By Jennie L. Ilustre
Kelly Convirs-Fowler is a Virginia Beach local running for the Virginia House of Delegates in the 21st District. Women make up half (51%) of the U.S. population, she noted, adding, “But they comprise a much smaller percentage of representatives throughout our nation’s statehouses and the U.S. Congress. I am proud to be one of 43 women running for the House of Delegates this year.”
Kelly, a Democrat, is running against Delegate Ron Villanueva, an American of Filipino heritage like her. Republican Villanueva first won his seat in 2009 and got reelected to his fourth term in the last election cycle. For information on Villanueva, please visit his website, ronv2. com
The race is “one of the more closely watched House contests in the commonwealth this year,” according to The Virginian-Pilot newspaper. The Virginian-Pilot endorsed her on October 25, pointing out that “she gives voters ample reason to believe she can represent their interests effectively. Despite Villanueva’s record of service, Fowler makes a compelling case for change and is the better choice this year.”
Kelly is part of the growing national phenomenon which saw first-time candidates running for public office in the November 7 elections this year. She joins mothers who cite concerns over the direction in which the country is headed, and also its impact on the present life and the future of their daughters, and other daughters in general. “I knew I had to step up if I was going to make things right,” she stressed. “I am passionate about fairness and ensuring that government works for everyone, not just for the rich and the well-connected.”
“My grandfather came here from the Philippines and earned his citizenship through his service in the Navy,” Kelly said in an email interview. “My grandmother grew up working in the artichoke fields of California, after her father came from Mexico. My family is an important part of my life, and I hope to make them proud by living this part of the American Dream, that any kid can grow up to participate in our legislative process.”
Kelly is a former Virginia Beach public school teacher who now leads an all-women team of real estate agents specializing in military relocation. She and her husband Dave, a deputy with the Virginia Beach Sheriff’s Department, were raised in the 21st District in military families. They are now raising their two daughters there as well. Kelly is on the Board of Directors of her Homeowners Association. She is an active volunteer in the Hampton Roads region.
Kelly attended Tallwood High School. At age 15, she began working to save money “because I wanted to realize my dream of being the first member of my family to attend college.” Studying and working at the same time, she graduated from Virginia Wesleyan College, where she majored in Psychology and Criminal Justice. After earning her Master’s degree in Education at the Old Dominion University, she began teaching at Lynnhaven Elementary, a Title 1 school.
While teaching, Kelly also fulfilled another dream when she started a business based on her lifelong love of history. After a great deal of research and planning, she said she began purchasing distressed Victorian homes and restoring them “so that new generations of Hampton Roads families could make their own history in them.”
Her successful home renovation business “gave me firsthand experience with the kinds of challenges small business owners face every day,” she recalled. She also developed and honed important skills which she added would help her serve Virginia’s 21st District well as a Delegate. For instance, she became “a great listener and learned to negotiate creative, win-win solutions in the face of obstacles.”
Q and A
As a public service to readers, here’s information on first-time candidate Kelly Fowler, based on an email interview last month.
Why are you running at this particular time? What is so very crucial about this particular time in America?
For the last eight years, I was comfortable and I fully expected to be celebrating the first women President on Tessa’s 8th Birthday. I was devastated by Hillary’s loss, as I felt that hatred had won. My daughter had to process Hillary’s loss into her understanding of the world – that the bad guy sometimes wins. It was extremely difficult for her, because she took it as validation that the other side was right, being mean to people was okay, and being different was not okay. I knew I had to step up if I was going to make things right.
Please describe the particular moment when you made the final decision to run.
I don’t know that there was a particular moment when I decided to run – it was more a process. In an attempt to bring a more positive world view, I took Tessa to the women’s march. I didn’t realize that the march would be as much for me as it was for her. I realized that we were right, and that being different was okay. I reached out to my Delegate to share my opinions on a few of the votes that were up, and I couldn’t get a response – that’s when I realized that I have a responsibility for the world that I am raising my daughters in. We deserve transparent, responsive, inclusive state representatives.
Also, you are part of the growing phenomenon of first-time candidates. Some Democratic first-time national candidates, despite attracting Democratic National Committee (DNC) support and heavy hitters/top donors, have faltered early this year. What makes you think you have a better chance?
