RVA Magazine spoke to state Senator and candidate for governor Jennifer Carroll Foy about career politicians, the relationship between police and the military, and making real progress in Virginia.
Last month, as the Virginia General Assembly debated a variety of police reform bills, RVA Magazine sat down with Jennifer Carroll Foy, a member of the House of Delegates, representing Virginia’s 2nd House of Delegates district in NoVA. A public defender and former magistrate, Carroll Foy was also one of the first women to graduate from Virginia Military Institute (VMI). Carroll Foy is a 2021 candidate for Governor of Virginia, and hopes to be the first Black woman elected governor in the United States.
DD: Good afternoon, Delegate Carroll Foy, and thank you for sitting with us. You’ve been quoted saying, “The politics of the past are not the change we need, and the politicians of the past won’t save us.” Were you referring to your opponents in the 2021 gubernatorial race?
JCF: If we want real change, we need a new leader with a clear vision on how to move us forward. There are career politicians running in this gubernatorial race, and with this movement, people want change.  will be a consequential election: trying to keep the majority, defeat this invisible enemy called COVID-19, and jump start our economy here in Virginia. It takes creative solutions, and the status quo isn’t working any longer.
DD: To voters who look at Terry McAuliffe and might imagine a potentially stabilizing force with the experience to help Virginia through a challenging time, what would you say?
JCF: Now’s the time for new leadership, because we’ve never had a governor who has governed during a racial reckoning such as the one we have now. No one has ever governed during a recession more akin to the Great Depression. No one has ever governed in addressing the global pandemic that we have currently. So experience matters — and you have to have the right type of experience. As a former foster mom, public defender, magistrate judge, community organizer, I am here for the people, and I’ve always been on the side of fighting for the people. Do you want someone who has real world experience and who’s in this for them, or someone who may be in this for themselves?
DD: Could you point to anything during McAuliffe’s governorship where you felt he was not on the right side of people’s interests?
JCF: The Mountain Valley Pipeline is something that should’ve never happened when we’re addressing climate change here in the Commonwealth. We’re talking about racial equity here in the Commonwealth, knowing that it was going to go through a historically Black community in Union Hill. There’s a number of things I can point to say, hey we can do better, right?
DD: You mentioned “career politicians” earlier. Would you consider Senator [Jennifer] McClellan a career politician?
JCF: Yeah, she’s been in the General Assembly for almost two decades. [When I] say career politician, I mean people who are entrenched in politics. People are looking for a woman of the people, someone who understands a Virginian’s everyday struggle.
DD: Senator McClellan has supported progressive police reform bills during special session. For those on the left looking for legislative and policy contrasts between two gubernatorial candidates, how would you differentiate your record and platforms from McClellan’s?
JCF: While I’ve been in the General Assembly, I have been one of the most impactful and accomplished legislators, fighting for workers and women and families since day one. I’ve never taken a dime from Dominion, knowing they are a regulative monopoly here in Virginia. I’m for robust transformational policy, such as legalizing marijuana, reforming our criminal justice system. As the first public defender ever elected to the General Assembly, I have been championing cash bail reform and other policies to make our criminal justice system more fair and more equitable. Not because these are sexy, trending topics, but because I’ve always been in this fight, and I’ve kept all my promises made since I ran in 2017, whether it is cleaning up coal ash throughout Virginia [or] helping to expand Medicaid and give teacher salary increases.
DD: Increasingly, progressives are showing skepticism about the Virginia Democratic Party. Are you confident you can build a coalition to push through progressive policy?
JCF: Absolutely. I take it back to my training at Virginia Military Institute. Being one of the first women to ever graduate from one of the top military colleges in this country taught me how to work alongside any and everyone, because I am focused on the mission.
If you are throwing around divisive rhetoric and are known for partisan politics, you won’t get anything done. How I’ve been able to be effective is leaning on that military training I’ve had and continuing, even in the majority, to reach across the aisle and pass a lot of my bills in a bipartisan fashion.
