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Meet Senator Jennifer McClellan: One of Three Black Women Running for Governor!

That's right! There are three courageous Black women vying to be Virginia's next Governor, and we reached out to each of them to learn more about their platforms, and to introduce them to you - our village!

Meet Senator Jennifer McClellan!

Beautiful Black woman in a blue top
Submitted. Senator Jennifer McClellan, Candidate for Governor of Virginia.

Please share your background with our readers:

I am running for Governor because so many of us are tired of fighting the same fights that our parents, our grandparents, and our great grandparents fought. We have to tackle those challenges and build a better future for millions of families across Virginia. I will bring my experience as a legislator and perspective as a Black woman and a working mom to lead that change.

With 15 years in the legislature, I have the most experience of any candidate running for Governor when it comes to delivering progressive change – especially for women, children, families, and communities of color. To move Virginia forward, I’ve built coalitions and worked across party lines with determination and resolve. That is how we passed a new law expanding health care under the Affordable Care Act and the biggest clean energy law in Virginia history – with bipartisan support. And I’m proud to have just passed major bills this session to stabilize our child care system during the pandemic, to increase funding for school support staff like social workers and nurses, to reform the criminal justice system and to make Virginia the first state in the South with a Voting Rights Act. I will continue this progress as Governor.

As we rebuild from the pandemic, our next Governor must have the perspective and experience to break down barriers and open doors of opportunity for the people of Virginia in our economy, our health care system, our education system, and our safety nets in a way that includes all of us. We need a Governor who has a new perspective and the experience to get things done on day one. That’s how we’ll build a Virginia that leaves no one behind.

Please tell our readers five priority issues that you will fight for:

Whether it’s ensuring people can take time away from work to recover from an illness, care for a sick family member, or welcome a new child; protecting women’s reproductive rights; or changing how public schools are funded in Virginia to make sure that every student no matter where they live gets a quality education – I will take action to rebuild Virginia from the Coronavirus and make investments in communities that have been ignored for too long.

The most pressing issue of this moment is rebuilding our Commonwealth from the pandemic. I understand how the disparities that have existed for workers -- especially Black, Brown, and women workers -- for generations have hurt working communities across Virginia because I’ve seen members of my own family left behind even before the pandemic. COVID-19 has also underscored the importance of paid family leave and paid medical leave, issues that I have been working on for years in the legislature. As we revitalize our economy we must focus on small businesses, workers, families, and communities. As Governor, I will stabilize and grow Virginia’s small, women, and minority owned businesses, while also ensuring any businesses moving to Virginia pass a litmus test of what's good for our communities, focusing funds on job creation and community investment.

We must make historic investments in schools. Historic underfunding had left our schools in crisis before COVID-19, and now they are even farther behind because of the pandemic. Right now, access to high-quality public education in Virginia depends on a students’ zipcode. That’s why I have proposed the largest education investment in Virginia history, over $2.3 billion in K-21 schools that will invest and reform education from birth to career. My education plan will address school inequities, fix crumbling school infrastructure, support the full educator workforce, and provide universal child care across the Commonwealth.

As a working mom with two elementary school aged kids, I know the challenges of finding quality child care. And I know that for many women and men, child care isn’t just an education issue - it’s also a kitchen table economic issue. During the Coronavirus crisis, women - and especially Black women - have had to drop out of the workforce at record rates. And the rate is even worse among women of color. In Virginia, 40% of our childcare facilities were closed during the past year. And our Commonwealth is already 41st in the country in infant care affordability. That’s why I passed a new law this month to stabilize child care in Virginia and address staffing shortages. As governor, my plan will invest $4 billion into child care and early childhood education to create universal childcare for every child in Virginia.

Too many Virginians are one accident or illness away from economic devastation. Access to quality health care is out of reach for many and the Coronavirus crisis has further exposed the disparities in our health care system and the strains on our health care safety nets. As a legislator, I created the state health exchange under Obamacare to get hundreds of thousands more Virginians insured, fought to expand access to high-quality and affordable health care, and repealed years of Republican-era restrictions to reproductive health. As Governor, I will continue to make access to a high-quality, affordable health care system available to everyone – from our newborn Virginians to seniors – while also protecting the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship from undue government interference. And I’ll work to reduce the maternal mortality rate that’s impacted so many Black moms across Virginia by dedicating Medicaid funding for doula care.