We are one of 17 flippable districts which went for Hillary in the last election, and always go Democratic to the top of the ticket – we have a Democratic base in the district, we just need to get them to the polls. We have grassroots support in the district and although I haven’t had big donations for large companies like some candidates, but I have seen an outpouring from people pitching in $1 or $21 for the 21st District. We’ve seen more than 1,500 people invest in my campaign to represent Virginia Beach and Chesapeake in the House of Delegates.
Some Filipino Americans say Delegate Ron Villanueva is vulnerable this year, but he still has the advantages of an incumbent and he has a track record of achievements. What can you offer that is better and different?
I can offer a new perspective. Delegate Villanueva has been in office for a long time, and while he claims to be a moderate, his votes show otherwise. When I reached out to him after the 2016 election, I did not get a response, and I have heard similar stories from other constituents in my district. His recent local scandals involving his businesses and the department of justice all point to him not being a trustworthy representative. https://pilotonline.com/news/government/local/del-ron-villanueva-headed-a-defense-contractor-that-feds-say/article_da839b20-f7f4-501e-99fc-0a7f796e7ff6.html
As a representative, I will listen to the voters, and represent their interests rather than corporations and donors.
Someone noted you have to aim for 7,000 votes to win. How realistic is this? What do your, or independent, or media pollsters show at this point in contrast with Delegate Ron Villanueva?
Our initial polling shows that despite serving in office since 2009 most voters don’t know my opponent. Once they get a chance to hear my story and learn about the votes my opponent has made in the General Assembly, voters overwhelmingly say that they will support my campaign. Predicting voter turnout for elections like this one is tricky. Based on the conversations I’ve had at the doors (Note: Door-to-door campaigns), I think we will see more people voting this year than normally would in a non-presidential election. I’d like to see voter turnout above 45%, which would mean I would need more than 10,000 votes to win.
What support are you getting from the Democratic Party? Regarding funding, and who are the party VIPs who have endorsed you, and are actively campaigning for you?
With all the new candidates running, we all understand that the Democratic Party’s resources have been strained. I was honored to attend Rep. Bobby Scott’s annual BBQ and stand with the rest of the Democratic candidates in Hampton Roads while we got everyone fired up and ready to go! We are getting calls of encouragement from elected officials across the state who have been through this process before. Some of the current elected officials have been excited about the possibility of picking up Democratic seats to enact long overdue reforms. For example, Delegate Marcus Simon asked me to join him for a press conference to address legislation to reform campaign finance laws in Virginia.
What major groups have endorsed you? Ex: Law enforcement groups, teachers, etc.
EMILY’s List, Virginia’s List, Americans for Responsible Solutions, AFL-CIO People for the American Way Victory Fund, SEIU, Virginia Education Association Every Voice, Run for Something, Women Under Forty PAC, Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia, UFCW Local 400, The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, LiUNA.
Please describe your typical day of campaigning. No such thing as typical, but give us an idea. What do you find exciting and challenging about campaigning as a first-time candidate?
I think meeting the people in my community is the most exhilarating part of running for office. They inspire and keep me going. I’m lucky to be in a position where I can afford to step back from my job to campaign full time. Did you know there’s no law that says you can’t use your campaign funds for personal expenses? That needs to change! Incumbents can use the backing of big donors to fund their personal and business expenses through their campaign accounts. This allows them to have a huge advantage over newcomers.
Again, I am lucky to be able to campaign full time. It’s a sacrifice that I believe is worthwhile. I can normally sneak in a few hours of knocking doors in the early evening. During the day, I’m on the phone calling potential donors. Since September, my schedule on the weekend has been running between canvassing with my volunteer team and attending local events. From the time this process began, we have knocked over 13,500 doors!
What is your stand on the immigration issue? This is the Asian American community’s top concern – and it also happens to be a Mainstream American issue.
Propaganda based on hate and fear runs counter to our values as Americans. We are a country built by immigrants and we should support those who look to us as they try to fulfill their American Dream. I believe that those brought here as children should not be classified as illegal immigrants and should have a clear path to citizenship. Children born here are citizens and their parents should have a clear path to citizenship. State and local law enforcement should not do the job of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The harassment or bullying of anyone who came to this country, whether legally or illegally, runs counter to American values.
Specifically, what is your position on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), and the bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, introduced in August by Senators Graham (R) and Durbin (D).
I support federal legislation that will spare nearly 800,000 young immigrants from deportation and that will put those immigrants and thousands of others on a path to U.S. citizenship.
Anything else you’d like to add. (Ex: Specific proposals on issues like jobs, healthcare, education, etc.)
