Virginia State Senate District 17 includes all of Orange County, part of Spotsylvania County, all of the city of Fredericksburg, part of Culpeper County, part of Albemarle County and part of Louisa County. Voters should check their registration to find their Districts and polling places.

Two Democratic candidates are vying for the party nomination in the June 11 Democratic Primary. The District 17 Republican Primary is also happening June 11. The winner from each party will run against each other in the November state election.

The Democratic candidates are:

Ben Hixon

Age: 37

Place of residence: Culpeper

Education: NYU, Hunter College, University of Washington

Experience: My training in computer engineering and cutting-edge artificial intelligence research gives me a pragmatic problem-solving approach to politics. I like to boil complex problems down to easily-implementable solutions and I won’t let partisanship get in the way of finding the best solution to the problem at hand. I have a proven record of success leading a county-wide organization and growing the Democratic Party in conservative areas. As Chair of the Democratic Party of Culpeper County, I instituted forward-thinking reforms that revitalized our local party. Innovative fundraising ideas, an active new Culpeper Young Democrats group, postcard campaigns for voter education, exciting events throughout the county, and technology-driven precinct operations all raised the profile of the Democratic Party in Culpeper. On my watch, Abigail Spanberger won all 4 precincts in the Town of Culpeper. Prior to that, I ran for the House of Delegates against Nick Freitas. I was the first Democratic nominee in my district to win a precinct since the 1990s and one of the few Democrats in Virginia in 2017 to match the Governor’s performance.

Why are you running for the state senate?

Until 2017, running for office was the last thing on my mind. When my partner (now husband) of over 15 years was offered his dream job at the Library of Congress here in Culpeper, I followed him, intending to turn my artificial intelligence research and engineering experience into a tech startup. But then Donald Trump got elected and my priorities completely changed. I felt that our politics had been overtaken by divisiveness and partisanship instead of neighborliness and tolerance.

Wanting to fight back, I jumped into local politics, running for the House of Delegates in 2017 and then becoming Chair of the Democratic Party of Culpeper, successfully growing the Democratic Party here in Culpeper and flipping our town blue last year for Abigail Spanberger. Her common sense, compassion, and willingness to work for everyone is exactly what we need in our politics.

My opponent, Senator Bryce Reeves, represents the opposite. His time in office has been defined by personal ambition, corporate funding, and extreme divisiveness. In 2017 he even campaigned for Lt. Governor on preventing openly gay people like me from serving as judges. I’m running for office because our district deserves a public servant who will put decency and a sense of duty ahead of divisiveness and self-interest, and who will champion freedom and opportunity for everyone.

If elected, what would be your No. 1 issue?

Education. Specifically, I would expand vocational training opportunities and advocate for the trades and more trade schools throughout our district, raise teacher pay because our teachers are getting paid far below the national average which causes low morale and a drain of talent, eliminate the SOLs, and increase the number of school psychologists, counselors, and social workers.

Amy Laufer

Age: 47

Place of residence: Albemarle County

Education: University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, bachelor’s degree in geology, Teachers College Columbia University, Master’s in Education.

Experience: Following college, I joined the Peace Corps, where I served in a rural school in Jamaica. I became passionate about education, and when I returned, I became a teacher. My first job in Virginia was in Louisa County schools where I worked as a middle school math and science teacher. When my second child was born with a rare medical condition, I made the difficult choice to stay at home. I served on the Commission for Children and Families as an advocate for children with special needs like my own. I went on to be elected to the Charlottesville City School Board where I served for seven years with time served as both the Vice Chair and Chair. I am also the founder of Virginia’s List, a PAC with the goal of electing women to Virginia state office.

Personal: husband, Aharon, children Hannah, 15, Adam, 13, and Henry, 11. I enjoys taking our dog Schuyler for walks, doing Zumba, and travelling.

Why are you running for the state senate?

I am running for state senate because I want a representative who will vote for the Equal Rights Amendment and acknowledge climate change.

I believe we deserve a representative who will listen to their constituents and act in their best interest. I want to bring my experience growing up in a rural community, raising a child with special needs, teaching in our public schools, and advocating for our community on the school board to the state senate.

If elected, what would be your No. 1 issue?

I am extremely passionate about education. We need our schools to be fully funded and our teachers to be properly paid. As a Head Start student, a former middle school math and science teacher, and a school board member, I know that when children come to school behind, it is that much harder for them to succeed. For that reason, I know we need to invest in universal pre-school.

Additionally, many of our trade workers are reaching retirement age. We need to invest in vocational training and certificate programs so that our students can graduate with the skills they need to enter the workforce. We need new educational opportunities for our students because investing in education will improve our future.

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