Virginia’s justice system has disproportionately affected Black and brown communities and

individuals with disabilities; criminalized childhood behavior, poverty and mental health conditions; and failed to provide all defendants with their right to a fair trial. That’s why I am committed to transforming justice throughout the Commonwealth and breaking the cycle of inequity. As Governor, I will build on the progress I have made in the legislature reforming the criminal justice system by ending mandatory minimums, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, and reforming incarceration to focus on rehabilitation and re-entry.

Please share any specific issue you plan to address, that will directly impact Black citizens in the Commonwealth:

For 16 legislative sessions, I have walked past the statue of former senator and segregationist Harry Byrd in Richmond’s Capitol Square knowing that I am his worst nightmare: A Black woman, a descendent of enslaved people, and the daughter of parents who endured Jim Crow, working to eradicate the very inequity and oppression that Harry Byrd worked to create and maintain. I have spent my entire career dismantling the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow that still impacts communities today.

As a legislator, I have helped Black Virginians achieve more equity in the housing system, in the criminal justice system, in our education system, and beyond. With every single policy I work on as Governor, I will take action to uplift Black communities across the Commonwealth.

As we rebuild our economic system from the pandemic, we have to center and invest in small, women and minority owned businesses - who have been hit hard over the past year. Under a McClellan administration, Virginia will create long-term technical and crisis support to SWaM and micro-businesses in the Commonwealth, increasing the Virginia Community Development Financial Institutions Fund budget by $2.5 million per year for a period of five years to accommodate small businesses owners as they meet challenges during and after the pandemic’s end.

The next governor will also be responsible for implementing Virginia’s new marijuana laws and building the commercial market. This year, I added the amendment to legalize marijuana this July instead of in 2024. I have seen the disproportionate effects that marijuana criminalization has had on Black and Brown communities, and as governor, I’ll make sure that the commercial market is set up to redress the generations of harm prohibition has caused.

Additionally, my Voting Rights plan will ensure that all Virginians have equal access to the ballot box in the Commonwealth. Jim Crow-era laws have long suppressed the votes of Black Virginians, and this year, we’re seeing a re-emergence of suppressive voting policies across the nation. We can’t let that happen in Virginia.. This year I passed the Voting Rights Act of Virginia with Del. Cia Price - the first Voting Rights Act in the South - and as Governor, I will continue that progress to make Virginia the number one state in the country for voting access.

As a Black woman, are there any specific challenges you have faced while running for Governor? If so, please let our readers know what they can do to help.

I am excited about possibly making history, and what that would mean for little Black girls all over the country to realize that they too belong in places of power and leadership roles. But I am reminded of what John F. Kennedy said when he was running for President, that he wasn’t running to be the first Catholic president, but that he was just running for President and happened to be Catholic. And it is the same with me.

My candidacy is not a movement just about me; it’s a movement about the future of Virginia and the progress that we can achieve together.

In your own words, what does it mean to be the Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia?

I got involved in politics because I believe that, at its core, government can be a strong force to make people’s lives better and solve their problems. And in the legislature, I was able to make a lot of progress for a lot of people. But at the end of the day, the Governor is the one who sets the agenda and sets the budget.

I saw before COVID, how many Virginians and communities across the Commonwealth were being left behind. COVID has just exacerbated that. That’s why I am running to rebuild our economy, our healthcare system, and our economic safety nets in a way that brings us together.

How are you taking care of your self-care, while running for Governor?

I was a mom, a legislator, and working a full time job for a long time before I was running for Governor, and so the chaotic scheduling is not new for me. In terms of self care, I always ensure that I am able to spend time with my son and daughter. They ground me and remind me why I’m in this fight: to ensure that they don’t have to jump the same hurdles or overcome the same barriers as me, their grandparents, or their great grandparents.

How can our readers get involved with your campaign?

@JennMcClellanVA on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram


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