Our biggest issue right now is healthcare. Quality, affordable healthcare is critical. Yet, many people I speak with in the 21st District tell me that their healthcare costs are too high, healthcare coverage is too limited, and prescription drugs are too expensive. Turning down federal funds designed to help the most vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth is both inexcusable and economically foolish – especially considering Virginia’s tax dollars are being exported to other states in lieu of helping our own citizens. I will support expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, and work to ensure that insurance, health care, and prescription drugs are affordable for all Virginians. Your health should not depend on how much money you make – Healthcare is a right.
As a former public school teacher, I am aware of the struggles of teachers who oftentimes put their own money into classroom supplies – our public money needs to remain in public schools, and our teachers need a raise. We are currently one of the lowest states for teacher salaries in the nation, and it’s time we did better for both our educators and our students.
Speaking of salaries, everyone should be able to earn a livable wage. I am proud of my union endorsements, and plan to work with them to make sure that we can do our best to bring good paying jobs to Virginia’s working families.
Voting should be made easier, not harder. I support independent redistricting efforts.
Please talk about your Filipino heritage.
My grandfathers were from the Philippines and served in the U.S. Navy, which allowed them to become U.S. citizens. Raymond Ramirez passed in 2011, while Francisco Sacdalan was laid to rest in Arlington in the fall of 2012. With the exception of an aunt who lives in North Carolina, the rest of my family still lives in the 21st District. Uncle, aunt, and grandmother live in Brigadoon, Cousin and family in Stratford Chase. Even my in-laws are in Indian Lakes, where my husband grew up and attended Salem High School.
Issues that Matter
From her website, following are Virginia Candidate Kelly Fowler’s positions on issues, in her own words.
Quality, affordable healthcare is critical. Yet, many people I speak with in the 21st District tell me that their healthcare costs are too high, healthcare coverage is too limited, and prescription drugs are too expensive. Turning down federal funds designed to help the most vulnerable citizens of the Commonwealth is both inexcusable and economically foolish – especially considering Virginia’s tax dollars are being exported to other states in lieu of helping our own citizens.
Support expansion of Medicaid in Virginia
Work to ensure that insurance, health care, and prescription drugs are affordable for all Virginians
Work across the aisle to end the opioid epidemic and to provide addiction services and overdose response training for healthcare professionals, first responders, and law enforcement.
Jobs and the Economy
I am a small business owner who leads a team of realtors, all of whom are women. I recognize the importance of small businesses Virginia, including those that are owned by women and minorities, and I am dedicated to helping those who wish to attain the American dream by starting their own business.
Support policies that encourage the Commonwealth to consider purchasing “Virginia made” products first
Facilitate economic roundtables with small business owners to give them an opportunity voice their concerns and bring their ideas to Richmond
Work on both sides of the aisle to encourage our local universities and colleges to examine the long-term impact of losing military infrastructure, which is so important to Hampton Roads economy
Balance the need for raising the minimum wage to a living standard while protecting small business owners who feel the pinch when wages increase
As a former Virginia Beach public school teacher and parent of school age children, I know first hand how important it is to invest in our children. We must provide the necessary resources for early childhood education in order to prepare students to be responsible citizens and equip them with the knowledge and skills to compete in the new economy.
Restore funding for public schools and find innovative solutions to address growing class sizes, high teacher turnover rates and teacher pay
Help our most challenged schools combat chronic absenteeism and poor academic performance
Make early childhood education a priority
End stringent standards of learning requirements; students should be encouraged to learn to think creatively – not just learn how to take a multiple choice test
Expand STEM curricula and seek to increase the number of students taking courses in science, technology, engineering, and math
Gun Violence Prevention
I hold a concealed carry permit from the state of Virginia and have respect for gun ownership. I also believe that common sense gun safety laws are an important part of our 2nd Amendment rights.
Support background checks with a waiting period
Support closing the Gun Show Loophole and cracking down on straw purchases
Support efforts to keep guns out of the hands of those who are severely mentally ill and increase access to mental health care.
Support a ban on assault weapons
Our natural resources are vital to Virginia’s economic future and our quality of life. We must preserve and conserve Virginia’s natural resources and promote renewable energy and green jobs. I support funding for open space and land conservation initiatives, innovative programs that encourage the preservation of farmland for agricultural use, and state and local efforts to encourage efforts that discourage suburban sprawl.
