Two local Democratic candidates for Virginia’s 28th District Senate seat are each promoting ideas they believe will improve life in the commonwealth.
Laura Sellers served as a Stafford County supervisor, representing the Garrisonville District, from 2014 to 2018. At the June 11 primary, Sellers will face political newcomer Qasim Rashid, a Stafford County attorney who specializes in human rights law.
Although each candidate has been campaigning on the usual hot topics—transportation, health care, education and growth—both have also lobbed occasional jabs at each other as they vie to represent the district that covers parts of Spotsylvania, Stafford, Prince William, Westmoreland and King George counties.
“My opponent is already—from day one—his literature is negative about me, his website is negative about me, and in King George there was a forum, and when I actually challenged him on things he became very misogynistic,” said Sellers. “His defense has now been to perpetuate this narrative that I’m an Islamophobe. I work full time. I don’t have time for negative campaigns.”
Rashid said all he’s trying to do is stay focused on the issues, regardless of the banter.
“My primary opponent has levied some extraordinarily strong accusations against me based against my faith, based against my ethnicity and it’s quite remarkable, it’s been documented by the Stafford County leadership as well,” Rashid said. “But my philosophy on this is to stay focused on the issues that matter.”
The winner of the Democratic primary will face Republican incumbent Sen. Richard Stuart in November. Stuart has no primary opponent.
Sellers, 34, lives in Stafford and is a contractor for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Sellers said she would like to take her previous experience as a county supervisor and “go to Richmond and make a difference.”
“When Richmond doesn’t have a sound budget, it hurts education, it hurts transportation, it hurts public safety, it hurts everything,” said Sellers. “So I want to go to Richmond and really clean up the budget, and what I’m looking to do is bring money back into education.”
Sellers said that education is her No. 1 issue. She blames former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell for cutting dollars from public education that have never been returned.
“And the money’s there—it’s just in the state budget,” said Sellers. “Everything’s earmarked, so we need to go through that and remove those earmarks, remove special interests from the state budget and actually get money put back into our classrooms.”
Sellers also ranks transportation high atop her priority list.
She spent three years on the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and says the Smart Scale algorithm scoring method used to determine funding for state transportation projects puts the region at a disadvantage, as it competes against counties to the north that experience higher congestion rates per mile.
“We have the most congestion in the entire commonwealth, and we should be competing for money a lot better than we are, but the algorithms are broken and working against us,” said Sellers. “So we need to go and change that and make it a fair algorithm, so that Stafford County, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and even in rural parts of Prince William, can actually compete for this funding.”
Sellers also wants to improve poorly maintained roads, expand internet service into rural areas and offer rural residents better health care options.
“The closest hospital is Mary Washington for a lot of them,” said Sellers. “If you have a heart attack, you’re not getting to Mary Washington in time. I want to see more medical facilities get into the rural parts and it comes down to the Certificate of Public Need Program.”
Rashid, 36, said he has dedicated his life to supporting women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence. As an attorney, Rashid has also represented nonprofit organizations and small businesses.
“When I represent women who are surviving domestic or sexual violence, that’s always pro bono,” said Rashid.
He views the election battle as a fight to restore equality and justice for the average American family.
“Right now, that opportunity is being stripped away,” he said. “The struggles today, I realize things have gotten worse over the last 25 years.”
Rashid’s campaign is focused on higher pay for educators and expanding internet access. He would also like to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment and expand health care, making it more accessible. Rashid considers health care a human right.
Rashid would like to shut down the private prison industry and reform Virginia’s criminal justice system. He promises action that’s “big on rehabilitation and reformation, as opposed to revenge and retribution.”
Part of his reform package calls for expanding access to food benefits for former felons through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, “because food is a human right,” he said.
“Denying food to those who are hungry does nothing to improve our state,” he said. “Indeed, such calloused punishments create the potential of more harm for all of us.”
Rashid said he and his family have had their share of struggles since immigrating to the United States 32 years ago, including learning a new language, struggling financially, and adapting to a new culture.
“I have my convictions of what I am trying to accomplish,” he said.