An Exclusive Q&A with Senator Ghazala Hashmi on Her Run for Lieutenant Governor

by | Jun 5, 2024 | NEWS, POLITICS, RICHMOND POLITICS, VIRGINIA POLITICS

In an era of bombastic politics, incendiary rhetoric, and over-the-top political brinksmanship we often forget that the task of effective policy-making is a technical, deliberative, and sometimes exhaustive process that is measured in years, not months. Crafting meaningful legislation that genuinely improves our lives does not bend in the direction of click-bait dopamine or attention starved pundits looking for their next cable news appearance. In an alternative universe, the job of our legislators would be a somber commitment to the process of governance, not political theatre. In short, we need less entertainers and more politicians dedicated to actual public service. 

Enter Senator Ghazala Hashmi. Representing Virginia’s 15th District, she is one of three Democratic candidates vying for the job of Lieutenant Governor. With five legislative sessions to her credit, she exudes a quiet confidence that reveals the hardened edges of a seasoned legislator. RVA Mag caught up with the Senator in her office at the State Capitol in downtown Richmond where we discussed reproductive justice, MAGA extremism, what it means to be progressive in Virginia, and why the stakes surrounding the upcoming elections are so-high.

An Exclusive Q&A with Senator Ghazala Hashmi on Her Run for Lieutenant Governor by Landon Shroder_photo by Ty O’Beaglaoich_RVA Magazine 2024
Photo by Tyler JD Begley @z2b_photography

Landon Shroder: Thank you so much for sitting down and chatting with us about your run for Lieutenant Governor. From a certain perspective it’s either the best of times or the worst of times to be a legislator, where do you fall on this scale? 

Senator Hashmi: I think one of the benefits of being in the state legislature is that we are not as polarized as national politics and we actually get along. I really like my Republican colleagues and we work together in a bipartisan way. We have good conversations behind the scenes, we know and respect each other. 

LS: I doesn’t always seem that way. 

Senator Hashmi: Yeah, that’s not always what shows up in public. Of course we have intense debates around certain issues and those are the ones that show up in the national news or in the media. But for the most part, a lot of what we do on a day-to-day basis in the state legislature is respond to constituent needs and really address those bread and butter issues. How do we pay for state services? How do we make sure that our communities are safe and how do we continue to improve on the work that we are doing? A lot of this is a very bipartisan effort. So I’m always an optimist, no matter what the situation. There are amazing opportunities to continue improving the lives of Virginians — that’s what I think most of us are focused on. 

LS: In your campaign announcement you said we’re one vote away from MAGA type extremism in Virginia. How real is that threat since you just talked about the way bipartisan business is conducted in the State House?

Senator Hashmi: There’s a curious development in the Republican Party over the past, I would say eight years — it’s really been a decade in the making. They have become a party that has to fall lockstep with its leadership, whether that’s national level leadership or even here in Virginia. Unfortunately, it seems that there’s very little room for dissension within the Republican party. Moderating voices are getting harder and harder to find, even here in Virginia. We are one vote away in the Senate, as well as in the house [from a Republican takeover]. 

We’ve seen some of our Republican colleagues introduce complete abortion bans. We’ve seen them introduce bills that would utterly gut public education — dismantle it — and put our public education dollars into private hands. We have seen bills that attack our LGBTQ communities. 

So this is what I mean by saying we are one vote away. We have stopped very critical bills that would have done a great deal of damage to Virginia. Even so, we haven’t been able to stop our governor’s efforts to do things a circuitous way.

LS: In the contest for Lieutenant Governor, we’ve got Mayor Stoney here in Richmond and Senator Rouse down in Hampton Roads. In such a crowded filed, what’s your main differentiator?

Senator Hashmi: My first point is that this is a position I actually want, and I have been sharing that for well over a year. As you know, and with due respect to Mayor Stoney, he wanted the governor’s position — that’s what he was running for. I would argue these are two very different positions, with two separate set of responsibilities. 

I’ve been very clear on the position, which is to be Lieutenant Governor [acting] as president of the Senate. So that’s a clear point of distinction. I think voters want someone who has the experience and inside knowledge of the workings of the Senate. With five sessions under my belt, I have the most experience out of the other two gentlemen — not just in state government, but specifically in Virginia’s Senate.

Secondly, women’s issues are the top concern for so many voters, specifically reproductive healthcare and reproductive justice. I have been working in that space consistently for five sessions. Equally as important is a whole host of other issues impacting women and their families: childcare, economic opportunities, and equal educational opportunities. Out of necessity, women often cycle in and out of jobs because of family care concerns. I can speak to many of those issues and it helps to differentiate me from the other folks that are running. 

