Veena Lothe is campaigning to become the Democratic nominee in the State Senate district that encompasses Henrico and parts of Hanover. The 12th district has been represented by Republican Siobhan Dunnavant since she was first elected to the office in 2015. Dunnavant won that election easily with 57% of the vote. But in 2016, her district voted for Hillary by 2 points, and in 2017 that swing -left grew to a 5 point win for Northam.
Lothe started her campaign with more than a year left until the 2019 election. But this district will require this early of a start if Democrats want to flip it.
We sat down to talk with her about her life, and what she wants to bring to the district.
We first talked about her involvement in the community prior to running for Senate. “I volunteered as a Sunday school teacher, I volunteered in schools, and I was involved in political campaigns. I never really cared to be front and center.” Said Lothe. “I think that changed for a lot of people in 2016 when Trump was elected.” She continues to say that she wants people to see someone like her running, especially after Trump starter a hate campaign against minority’s. “Part of my motivation is that I want people to see someone like me running and to know that is possible. I am 50-years-old, I am from a minority community, I haven’t come up through the political system, I came from the community and grassroots. I want people to see that it is possible”
Veena knows what is like to grow up with the threat of deportation. Her father first worked as a doctor in rural West Virginia so that his family could remain in the country.
“I am from an immigrant family, my parents moved here in the early 1960’s, my dad was a physician, and the way that physicians from other countries got their green card was to go to areas that were underserved. So I grew up in southern-West Virginia, in a very-very small town. It was difficult, we got several deportation orders along the way so it was quite a struggle to be able to stay here. It was a small-town, impoverished, and it was getting worse, but we were accepted there.” Veena says the effectiveness of the foreign doctors in that community really benefited the community. “A lot of the doctors were foreign-born and they really changed the longterm health of that community.”
Lothe says that her dad remained in West Virginia after he received a green card because he wanted to serve the people of the community.
Lothe attended law school at Cornell University in the early 90’s. It was there where she says that she watched the Anita Hill hearings with her roommates. Lothe says that watching the hearings with her roommates made them question what the professional workplace is like, and they were worried about being a woman in that workplace after graduation. But nonetheless, she went out and got a job using her degree to help people. “When I got out of law school I went to Philadelphia and I joined a civil rights firm, we did employment discrimination, sexual harassment lawsuits, and union side-labor law.”
Lothe also worked at an immigration practice – “Basically I think that I brought some of the most incredible people in the world here. The United States has always been a magnet for the best and the brightest, not necessarily the most educated or the people with the most degrees, but the people who are very ambitious and want this kind of environment.” She was helping people come to the country with business visas. “It was a lot of STEM professionals who filled a desperate need in our labor force, STEM professionals from India, Pakistan, the Middle East, and Russia really helped fuel the tech revolution in the United States.
I asked Veena what she thinks about the current Senator Siobhan Dunnavant. “I want to run a positive campaign and I don’t want to use personal attacks. I would say that she is a very bad fit for this district. She is a square peg in an increasingly round district.”
Lothe told me that she thinks Sen. Dunnavant has extreme views on social policy. Richmond 2day recently covered that Senator Amanda Chase was publicly lobbying to keep conversion therapy legal in Virginia. Dunnavant has not been lobbying publicly for conversion therapy like Sen. Chase, but Sen. Dunnavant did support keeping conversion therapy legal during the last General Assembly session.
“She (Dunnavant) voted against banning conversion therapy. Chase was more outspoken on it, but Dunnavant went right along with it. Conversion therapy is the equivalent of torture. Dunnavant wont say outright why she takes the votes that she takes, but she goes along with the hard-right wing,” said Lothe. “I thought that was the most inhumane vote I have ever seen in my life. It was absolutely mind-blowing. I think she is just not voting in the interest of Virginians.”
“I have been happy to be behind the scenes and get the work done, but now I do want to be front and center.”
Veena truly loves the community that surrounds her. “I love how it is changing, how it is dynamic, and how people are so involved in the community.” Lothe noted that you can hear several different languages being spoken when you walk into her kid’s school. “It is just so exciting to be in a community that is finding itself. People are coming together as a community even though they are from different places”
Lothe says that her first priorities if she were to be elected would be updating the states social policies. “First and foremost we need to bring our social policies into 2018. When there is a bill on banning conversion therapy, we need to say yes without thinking about it. These should be non-issues for 2018. Gun safety is something that the Republicans have absolutely refused to consider at all, each and every bill gets killed in committee. There is at least a half-dozen areas where we are lagging behind other states in gun safety for sure. If we can take care of those basics to bring us up to current times, then the three big ones are always out there, its education, healthcare, and making sure that people have jobs that provide a living wage. ”
Lothe wants to raise teacher salaries and cut back on standardized testing, saying part of that issue is that standardized testing has been privatized. Lothe says that most of the healthcare policy comes from the federal government, “so what we can do at the state level is be a voice, we passed Medicaid expansion which is wonderful, there is a couple reforms to Medicaid that I think we can be looking at in the next session.”
Lothe says we need to continue to follow Governor Northam’s lead on workforce development. “I think he did a good job with workforce development. I think we need to go to the high schools and not just focus on kids who want to go to college, but people who want to fill skilled labor jobs across the state.”
Veena Lothe is running to represent the Democratic party in the 2019 election for SD-12. Virginia just saw a Democratic wave of women elected to the House of Representatives in Abigail Spanberger, Elaine Luria, and Jennifer Wexton. The trends of the state, along with this individual Senate District moving to the left in the last two elections, gives the Democrat in this election a good shot of flipping this seat.
“I am an extremely hard worker and I am extremely determined to flip this seat. I think this is going to be a tough race, despite our victories these past two years. Two years of being blue, doesn’t mean we are actually blue. This district is going to be won by hard work. It is the reason I started early, it is the reason I fundraised early, it is the reason I have hired early.”
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