HARRISONBURG — The Democrats came out in a united front Wednesday afternoon as they head into federal and local November elections.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax visited Harrisonburg to support Jennifer Lewis, the party’s candidate for the 6th Congressional District, as well as City Councilman Chris Jones, who is seeking re-election, and City Council candidate Sal Romero, who was unable to attend the party’s event.
Lewis will face Del. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge, in November to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke. Given the area’s conservative makeup, Fairfax’s visit likely served to rally as much support for her as possible in her uphill battle.
The terms of Jones and Republican Councilman Ted Byrd are up this year, but Byrd is not seeking re-election. In addition to the two Democrats, independents Carolyn Frank, the city’s first female mayor; Frank McMillan, district manager for Kelly Services, an employment agency with an office in Harrisonburg; and Paloma Saucedo, former executive director of the Valley AIDS Network, are also running.
Speaking at Pale Fire Brewing Co. before a crowd of at least 50, Fairfax said Democrats sent a message last November. The so-called blue wave saw Democrat Ralph Northam win the governor’s race and the party flipped 15 seats in the House of Delegates, shrinking the Republican majority to 51-49.
As a result, Fairfax said, Democrats were able to expand Medicaid, a jointly funded state and federal program providing health coverage to mostly low-income people, to up to 400,000 more Virginians.
“That’s something that, of course, we all had fought for together for years,” he said, “but it became reality because you stepped up, you got out, you knocked doors. … And it sent the signal all around the United States of America.”
While many Democrats felt they were on a “long, slow march down the dark political road,” after Republican President Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Fairfax said, Virginia gave progressives in other states hope.
“It has never been more important in my lifetime for us to stand up for our values and for what we believe,” Fairfax said. “There are lives and communities and futures on the line.”
Fairfax, citing the city’s diverse student enrollment and programs to help immigrants, said Harrisonburg “is a place of opportunity.”
At the state level, he said, Northam’s administration is working to provide more opportunities to struggling families as well. They plan to raise Virginia’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage to help low-income families. They also want to “deal with issues around the school-to-prison pipeline,” he said.
Lewis, a Waynesboro mental health provider, said she supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15, having worked at least two jobs for most all of her adult life.
“I know what it’s like to struggle, even though you’re working harder than ever,” she said. “And just to keep your head afloat is really hard. Now is the time we need to pass a living wage.”
Pointing to the United Way’s report on the number of people in the community living on a limited income, she said an average single person must make $11 an hour to meet their basic needs.
“That creates security and stability that all American workers want to have and deserve,” Lewis said.
She supports equal pay for women, a farm bill that supports farmers, and opposes cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
“We need a better safety net for our folks,” she said.
Jones, an account executive at WHSV-TV3 in his first council term, called out his competition, “some folks that are hiding as independents that are clearly Republicans.”
If re-elected, Jones wants to create a position for a community justice planner to reduce the number of incarcerated people in the area as well as a sustainability coordinator to focus on environmental programs and initiatives.
Jones lamented council’s vote in January, when he and Democratic Mayor Deanna Reed voted against postponing the opening of a new high school until 2023. Jones and Reed wanted the new school, which would relieve overcrowding at Harrisonburg High School, to open in 2021, which the School Board also supported.
Byrd and Councilmen Richard Baugh and George Hirschmann voted to delay the project, preferring to wait until more debt rolled off the books before undertaking Harrisonburg’s largest capital project.
“The number one, number one point that I want to make sure we drive home is that when you elect Chris Jones, when you elect Sal Romero,” Jones said, “you’re building a new high school for your children.”