Also, if you’re taking a look at Virginia’s demographics, the immigrant population is huge. AAPI (Asian American, Pacific Islander) is the fastest growing demographic and I am the first AAPI individual to run for a statewide office and I think that speaks to the historic nature of this particular campaign. 

LS: You have a real American story, immigrating from India and now ascending to the highest levels of state governance. And I did see that you were at the Indian American Impact Summit recently with the Vice President. How do you assess the overall immigrant experience in Virginia?  

Senator Hashmi: I think Virginia has become a central hub for so many different immigrant communities. We have a tremendously important refugee resettlement program and we have seen waves of refugees and individuals who have come from around the world — from situations of crisis and trauma, coming to Virginia specifically. I think Virginia overall has done really well in helping our immigrant community to assimilate, but we still have areas to work on with language access issues. But more importantly, I think we are also quite conscious of the richness that our immigrant communities bring. In 2020, I carried legislation that established the Office of New Americans. That office was specifically designed to help folks assimilate and encourage entrepreneurship by finding their foothold within their communities and become productive members of society.

A lot of the immigrant communities are the raw talent. Their children become doctors, lawyers, and engineers. They’re working in computer sciences. I think Virginia has done well and we can continue to build on our successes and help many people become a part of the community and really thrive here.

An Exclusive Q&A with Senator Ghazala Hashmi on Her Run for Lieutenant Governor by Landon Shroder_photo by Ty O’Beaglaoich_RVA Magazine 2024
Photo by Tyler JD Begley @z2b_photography

LS: Can we talk about the Right to Contraception Act, which was vetoed by the governor. He wrapped the veto in the language of religious freedom. How do we protect reproductive rights and healthcare or find a compromise position when that stance is so zero-sum and cynical? 

Senator Hashmi: Isn’t it? I would say let’s pull back a little bit and actually see what the bill does because this is a red herring. There’s no question that anyone’s religious freedom is being violated in the legislation. If someone does not want to prescribe contraception, they are not mandated by the bill to do so. And as we just saw yesterday, Donald Trump proclaimed that he is ready to pull back access to contraception. He said we’re gonna send it back to the states for them to regulate. 

LS: Do you think these things were coordinated? The timing seems coincidental.

Senator Hashmi: It’s interesting because there’s been a lot of national interest around what we’ve been doing in Virginia. Trump walked back those comments because I think he wasn’t supposed to say it publicly just yet. But clearly, Clarence Thomas and his concurring opinion after the Dobbs decision said Griswold is next. We want to see whether Griswold is gonna stand or not.

LS: What is Griswold?

Senator Hashmi: Griswold was the 1965 Supreme Court decision that provided the umbrella for the right to privacy, for married couples to use contraception. Until 1965, just disseminating information about contraception was illegal. That’s why we were moving aggressively in Virginia to establish the right to contraception; no matter what happens at the federal level, all people can still access contraceptives. That includes condoms, but more importantly also includes IUDs and Plan B. There’s been an effort nationwide by some groups to conflate contraception with abortion.

LS: In all of your travels as a senator doing constituent services and meeting people, is this a priority for anyone outside of the governor who is trying to build some kind of national profile? I can’t imagine many Virginians sitting down to their dinner tables and thinking that blocking access to contraceptives should be one of their day-to-day priorities.

Senator Hashmi: It’s quite the opposite, right? There are a lot of people who are afraid of what direction we’re seeing our Supreme Court justices go in. When we did a poll — 87%, I think is the number — of Americans and Virginians concur that contraception is an established right. And they don’t want to be thinking about it. But there are very clear efforts driving this narrative that contraceptions are dangerous. Millions of women use birth control pills to regulate their hormones, to make their cycles manageable and pain free. We’re talking about healthcare and there are folks who want to control what women are doing [with their bodies]. They want to have that degree of power and authority over decisions that private citizens should be free to make. 

LS: You claim to be a progressive champion. What does it mean to be a progressive in 2024? This is something Senator Warner and I were talking about too. It does seem like there is a schism forming within the Democratic party over what this means, specifically in the last eight months. 

Senator Hashmi: I think it means something different at state level than it does at the federal level, where that schism is probably much more apparent. What I can say from my perspective, is that at this level, with the kinds of legislation I work on and champion, it really is about focusing on the family — working families in particular. About providing economic opportunities for the wider breadth of our communities and not just for the few who are wealthy and already at the top.

To be a progressive means to focus on all of those intersectional areas that impact our social and economic structures and to provide greater opportunity for others to succeed. Whether it’s housing and finding ways to have equitable access to financing or to be able to live in desegregated neighborhoods. And if you’re talking about progressive values in healthcare, it means providing critical insurance coverage for everybody, most especially around preventative care. If we’re talking about environmental issues, it means being conscious of the fact that climate change is real and happening right in front of our eyes and working to mitigate those impacts.

