The two local Democrats vying for their party’s nomination in the June 11 statehouse primary participated in a candidates’ forum Saturday in Warrenton. Cybersecurity consultant Laura Galante, of Marshall, presented a platform promising to work for access to rural broadband, while media producer Tristan Shields came out vowing to fight Republicans on their home turf.
Hosted by the Fauquier County Democratic Party, posted live on Facebook, and moderated by Woodbridge Del. Elizabeth Guzman, the forum offered a glimpse of two very different candidates both competing to run against District 18 Republican Del. Michael Webert. A Republican, Webert is a farm manager from Marshall first elected in 2011 to the Virginia House of Delegates.
“I’m running for delegate because I want our district to be known for what it is—hardworking, entrepreneurial, and close-knit,” said Galante, a first-time political candidate. “We need someone to go to Richmond who is an experienced, serious leader with a vision.”
Besides increasing access to reliable internet in the country, she emphasized a vision of equal public education opportunities for all Virginia counties, big and small, and enhanced access to healthcare.
Shields, in his opening statement, referenced his 2017 run as the Democratic nominee against Webert, and how Shields’ father, Patrick, was his No. 1 supporter.
“He still is of course, but he’s a lot less active due to his ongoing fight with cancer. That fight definitely made me pause when I was deciding whether or not I should run again this year. But when he reminded me of the value of rural Democratic candidates … by fighting Republicans on their home turf, we enabled candidates to win,” Shields said.
Shields gave a nod to Guzman, elected in 2017, saying it was her vote that allowed Virginia to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Then the candidate, raised in Culpeper County, went after the other party.
“I lived in District 18 during the Great Recession. I started a small business here. I have seen the collapse of our working families and our business community first hand. Republicans love to do two things—unfunded mandates and give tax breaks to the uber-wealthy, of which we have a disproportionate amount here in District 18. The result is we continue to use our working families as a piggy bank for basic services,” Shields said.
He pointed out the pay gap between teachers in Fauquier and Prince William County, how the area has among the most costly commutes in America and sympathized with firefighters and sheriff’s deputies, saying they are stretched too thin.
“Y’all, we are a rich area that somehow has all the problems of a poor district,” Shields said.
He claimed the incumbent is one of the district’s wealthiest citizens and said money won’t beat him.
“We have a chance to flip this district, but you need a candidate who knows the 18th. You need a candidate who is known in the 18th. You need a candidate who is from the 18th and has a plan to beat Michael Webert. Y’all, I am that candidate,” Shields said.
In her opening statement, Galante talked about helping to create apprenticeships to fill the many empty jobs in the various building trades and implementing programs to boost farmers.
“We have a gorgeous rural district that’s built on farmland and we have an increasing number of farms taking on innovative practices, but they need assistance on how you market well and how to access broader markets,” she said. “We need to tap into the spending that is already going on in our school systems and hospitals to give good markets for local, Virginia grown fruits, vegetables and livestock. We have an opportunity to pilot a strong, local agriculture program right here in the 18th district.”
Galante championed the concept of world-class education for all sizes of public school systems and broadening medical choices in rural areas.
“We’re in a desert in terms of providers in the mental health space … A big piece of this revolves around tele-health, the ability to deliver remote services to you,” she said, mentioning how the Free Clinic in Fauquier was providing mental health services for clients through consultations on the computer.
Improving internet access is at the heart of improving opportunity for the district, Galante added.
“We’ve all found these charming ways to pretend we don’t need constant access and good internet speed. It’s not right, it’s not charming, it’s holding us back,” she said.
Galante talked about a local mom she knows through 4-H and how the woman had to turn down a job that involved tele-commuting due to lack of high speed internet.
“This is about jobs, it’s about kids being able to do their research project at home,” she said. “This is core to our to economic development and it is a key piece of what we need to push in Richmond where for far too long the larger telecoms have dictated which companies get to access the fiber-optics that run straight through the counties here.”
Asked how she would work with other delegates from across the aisle, Galante, who formerly worked for the Defense Department before launching her own firm, said she would avoid divisive national issues and instead focus on building infrastructure in the district, which includes parts of Brandy Station, Rixeyville and Jeffersonton.
“I will use issues and discussion points that are not electrifying cultural issues as a way to talk to everyone,” she said.
Shields, asked the same question, said he could easily work with other Democrats, then chastised incumbent state GOP leaders for not attending enough community meetings.
“We’ve got to acknowledge that Republicans are very oppositional in Virginia. They’re going to fight us and to me the only way that makes sense is to put pressure on them. We can put pressure on them by showing up,” he said.
On the issue of abortion and the current effort to overturn Roe vs. Wade, both candidates were measured in their responses. Galante said having an abortion is a heart-wrenching, painful decision for any woman to make.
“I’m a mother, I’m Catholic, I find that unthinkable,” she said, adding the procedure still needs to be legal and safe. Galante said education, access to contraception and easier adoption laws could help curtail the number of abortions.
Shields said having an abortion is a horrible decision for any woman to face. However, he added, Republican tactics are now shifting to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court case that made it legal.
Shields predicted it would happen, after which Virginia lawmakers would have to decide whether to make abortion illegal here. “If you care about this issue you better come out and vote,” he said.