DD: Let’s talk a little bit about the military. 43 percent of the American military is made up of people of color. Many families of color see the military as their best hope for socioeconomic advancement. What are your thoughts on our American model, which leverages the promise of economic advancement to entice communities with fewer resources into the military and potentially into combat?
JCF: Going into the Armed Forces is an honorable task. Many people do it for many different reasons, whether it’s financial stability and security for themselves and their family. You go through a maturation process which I think is equivalent to nothing else, and it teaches life skills and politics. I think it teaches honor and integrity and public service in way that I don’t think you can get really anywhere else. I think it’s great and I would like to see more people, especially in this current climate, understand and acknowledge and respect the sacrifices that these individuals who enter the military are facing, especially with the recent attacks from Trump and some other cohorts, of questioning military leaders’ motives and calling people who are prisoners of war and died on the battlefield “losers” and things of that nature. This is a toxic climate right now, and I think we have to work vigorously to counter that with the truth. And the truth is the men and women in uniform are to be respected and honored above all else.
DD: In my view, we have to differentiate between institutions and individuals. Observers have drawn direct links between US domestic policing and US international military actions, explicitly connecting regimes like Israel to US police training. Our government, via the CIA, also fought to uphold South African apartheid, by helping to criminalize and locate Nelson Mandela before his imprisonment. Given that you’ve participated in the US military establishment, do you have a critique of the US military’s connection to structures of inequality worldwide, and how it may also connect to our domestic policing issues?
JCF: I think that’s a really good question, and so to answer your question: have I really sat and thought about those connections? I haven’t. What I can say is that when you think of the military, you have to think of individuals who are taking orders. Right? We have a Commander-in-Chief you have to listen to, and so if a soldier is thinking about questioning or debating orders, you’re talking about people’s lives at risk. You’re talking about missions being compromised, and so the problem is when people who are nefarious use the military as an extension or arm or tool or weapon to strike against their enemies or people they don’t deem desirable.
DD: What about the mode of intervention of the US Military, where we essentially occupy sovereign countries and install governments via various modes of persuasion, violence, and politics — are you critical of that mode of operation?
JCF: Yes, so it’s a hard question to answer, and here’s why: when we insert ourselves into foreign countries’ policies and we bomb these countries or we do things that is to their detriment, then do I think we oftentimes have an obligation to assist and help in their recovery and to build them back up? Yes I do.
I am not critical of the US military for taking orders, and doing something they’re required to do. I would be more critical of the legislators and the Commander-in-Chief who have ordered them to do so, and so it’s about questioning their motives and their logic for jeopardizing the lives of Americans, of citizens, of soldiers. So it depends on what country you’re talking about. It depends on why we’re there, how long we’re going to be there, why we’re occupying. That’s why it’s hard for me to give a specific answer because it’s just different, country by country, situation by situation.
But for the most part, I understand what it means to be ordered to do something, and you have to obey that order. If we have an issue with it, then we need to take it up with the people who are making decisions and not the people who are executing and doing what they’ve been charged and sworn to do.
DD: Are you critical of our relationship with Israel?
JCF: So that is something that I have to say that I’ve been thinking about. I can follow up with you on that.
DD: Would you commit to completely ridding the Virginia State Police of its inventory of military equipment that was provided by the United States military?
JCF: There’s nothing that I can think of right now that I would have exception to, so I’m going to say yes.
DD: Do you support a complete banning of no-knock warrants in Virginia?
JCF: Yes, I do support banning no-knock warrants here in Virginia.
DD: There’s a split among some of the leading activists: some believe that civilian review boards should be mandatory and legislated down in detail in the bill, and others believe they should be optional and that municipalities should each decide the way these boards look. Where do you stand?
JCF: Yes, I initially favored mandating because I felt like that is the direction we need to go, and some communities or localities may be reluctant because this is change and change can be scary.
However, I’ve been hearing from a lot of the same activists that you are referring to, and they’re talking to me about why they don’t want it mandatory and that they don’t want these localities feeling it’s being pushed upon them then it’s going to be a lot of hostility. I’m still debating how I’m gonna fall on that, but I can tell you initially I was definitely for mandating civilian review boards because I think that’s one of the only ways you’re definitely going to get it in the localities who, let’s be honest, need it the most.