Work to protect the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries
Explore public and private partnerships to create long-term solutions to preserving green space in Virginia Beach and Chesapeake
Prioritize renewable energy production and fight for Virginia’s growing green economy
Help our coastal communities prepare for the effects of increased flooding and property damage
Encourage the use of reusable and recyclable goods which will reduce the amount of land necessary for new landfills.
Democracy thrives when government is inclusive, responsive, transparent and accountable to all its citizens. These values foster public trust, participation, and collaboration. Virginians have a right to know how their Delegate votes and know that those votes are not being influenced by campaign contributions from interest groups.
Support legislation that would require all committee and subcommittee votes to be recorded to promote transparency in governance
Support legislation to ban the use of campaign funds for personal benefit
Support campaign finance limits
Introduce legislation to adopt Governor Terry McAuliffe’s blue ribbon ethics and integrity commission’s reforms, including granting the Ethics Council the authority to randomly audit ethics filings, receive and investigate signed complaints, or refer findings for prosecution.
Support independent commissions to re-draw Virginia’s political district boundaries to fairly represent communities and are not determined by partisan interests
The gridlock on our roads threatens our quality of life. Traffic and congestion decrease the time Virginians can spend with our families, decrease our productivity at work, result in higher gas and auto maintenance costs, and it contributes to the pollution of our air, rivers, and bays. Fixing transportation is an economic necessity that requires development of long-term, forward-thinking solutions.
I will work to:
Provide tax incentives for companies to allow their employees to work from home or telecommuting centers
Encourage smart growth by ensuring that impacts of future development on our transportation infrastructure are fully evaluated and addressed; discourage suburban sprawl
Veterans and the Military
As a real estate broker, my team specializes in helping military families relocate to our area. We are their first friends and we make sure they have support whether it is in the form of stocking the fridge for their arrival, or cleaning up after severe storms.
I look forward to representing and advocating for our men and women in uniform and will:
Look for ways to cut down on wait times and red tape at the VA for veterans who need care now
Advocate for services needed by those on active duty and veterans who struggle with PTSD
Provide support systems to military families when a loved one is deployed.
Provide job opportunities and a welcoming community to enable military families to set down roots in Hampton Roads
I was inspired to run for Delegate after having attended the Women’s March in Washington DC in January 2017. #WomensRightsAreHumanRights I support the right to choose, equal pay, non-discrimination in the workplace, and strong laws that stop violence against women.
Women make up 51% of the US population but comprise a much smaller percentage of representatives throughout our nation’s statehouses and our Congress. I am proud to be one of 43 women running for the House of Delegates this year. I will:
Fight for the right of women to make their own health care decisions in conjunction with their physicians
Fight for paid family leave for women and men of Virginia
Push to expand Medicaid in Virginia
Criminal Justice Reform
My husband is a law enforcement officer and I have the utmost respect for the men and women who serve in this profession. However, the laws of the commonwealth must be applied fairly to all its citizens. Further, I believe that those who have served their sentences in the criminal justice system should have the ability to learn the skills they need to re-enter society and take their place as full citizens.
Focus Virginia’s criminal justice systems on rehabilitation to prevent recidivism
Support the decriminalization of marijuana, and allow our police force to concentrate on keeping people safe
Dismantle the privatized prison system which profits from keeping people locked up
Support the restoration of rights to nonviolent felons who have served their sentences, streamline the restoration process, and make it more transparent
I believe our community must be a place where all people are safe be open and honest about their sexual orientation and gender identity at school, work and within our communities. We must work together to create a truly inclusive environment where individuals are welcomed and valued, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. No one in Virginia should lose their job or be evicted from their home because of who they love. I will be a strong voice in Richmond for the LGBT community. I will support:
Efforts to repeal the unconstitutional Marshall-Newman Amendment to the Virginia Constitution
Family Life Education and guidance programs in public schools that offer age-appropriate, non-judgmental information on sexuality, tolerance, sexual orientation, gender identity, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception
Legislation that classifies harassment of LGBTQ students as a form of bullying, and directs schools to end bullying in their facilities
Formation of Gay/Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs) in schools
Propaganda based on hate and fear runs counter to our values as Americans. We are a country built by immigrants and we should support those who look to us as they try to fulfill their American Dream. I believe that:
Those brought here as children should not be classified as illegal immigrants and should have a clear path to citizenship
Children born here are citizens and their parents should have a clear path to citizenship
State and local law enforcement should not do the job of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)
The harassment or bullying of anyone who came to this country whether legally or illegally runs counter to American values.