This International Women’s Day, we talked to Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy, a former public defender who flipped a crucial seat in the Virginia House in 2017. Here’s what she had to say on running for office, the battle for the Equal Rights Amendment, and what’s at stake in the 2019 elections.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: In 2017 you were one of fifteen Democrats who flipped a seat in the Virginia House, during the first major election since Trump became president. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since becoming a state legislator?
There’s two things I’ll say. First, nothing replaces hard work. Some people believe that when you’re running for office, it’s all about endorsements, or how much money you raise, but nothing replaces getting out, on the doors, and getting in front of as many people as possible and making your case as for why you should be their representative.
The second biggest thing I’ve learned is the importance of bipartisanship because there are some things that we will always disagree on, as Republicans versus Democrats. But what I like to focus on are the things that we can move forward. We can all agree that we want our children to get a quality, world-class education. We believe that homeless people should be housed. I think we can agree that we have a duty to protect the environment. The challenge is the ways we go about it, because at the end of the day, we have the same goals. So when you are able to work with stakeholders and bring everyone to the table and work out issues, you may not get the legislation that’s ideal for you, but you can come up with a good compromise. A lot of my legislation has passed unanimously with bipartisan support.
Q: What advice would you give to another woman thinking about running for office?
Just do it. I think that as women we have a tendency to talk ourselves out of things and to believe that we’re not qualified or now’s not our time. There will always be reasons and excuses. You can always talk yourself out of doing anything. But if you believe you have a message, you’re willing to put in the work, and you have the support of your family and friends, then I say go for it.
We need more qualified, competent people to run for office because we need to give the people something to vote for. And with all that’s happening, I think the message of hope is great.
With so many women running for office, it’s not a moment — it’s a movement. And we’re going to see so many women standing up and saying they want to run. But you have to make the decision first. And once you make that decision, you will see that there are organizations and other women who are out there who will support you and mentor you and give you the tools that you need in order to be successful. But first, you have to make the decision to get in the race. And I say unequivocally, just do it.
Q: We are big fans of your “Promise Kept” slogan on Twitter to champion Democrats’ accomplishments in Virginia and personal campaign pledges that you’ve delivered. What accomplishment are you most proud of?
The thing that I’m most proud of is not even legislation that actually passed, but because of the strides that we made with it, because it’s something that has shook the entire country, that we have presidential candidates talking about it, where a couple months ago people said it was a dead issue, that it would never go anywhere — I have to say that my push for the Equal Rights Amendment has to be my most proudest accomplishment from this last session. We literally could have gotten it done if not for one [Republican] vote.
Even though we weren’t successful in getting it over the finish line, now we hear that Arkansas, North Carolina, Florida, and all of these other states are now excited to be the thirty-eighth state. I like to think we played a big part in that. And so I’d have to say that is probably that is my most proudest thing that I was able to get done.
Now the most impactful thing I was able to get done was passing two things: coal ash legislation and the Diversifying Teacher Workforce Act. The Virginia Education Association called the Diversifying Teacher Workforce Act one of the most revolutionary bills affecting minority recruitment and retention of teachers in the past several decades. So that is definitely one of the most impactful pieces of legislation that I was able to get passed this last session.
Almost every door I knocked in 2017 asked me to fight 4 Medicaid expansion. In just 2 months, 233,179 Virginians now have accessible, quality, affordable health insurance.— Jennifer Carroll Foy (@JCarrollFoy) March 1, 2019
✅ 9,107 Prince William County residents &
✅ 2,783 Stafford County residents.
Q: When it’s been a really rough day, what keeps you going?
My twin boys. They are 19 months old and when I’ve had a really tough day in court or when I’ve had a tough day down in the General Assembly lobbying for my bills or just really, you know, having to get through hours of voting on the floor, in meetings and panels — to look into their sweet faces and to hear them call for their mom. And they give the best hugs. I mean it makes everything so worth it.
Q: This year, the entire Virginia House and Senate are up for reelection. How do you think this year will compare to 2017?
This year is going to be bigger and better than anything we could ever imagine. We are running with fairer maps, and we’ve made a clear case for which party is for equality and which one is not. The Republicans successfully killed every piece of LGBTQ anti-discrimination legislation that we put forth. They actively killed the Equal Rights Amendment three times. They have shut down all of our promised gun safety legislation that we put forth.
And with the quality of women candidates that we have running, I think we are going to flip so many seats and have such a huge impact that it’s going to be historic. I have not seen such a groundswell of excitement and activism in my life! People are politically in-tune in a way that I cannot remember, so I think that it’s going to be a huge deal. We’re going to take back the Virginia House and take back the Virginia Senate and it’s going to be incredible.
Q: Why should someone who doesn’t live in Virginia care about flipping the Virginia House and Senate? What’s at stake?
I still like to believe that out of all of the states that have not passed the Equal Rights Amendment, Virginia is still the closest to getting it done. I am forever optimistic that Virginia will be that last state needed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment– where one hundred and sixty million women will get their constitutional equality.
Not only that, but Virginia has the opportunity to lead in so many areas. We were able to pass Medicaid expansion last year. Paid family medical leave is on the table. A minimum wage increase is on the table. All of these wonderful platform issues that have become a part of the Democratic agenda. If we really want to see these things pass and benefit millions of people, then we want Virginia to win.
We are part of the South. We can prove that if it can happen in Virginia, it can happen in North Carolina and South Carolina and Mississippi and so on. Everyone in the country has a buy-in into what happens here in Virginia.