The political world is messy and frequently brutal, and the media swarms representatives and candidates constantly in search of failures to exploit. Those involved are accused of being corrupt, power-hungry, or underhanded, and the divide between parties often seems impossible to navigate.
So, why would anyone willingly choose to run for an office?
“I want to help people,” said U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) on October 13 to Mason Robinson Professor of Public Policy Steven Pearlstein during the political guest-speaker series, First Tuesday. “That’s always been my overarching concern both as a prosecutor, as an attorney, and as a legislator.”
Wexton studied law at the University of Maryland before continuing at the College of William and Mary Law School. She served several years as an assistant district attorney. In 2014 she was elected to the Virginia state senate, replacing Mark Herring (D) who became Virginia Attorney General. Four years later, Wexton defeated U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock (R) with a 56 percent vote majority. Presently, Wexton is a member of the New Democratic Coalition and is running a congressional re-election campaign against former U.S. Marine Aliscia Andrews (R).
“As the candidate, you are the person who’s running, you are the public face of the campaign, you are the conduit to the community,” Wexton explained, reflecting on her role during a campaign. “I’m the one who ultimately decides what our message is going to be, what our vision will be, what our top issues are, because those are the things that are important to me, what I stand for.”
While Wexton finds herself well-suited in her current position, she did not see herself as a future politician until 2011. Despite her long-held interest in the political process, Wexton said joining politics “came down to seeing things going on that I didn’t agree with.”
“Most [congressional representatives] saw our republic and our democracy might’ve been hanging by a thread and felt the need to step up and do something about it. I think that recent events have proven maybe our concerns were not that hyperbolic after all.”
Recent events have certainly marked a greater division between the stances each party takes on issues. Finding what a state may stand for collectively is a difficult task, and one that is essential to the job of a congressional representative.
“I visited every corner of my district to meet with groups and talk to them about what their needs were and what we can do to help them,” Wexton said, emphasizing how she collects many legislative ideas from local businesses and citizen. She gives particular importance to affordable health care, gun violence prevention, LGBT rights, and tackling climate change, which she characterized as “for real this time.”
“There’s so much pent up demand for all these things—there will be a lot of good we can do. But the first thing we have to do is develop a national strategy to conquer coronavirus, because for too long there has not been leadership at the top, and as a result we have 50 states engaged in a 50 state solution, all bidding against one another for the resources that they need to conquer and crush the virus.”
Pearlstein’s dive into the world of politics continues Tuesday, October 20, at 9 a.m. EDT, when Mason graduate Danny Diaz, BA Communication ’00, will share first-hand experiences as a Republican political and communication strategist. The First Tuesday series, sponsored by the Honors College and the Schar School of Policy and Government, is open to the Mason community. Sign up and participate as we draw nearer to the November 2020 election.