Round Hill resident Tia Walbridge says she is already amazed by the success of her campaign to represent the 33rd District in the House of Delegates.
In the race to represent the rural 33rd, which includes parts of western Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties, Walbridge is facing off against fellow first-time political candidate Mavis Taintor in the Democratic Primary. Should she win, she will still have to unseat incumbent Republican Dave LaRock, who is seeking his third term following a landslide re-election effort two years ago.
Walbridge, a sheep farmer and owner of a related agro-businesses in western Loudoun, said she is not daunted by the opposition. She touts nearly 200 individual campaign donors and 70 volunteers, many of whom have never been involved in politics before. Along with her natural energy and hard work, Walbridge told the Tribune her commitment to her community will help her secure not just the Democratic primary, but a seat in the General Assembly.
If elected, what would be your top priorities in the legislature?
The community in general really wants the legislature to understand the Democratic values of lifting each other up, supporting each other as a community, and that means things like fully funding our schools, supporting our school system. The vast majority of the kids growing up in this community depend on public schools to prepare them for our futures. I think that would be a very top priority for me and most of the people I’m speaking with in the community.
There’s an awful lot of money that goes to Richmond from this area that never comes back, so that’s certainty something that’s to be addressed, so that’s one of the failings, I think. This district spans three different school systems, and you get three very different funding shortfalls, but the policy stays generally the same that we need to do everything we can to make sure our teachers are being paid enough that we’re attracting and retaining the best and brightest.
In Loudoun County we need to work on things like doing full day kindergarten. I would probably support a tax in Richmond if it could support full day kindergarten, depending on where it is. It would have to be a something I look at as it comes up. It would come on an individual basis. Supporting tax increases is not something you’d like to do, but it’s absolutely vital, it’s a cornerstone of our democracy to have an education for everyone.
Your would-be Republican opponent in the general election handily won re-election two years ago and represents a traditionally conservative district. How do you get voters to support you?
I think we need a lot better representation in Richmond than Mr. LaRock. I don’t believe he represents the people that I know, the values of our district and I think this is my home, this is where I built my home and I’m really rooted in this community, raising my family, building our business and building our life here. I think I can bring that voice of the community to Richmond.
He’s not working for those businesses, he’s not doing anything, he’s not putting any legislation to work for those businesses. I want to work with them. I’m meeting with them and asking them for their needs and I’m building a relationship there. There are a lot of places where we have common ground and I’m seeing that while knocking on doors.
One of Del. LaRock’s major efforts in the General Assembly has been to promote school choice. How do you feel about the program and his efforts?
There’s a misnomer about school choice. There are many options for your child to attend school in many different ways. And the idea of taking the resources away from public schools to use on an individual, that principle doesn’t follow in any other area our society. If you do not use the fire department, you don’t get the money back for your taxes that went to the fire department. If you don’t drive on the roads in the eastern half of Loudoun County you don’t get your money. This same principle doesn’t really follow.
You are free to choose a different option. You can home school, but the money for the children that go to public school, which is public money, needs to stay in our public schools where it has public oversight and we know it’s being used to educate children. It is one of the cornerstones of our democracy. It’s one of the reasons that makes this such a great place to call home because no matter what our circumstances are when you’re born or happen in the course of our lives, we can have the public schools to prepare us for the future.
The math doesn’t work out either. If every person pulls out a chunk, that might help them go to private school, but it would still require needs from the family. If you have a family that can’t afford school lunch, they’re not going to be able to give thousands to give to a private school.
Along with supporting public education, small business interests and the green economy, what is another major priority for you?
Another key is supporting the Medicaid expansion. Everyone should have the security if they were to get sick they can afford to get well again. My family knows first hand what medical bills look like. My husband has beaten cancer three times. Without the VA, and his private insurance through his employer, he’d be bankrupt.
I wouldn’t be running because we would be dealing with medical bills. Everyone should have the ability to have the lifesaving treatment they need and not have it derail their whole lives. We can do things like take care of the people who live in this state and call it home and lift each other up and help each other.
One of the biggest challenges Democrats face is getting turn out in an off year election. Why is this year different?
I think they’re going to show up in numbers they haven’t seen in an off year in Virginia in a very long time. The difference from a year ago is absolutely amazing. The number of people who were raised to be polite and good neighbors and to not put signs in your yard and don’t post your feelings in Facebook — that has seen a 180 this year.
People are vocal, they are motivated and they want to see a change and I think we’re going to see it. We heard it from activist groups in the first several meetings where people would walk in and say “I had no idea there were that many of us out here.” That was the response, because we wouldn’t put signs in our yard. Now there is that sense that we are here for each other and we’re more connected than we have been than ever before out there.
Why should people in the 33rd support you in the Democratic primary and then vote for you in the general election in November?
This is my home. This is my community. This is where we chose to build our lives. My husband and I visited this area 15 years ago or so and the first time we looked at all the green rolling hills and the stone walls on whatever road we were driving on, I knew this is where we wanted to end up and where we wanted to have a farm. It took several years of work and saving to be able to afford it but it was a goal that we were able to realize.
Now we’re raising our children here in these schools, alongside the people I hope will vote for me. I call them neighbors, friends, clients, fellow Girl Scout parents. I feel I’m more connected, much more invested certainly, in this community and will be able to carry the voice of the community with me to Richmond.