So all of those are progressive, if you wanna call them progressive. But it really just boils down to fairer structures, more opportunities, and working towards communities that are safe for everyone.

An Exclusive Q&A with Senator Ghazala Hashmi on Her Run for Lieutenant Governor by Landon Shroder_photo by Ty O’Beaglaoich_RVA Magazine 2024
Photo by Tyler JD Begley @z2b_photography

LS: On April 30th, you put out a statement about the police intervention at VCU as students attempted to set up a pro-Palestinian encampment. Obviously this has been a major source of contention on university campuses nationally and in Virginia. You’re also going be chairing a select committee on investigating the police response. As a career educator in the academy, what is the right balance between speech and safety in that context? Because it seems like multiple issues intersect in that one space. 

Senator Hashmi: There are a lot of things important to me around this issue. It’s important that we protect our educational institutions, they are sacred spaces. So protecting academic freedom and protecting freedom of speech is very important. Where else in society do we actually allow people to have thoughtful discussions around complex and complicated issues? Nowhere else — not even your dinner table at Thanksgiving. We’re told not to bring up politics, not to bring up religion; there’s literally no other public space that allows this. 

We’re teaching our students how to talk about difficult issues in a respectful manner and to be able to keep competing ideas in your own head. If we’re teaching students these critical thinking skills and how to debate and dialogue in a classroom, but then telling them they’re not allowed the second they step outside the classroom — what’s the message? Are we actually succeeding as an institution because we want to send people out into the world who can have these complicated conversations and do it the right way. 

So that’s been an issue of concern for me. The second issue was the way that policy decisions were made in reaction to student demonstrations. That’s not the way policy decisions are made at our institutions. There is a shared governance process historically at colleges and universities. So the administrators have a say, but so do faculty, staff, and students. Just looking at it from the outside, I’m not sure that shared governance was followed in the process of developing policies that were a response to what the students were doing.

LS: It did seem like there was a coordinated police response at Va. Tech, UVA, and VCU. It was very swift and aggressive, no real period of dialogue. Was this ordered by the governor’s office? 

Senator Hashmi: That’s a question we want addressed because the governor had very clearly stated earlier in the week that there will be no student encampments. Well that’s not his authority to dictate; he is not the dictator of Virginia, he is the governor. 

LS: This seems like an academic freedom issue as well.

Senator Hashmi: It is. Our institutions have a shared governance system and they also have boards of visitors who are responsible for making these decisions. It doesn’t come from the executive branch. So we need clarity on what exactly happened, who made those decisions, when they were made, and why our students were not allowed to engage in the kind of demonstrations that historically our colleges have always had. 

LS: What will the basis of the investigation be?

Senator Hashmi: It’s really fact finding at this point because of the degrees of misinformation. As for the outcome, my hope is that we have a clearer set of guidelines and policies in place to be able to share. Not just with students, but with the broader community. I hope we get to a point where we are able to accommodate people’s freedom of expression without fear that they’re going to be pepper sprayed or that violent tactics will be used against them. To make sure everybody is given the opportunity to practice their constitutional freedom. If anything turns violent, then of course we need to ensure public safety.

But a lot of times it’s the overwhelming law enforcement presence that becomes triggering to so many student protests in particular. 

LS: Last question, since I know good governance is part of your platform. If Trump does get back into office, how do we ensure things like accountability and transparency within the structures of good governance remain foundational to the Commonwealth? 

Senator Hashmi: This is why state legislatures have become even more important and are going be absolutely critical in the next decade. This is where democracy is going to be protected and transparency and accountability to the public is going to be safeguarded. Hopefully we will be able to weather another Trump presidency. I’m not sure that we would be able to, but the only way is with state legislatures in place. 

We saw really good people in America stand up for what’s right. I think in particular about Georgia where the election officials refused to give in to the bullying tactics. These are folks who put Americans first, not hard line party adherents. We’re going to count on people like that to fight for what is right — like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. Even Mike Pence did what was right. So we’re going to count on the core values of individuals to hold up the core values of our structures.

LS: I think that’s a great place to call it. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. 

Senator Hashmi: Thank you Landon. You’re very easy to talk to you. So thank you.

LS: That’s probably debatable!

Find out more about Senator Hashmi HERE

*This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos by Tyler JD Begley.

Landon Shroder

Landon Shroder

Landon is a foreign policy and communications professional from Richmond specializing in high risk and complex environments, spending almost 20 years abroad in the Middle East and Africa. He hold’s a Master’s Degree from American University in Conflict Resolution and was a former journalist and producer for VICE Media. His writing on foreign affairs has been published in World Policy Journal, Chatham House, Small Wars Journal, War on the Rocks, and the Fair Observer, along with being a commentator in the New York Times on the Middle East.




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