State Senate District 1 Primary Endorsement for Shelly Simonds

State Senator John Miller passed away unexpectedly last month, and a special election has been announced to fill his seat. A Democratic primary will take place on June 14 between the current Delegate in the Peninsula's 93rd district, Monty Mason and Newport News School Board member Shelly Simonds.

After careful research and deliberation, we have decided to make our first official endorsement of a candidate for Mrs. Simonds in this race. We feel that her background in education makes her a fitting successor to Senator Miller, for whom education was a top priority. Her focus on conservation, environmental protection, government transparency, and her support for unions and criminal justice reform matches our focus at For Virginia. Simonds is running a grassroots, people-driven campaign, and we feel she is the candidate best suited to advance a Progressive agenda in Richmond, and makes her the best choice for Virginia's 1st Senate District.

So while we hope you'll support Shelly and donate or volunteer to help her on June 14th, we wanted  to give a bit of the background research  that we did on each candidate and how we came to a decision.

I first encountered Mason and Simonds at last month's Hampton Democratic Committee Meeting, where they gave brief speeches and answered questions from the audience. Mason seemed more like the polished politician, with a powerful speaking voice and practiced rhetorical flourishes, but Shelly seemed more eager for our support.

According to his website, Mason has been a Delegate since 2013, and is currently member on two House of Delegate committees: Counties, Cities and Towns, and Courts of Justice.  He is a Senior Director at Visa, where he's focused on fraud prevention and risk reduction. He's got a BA in government from William and Mary, and is active in Williamsburg civic life. He has also received a perfect score from the League of Conservation Voters for the past two sessions. He highlights jobs, seniors, transportation, education and veterans' issues on his website.

Mason's campaign finance reports over the years report the bulk of his contributions from the House Democratic Caucus and the DPVA, however he also has $34 thousand from Michael Bloomberg's Independence USA PAC, and has also put up over $28 thousand of his own money toward his campaigns.

We pulled through Virginia's Legislative Information System, LIS, for a peek at Del. Mason's activity in the 2016 session. Mason was patron of 18 bills, and we took a look at each one. Ones that passed:

  • HB 919 - shortens the time that a locality can cancel water and sewer service for unpaid charges from 60 to 30 days.  This one passed the House 78-21.
  • HB 920 - makes it so that if a person is found not guilty by reason of insanity for a crime that would require them to register as a sex offender, that person may not work in day-care, child welfare agencies, adopt, foster a child, or a number of other roles that require being around children. Passed without opposition.
  • HB 924 - allows electronic communication providers (i.e. cell phone companies) to provide real-time location data to police without a warrant in response to an emergency, when a person is missing, or believed to be in immediate danger. Passed without opposition.
  • There were also a number of resolutions celebrating the life of and commending certain individual, organizations and programs.

Goal Thermometer

Mrs. Simonds was first elected to Newport News School Board in 2012, and was ran unopposed earlier this year. She also challenged incumbent House of Delegates David Yancey last year. As a school board member we had more of a challenge vetting her, but after subsequent requests for support from we sent Peninsula resident and Sanders Delegate to the DNC, Josh Stanfield, out to meet with her and give us his thoughts. I asked Josh to make sure that he asked her about independent redistricting, support for President Obama's Clean Power Plan and Virginia membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and lastly about a restricting Virginia political contributions from corporations and limits on contributions in general. He wrote back:

I had a chance to speak with Shelly for an hour last night. Her passion is clearly education, which makes sense given her background. She spoke at length on innovation in STEM education, career and vocational education, and focused on some success stories at Heritage High and Warwick High. 

In terms of fair redistricting in Virginia: Shelly has donated to One Virginia 2021 and completely supports the cause. 

She made clear that protecting the environment is a priority for her - she was generally supportive of the RGGI, though didn't go deep into details. Shelly also declared that she won't accept contributions from Dominion Power. They tend to spread their money all around, but she sees them as the major impediment to any real environmental reform. She also mentioned fighting for funds related to the expected rise in sea levels, raising the minimum wage, and helping reduce college debt. 

Ultimately, the force of her pitch came via a strategic angle: she sees this State Senate seat as solidly Democratic and expects the winner of the primary to have the odds in the special election. However, she feels certain that Monty's House of Delegates seat in the 93rd will flip to Republican if he wins the primary and a special election occurs in December for his current seat. Given the super low expected turnout for a hypothetical special election in December, in addition to a core of conservative grassroots activists in Williamsburg ready to win that seat, Shelly anticipates a Monty primary win will result in a lost seat for the Democrats in the House of Delegates. The implications in terms especially of veto overrides are apparently serious.

Josh is referring to the current breakdown of the House of Delegates; two seats were picked up last cycle, which gave Democrats the numbers needed to prevent conservatives from overriding the Governor's vetos for measures like the religious freedom bill, block funding for Planned Parenthood and other conservative goals like reversing bans on guns in state office building and other issues. In all, McAuliffe vetoed 33 bills, and all but one was stopped at the House of Delegates. The loss of Mason's seat before the 2017 session would give Republicans the numbers to override vetoes in the lower House.

Josh closes:

If the goal is to support the most progressive candidate without jeopardizing seats, I'd suggest backing Shelly. If you live in the 1st District (or know anyone who does), be sure to support Shelly and help us elect a solid Progressive. She needs volunteers to canvass between now and the election and help get out the vote, so please contact her campaign if you're interested.