When I was a little girl, my grandmother always said to me, “Jennifer, if you have it, you have to give it.” What she meant was: If you can give back, if you can serve, you should. That’s been a guiding principle of my life since I was young. It’s what encouraged me to dedicate my life to public service. And it’s why I am now running for governor — because I know that my experience in a world where I wasn’t supposed to succeed makes me the right leader for Virginia’s future.
Growing up in Petersburg, one of the poorest and most neglected communities in the commonwealth, wasn’t easy, and there were people who believed that my ZIP code determined my destiny. But I knew that wasn’t true. There were naysayers when I applied to Virginia Military Institute. They said I would never make it out of one of the top military colleges in this country, and they clenched their fists as they had to watch me walk across the stage at graduation with my shoulders rolled back and my head held high as one of the first women to graduate.
The disbelievers said that it wasn’t possible for me to win my delegate race as a woman running for office while pregnant with twins, flipping a delegate seat from red to blue and carrying areas that had voted for Trump the year before.They said I would never win, and I was wasting my time. Those disbelievers gnashed their teeth as I was sworn into office while holding my infant twins with my husband at the Capitol in Richmond.
Disbelievers were probably shocked that a girl from Petersburg could accomplish as much as I have as the delegate for the 2nd District. In the House of Delegates, I worked across the aisle to expand rural broadband access in Southwest Virginia, and clean up toxic coal ash here in Prince William County that was contaminating our water.
I worked with Republicans to expand opportunities for veteran-owned businesses and help foster children. I passed the Pregnant Worker Fairness Act, which allows Virginians to stay healthy and in the workforce while carrying a pregnancy and supporting their families, and the Dress Code Equity Act, making Virginia the first state to institute regulations on school dress codes to ensure black and brown girls are not victims of discrimination. I led the charge to reverse decades of anti-working family, anti-teacher legislation and passed the biggest expansion of labor rights in decades.
And, of course, I successfully led the charge with advocates to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment to enshrine women’s equality in the U.S. Constitution. Thanks to these accomplishments, Virginians are watching the commonwealth become friendlier to working families and a place where job growth is more possible. And let’s not forget that these accomplishments are the result of more elected and political experience than other Virginia governors had when they were elected.
While I’m proud of my experience in the legislature, I’m also confident that my experience as a public defender is what helps me be a leader who fights for forward-looking solutions in the commonwealth. Look around this state and this country and you’ll clearly see that we have a deeply broken criminal justice system.
No one knows that better than I do. I spend my days, and have for years, representing those who are unable to fight for themselves. As a public defender and court-appointed attorney, I work day after day navigating failed systems and broken policies that hold Virginia’s most vulnerable back. I defended a young boy who stole a jacket because he was cold and then was labeled a felon for life because we had not increased the grand larceny threshold.
And then as a legislator, I established a public defenders’ office in Prince William, the second most populated county in Virginia, because I saw a need that wasn’t being met and led efforts to recruit more minority judges to the bench. It’s this experience that led my current constituents — Democrats, independents and Republicans — to vote for me in the first place and re-elect me decisively.
Naysayers are nothing new — not for me, or for women. Women, and women of color in particular, have been asked to wait our turn, take a backseat, have our experience minimized and our credentials questioned. But today is a new day. It’s not up to a select few to decide who will lead this great commonwealth — that decision rests with the voters.
We are at an inflection point where the status quo isn’t working for Virginians. People are looking for change. Virginians want a leader who truly understands their concerns, with a track record of fighting back with success, even in systems designed to shut them down.
I’m not a career politician who puts corporate interests over the people’s interests. I’m a woman of the people, and the people are ready for a new leader with a clear vision and fresh ideas to move Virginia forward. As governor, I will bring diverse, high-paying jobs to every corner of the commonwealth, fully fund education so we can prepare our children for the global economy and continue my work to expand broadband.
Experience matters, and I have the right type of experience to ensure that Virginia’s future is better than its past.
Del. Jennifer Carroll-Foy has represented the 2nd District in the House of Delegates since 2018 and is a candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor in 2021. InsideNoVa is publishing this piece as a response to the editorial “Experience Matters,” published July 24.