback about the plastic bag tax, but it is clogging our tributaries. And it is a problem. We just know plastic is not biodegradable. And it's such a minimal tax and it is not to cause challenges for the families because, you know, if you get 10 bags, that's only 50 cents. And we have reusable bags. That tax was not imposed to generate revenue, because we cannot use it in our general funds. That has to be used to further educate people on the use of plastic and how detrimental it is to our environment and to purchase reusable bags.
What policies would you push for that will reduce crime, and what evidence exists to suggest those policies will do so?
Our gun violence task force, you know, we have done a lot of good stuff with that. The one thing I will do is ask for more funding for our police. You know, we get 599 funding [a state program that provides money for local law enforcement], and we never feel like it's enough. We always ask for more because what that funding will do is help us to increase our school resource officers, right? Make sure that our community policing program is expanded.
These are the kinds of things that we would do, and also universal pre-K. You know, it has been proven that universal pre-K, that early childhood development and learning, helps reduce crime. So those are the things that I would ask for and those are things that are proven.
As far as the crime here, I think that we are slowly getting a grip on it. You know, one thing that we can do is to make sure that we have the gun safety locks. Make sure that that's required. Safe storage, these are simple things that are easy enough to do. Getting serial numbers for ghost guns, you know, so that they can be tracked back to the criminals that use them. All of those things I think combined will help us to continue to address crime. And we're getting a new police chief [in Roanoke City] who's dealt with some of the same issues that we're dealing with in Danville. He had a good track record there, so we'll see what happens here. I'm sure he will implement some of the same policies. And all of these things I hope will put us in a better place in the next few years as far as crime.
What are you reading currently?
I'm not really sure. Not a whole lot recently. I've got to look at the new [Virginia Department of Health] regulations for my job. I have to read the new regs.
The one that I'm reading that [former Roanoke City Councilman] Bill Bestpitch gave me is about the Civil War. And the other one about urban renewal [“Root Shock” by Mindy Thompson Fullilove] mentions Roanoke in it.
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