DD: At the moment, we have a conservative Democratic establishment standing in the way of the most aggressive police reforms in Virginia. If you agree we need to move the needle as far as the priorities and agenda of the establishment, how would you do so?
JCF: That has been the million-dollar question. Democrats aren’t monolithic; you have people who represent different areas. Sometimes we’re not able to be as bold and transformational as we want because we may be outnumbered by centrists or moderates, people who don’t believe in complete bold change.
The way that you alter that is to continue to elect leaders who will be bold and transformational until they are the majority. Then you can push this type of legislation through. Until that happens, there will always be a wall there, or a siphoning off of bills or parts of a bill that we really need in order to make change. That’s what at the end of the day has to happen.
DD: Do you have a message that you want to send to Ralph Northam, Terry McAuliffe, Dick Saslaw, Creigh Deeds, Scott Surovell — Democrats who have been active in diluting and stifling the more progressive versions of the bills?
JCF: I work with many of these people, and I’ve gone toe to toe with a lot of them on a lot of good bills. I just have to continue to advocate and lobby and hope they see the light. But I’m confident because I know Virginia is trending to be bluer, and there won’t be a place for people who want incremental change, or who want to teeter on the fence. I think the change we need is going to happen on its own, and I’m excited to be in the Governor’s seat to help lead that change.
DD: The previous Commonwealth’s Attorney declined to bring charges in Marcus-David Peters’ case. Colette McEachin, the current Commonwealth’s Attorney, has said repeatedly that she’s looking at it. Richmond City Councilman Mike Jones has openly advocated for reopening that case. Do you have a position as to whether CA McEachin should reopen that case?
JCF: I do believe that the Commonwealth’s Attorney Office should reopen the case. It should be thoroughly investigated. He was having a mental health emergency, he was nude, there was no threat of harm or danger at that time — you can clearly see he didn’t have a weapon, given the fact that he had no clothes on.
Again, it goes to the lack of experience, the lack of training I believe these officers have, [the] crisis intervention training and de-escalation skills that they needed. They could have readily identified that this man is having a mental health emergency and called community services board and dispatched them out — come calm him down, and hopefully get him emergency custody orders so he can be treated. Oftentimes people are going undiagnosed, or they’re off their medications for whatever reason, and this is what happens. I have many clients like this, and I greatly empathize. I think the case should have another look at and should be thoroughly and independently investigated.
DD: What’s your position on marijuana legalization?
JCF: I support it so much that I am carrying the legalization of marijuana bill, even though some Republicans and Democrats have asked me not to. While I think that decriminalization will have a place in helping to reduce mass incarceration, it does absolutely nothing, according to a 2017 Virginia Crime Commission study, to address the racial disparities that Black and brown people suffer from our possession of marijuana laws.
It’s time for Virginia to lead, and one of the things we can do is legalize the simple possession of marijuana for personal use. After that, we can tax and regulate it, and use that money for projects we haven’t had the revenue stream to be able to do.
I look forward to passing that bill next session. Statistics and polling show that the overwhelming majority of Virginians want the legalization of marijuana. It’s time for us to listen to the people we represent and get this done.
DD: Are you worried at all about the possibility of a third party on the left disrupting the Democratic gubernatorial race in 2021?
JCF: It does not concern me. I’m not running against anyone else, I am running for the people of Virginia. At the end of the day, I know that I am the right leader for this moment, and that’s exactly why I’m running for Governor of Virginia.
DD: Are you confident your leadership is best positioned within the Democratic Party structure?
JCF: I’m a tried and true Democrat. People call me progressive, and that’s fine. I’m a strong Christian and I adhere to my Christian principles of housing the homeless and feeding the hungry and helping to make sure that everyone can work one job, put food on the table, have access to healthcare, and go to safe school. If that’s progressive, that’s great, but it’s just who I was raised to be.
Top Photo via Jennifer Carroll Foy/Facebook