A long-time environmental activist, Simonds will deliver the environmental policy that VA-94 needs
This past week, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport hosted the only debate this election cycle for residents of Virginia’s 94th district delegates. Candidate Shelly Simonds and incumbent David Yancey took to the stage for an hour of policy-specific discussion and debate that drew local and national media attention following the 2017 election results that ended in a tie, with the solution being a drawing at random chance that favored Yancey. It was clear that the two opponents were once again ready to hash out the specifics of why each believed themselves to be the best candidate for our district, and the community was ready to hear all that had to share.
Following the debate, I got the chance to chat with Simonds about her background in environmental activism, and her future in advocating for environmental policy to benefit the people of Hampton Roads. She has received the endorsement of the Sierra Club, one of America’s largest and most active environmental advocacy groups, in this campaign cycle for her longtime support of the environmental movement. Not only was I impressed with her vision for environmental advocacy as our district’s delegate, but her kindness, charisma and eloquence made it apparent to me that she is a leader that is enthusiastically ready and able to ignite change in and for our community.
Platform issues for Simonds in her campaign include raising teacher salaries in Newport News Public Schools (she has served on the school board for many years), advocating healthcare coverage for all, passing common sense gun control laws and raising the Virginia minimum wage. But Simonds has not, and likely will not soon forget her roots as an educator, an advocate for young people and an environmental activist when she makes crucial voting decisions regarding the environment and the future generations of VA-94.
When Simonds first moved to Newport News, she immediately became a passionate and integrated community advocate, working with the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) in environmental advocacy and citizen-lobbying in Richmond. As a citizen-advocate, Simonds worked with legislators like State Senator John Miller to advocate for environmental protections and policies that were needed in communities like Newport News. Helping to win re-election for Miller was one of Simonds’ first steps in advancing environmental protections for Newport News as Miller was a decisive vote in keeping hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for shale gas out of critical communities in the Commonwealth. And since then, Simonds has developed many more plans to continue this fight when she herself heads to Richmond
It was with the LCV that Simonds first entered the legislative offices of Richmond and began to understand the need for politicians who genuinely understand and advocate for the needs of their communities. A huge problem Simonds was immediately made aware of was the fact that major corporations like Dominion Energy have massively influential purchasing power in the Commonwealth; she expressed that even after listening to her and many others concerns, politicians were often more interested in pleasing Dominion Energy’s agenda than our community’s. It is because of this experience that Simonds makes it very clear to all who she encounters on the campaign trail that her interests are her community’s interests, not special corporate interests, and not what Dominion or other corporations pay her to be interested in.
Furthermore, Simonds’ has environmental policy plans and stances for Newport News that go beyond goals of immediate economic booms or pleasing political colleagues, but rather, are focused on the long-term development of sustainable communities.
When I asked her about the specific environmental policies and goals she will fight for in Richmond, Simonds outlined sustainable, local infrastructure development towards renewable energy sources as her major goal for Newport News. Specifically referencing offshore wind and solar opportunities, Simonds urged that we have to “unleash innovation” and help build demand for such industries like offshore wind that could thrive and bring thousands of jobs as well as clean energy to the peninsula for decades to come. She outlined policy-specific plans to achieve such goals, and these included “reviving” the Regional Greenhouse Gas Inventory (abbreviated RGGI, which is a market-based, carbon trading solution) as it is implemented in the Commonwealth and by working to raise Virginia’s Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), or the amount of our total energy consumption that is required to be sourced renewably. By doing so, Simonds believes that a demand for renewables in Hampton Roads will rise, and so will investments and job markets.
When it comes to the Virginia Green New Deal, introduced just this past year as a part of the national mobilization advocating for a just social and economic transition to renewable energy in climate change “frontline communities” like Newport News, Simonds said humbly while she hasn’t kept up with the specifics recently and hasn’t taken a public stance on the specific resolution, that policies with goals of climate justice are policies she is confident she will support when it comes time to vote.
With this said, Simonds has an undoubtedly enthusiastic and firm stance on environmental issues, and our district’s most prominent environmental advocates with the Sierra Club and other organizations agree. I have no personal doubt in my mind that Simonds will be a climate justice champion for our community and in Richmond.
Finally, I asked Simonds about what messages she might have for CNU students, as well as her thoughts on leadership, which is such an integral facet of our campus community. Simonds expressed her optimism about young voters, especially college students, in her remarks about CNU students. She said:
“I understand that college life is challenging for voting – absentee ballots, getting to the polling place, knowing where to go, knowing candidates – but it is worth it to persevere as singular votes can make a huge difference in Virginia: your one vote could make a huge difference. During the ‘blue wave’ of 2017, the diversity in age of voters struck me, and I realized that young people coming out to vote, being concerned about their environment, and about their planet: that was the blue wave. Remember that you have the power.”
Expanding further on leadership, Simonds emphasized the importance of building professional relationships and focusing on the “long-game” of leadership, which she described as a lifelong process of working in and for your communities, no matter where you live or work. She said that this point in our lives, our undergraduate careers, are pivotal times to practice and hone these important skills.
Altogether, my interview with Simonds revealed to me concretely what many others supporters have known: Simonds is ready to fight for our future.
As a longtime advocate for the causes that matter to young people, like environmental protections, Simonds knows that leadership goes beyond term-limits and policies, and that it is a long-game that relies heavily on relationship-building, empowering others, and pouring great effort into your community’s betterment. What she expressed to me regarding the importance of collaborative leadership and relationship-building gives me confidence that she will work for policy that matter across the aisle, but her fervor leaves no one to guess where she will stand firm on issues like climate change and resource conservation.
Simonds will be on the ballot for the Virginia House of Delegates election, happening on Tuesday, Nov. 5. CNU students may have new polling locations, but new locations can be determined using elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal.
~James Duffy, Staff Writer~