Editor’s note: Trish White-Boyd, who is running for election to the 4th District seat in the Virginia Senate, agreed to answer the following questions ahead of the Tuesday, Nov. 7 election. -Aila Boyd
Q: What prompted your decision to run for election to the Senate?
A: When Senator Edwards announced his retirement, folks who I have known and worked with over the years reached out and encouraged me to run. I have a track record of getting things done for the community with things like the widening of 10th Street, the Henrietta Lacks statue, even bringing electric buses to Roanoke, and I want to be that go-to person for our region.
Q: What in your background makes you feel equipped to serve in the Senate?
A: Local government experience is key. I understand the needs that our localities have that the Commonwealth has not been funding properly, such as rural school construction, law enforcement, and transportation infrastructure. I’m also a successful small business owner with about 40 employees today, so I understand the needs and challenges facing the business community. Economic Development is so crucial to our region’s future, and that’s really what I want to prioritize in the State Senate, bringing jobs and opportunity to this region while maintaining both our low cost of living, and our high quality of life.
Q: In your estimation, what is the role of a senator and how do you see that role lining up with your idea of leadership?
A: After I won the primary, Senator Edwards reached out, and he’s been such a great mentor to me. One of the first things he told me was the importance of talking to voters, at their houses, out in the community, wherever, because there is simply no other way to learn about all the challenges people are dealing with. I think the role of a senator is to be a representative first, to understand the needs that people have, and to take that knowledge into the legislature so we can find ways to make things better for people back home.
Q: What will some of your priorities be if reelected?
A: I already mentioned Economic Development, but that is so key. We have so much opportunity to attract businesses and people to this region, but when a business is thinking about where to locate, they want to know that their employees will be welcome, that there are good schools for their children, and that the infrastructure is in place to support their business.
We’ve worked really hard in Roanoke to have great public schools. We dedicate 40% of all our funding to our schools, and our Superintendent was Virginia Superintendent of the Year, so we’ve done good things, but there’s more to do. Virginia today has $25 billion dollars in needs for new school construction, mostly in rural areas. The General Assembly needs to do something about that, and also continue to increase teacher pay so we can recruit quality educators. Most importantly, we need an environment for our students that’s conducive to learning, and I think a lot of the culture wars that have infringed on our schools over these last few years have been a real disservice to our kids.
Transportation infrastructure is also vital, and I will prioritize fixing I-81. Leaders from both political parties on the I-81 corridor agree it is a public safety hazard, but my opponent has done nothing. He voted against the I-81 Commission, and voted against dedicated funding for overdue critical safety improvements. Our region needs this, not only so we can travel safely to work or school, but so we can bring more business to this region. Everyone knows what happens to downtown Salem when there’s trouble on I-81. I will push to accelerate the work that is underway, and also push to get passenger rail service extended from Roanoke to the New River Valley so we can get some of the traffic back and forth from Virginia Tech off the interstate and onto the railroad.
Q: What challenges do you think your district will face over the next two years?
A: The improvements on I-81 are overdue, but the ongoing construction will make it worse in the short term. That’s why I think it’s such a shame the General Assembly this year didn’t award funding to accelerate these improvements, and my opponent didn’t say or do anything to help deliver these funds for our region. I know that Delegate Austin, the Chairman of the I-81 Commission, has been working hard to find a way to accelerate this, and I would prioritize working across the aisle to help get that done.
Q: What challenges will Virginia as a whole face over the next two years?
A: Virginia has a $5 billion dollar surplus this year, and we’ve had a surplus for at least the last five years. So, we know we need to be smarter about how we collect taxes. I have argued for abolishing the car tax, which is a regressive tax that funds our localities. My opponent has argued that if I were sincere about this, Roanoke should have stopped collecting the car tax, but without some other funding authorized by the State, we would’ve had to lay off teachers and police to do that, so I think it’s irresponsible of him to suggest that. My opponent also carried legislation last year seeking $1 billion in corporate tax cuts, so we have very different priorities for what we should do with this surplus. I don’t think corporations need the help right now, working families do.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like voters to be aware of before voting?
A: I’m proud to be running for office in the Roanoke and New River Valleys, which is such a diverse and welcoming region. I’ve enjoyed having the opportunity to talk to so many people in every part of the district and learn more about their needs and their ideas. I’m running to represent everybody and to do good things to move our community forward into the 21st century, so I hope to have your support on November 7th.