New Candidate Endorsement Alert: Virginia

Melanie Cornelisse and her family

Last year, Blue Virginia ranked the flippability of all all 100 House of Delegates districts-- based on no boundary changes-- for 2021. And based on no candidates. HD-78 (Chesapeake City) was 8th from the bottom-- very red. Trump beat Hillary 62-33% in 2016. In his successful Senate reelection bid last year, Tim Kaine also lost this district, and also to an extremist crackpot, 56% to 42%. And the extremist crackpot holding the seat now and running for reelection this year is Jay Leftwich, who had no real opponent in 2019 and waltzed back into his seat with 91.3% of the vote, despite an atrocious record.

This year, however, there is a candidate going up against Leftwich (firstbsince 2013-- and not a standard-variety Republican-lite careerist. Melanie Cornelisse is a genuine progressive Democrat-- a proud of it.

Melanie was trained as an art historian and works now as a professional seamstress. Her family will tell you she spends a lot of time advocating for a wide variety of issues: an end to gun violence, better public health (an umbrella term she told me that she uses to include women’s reproductive health, pandemic mitigation and mental/physical health care as a human right), social justice, the environment and voter rights. "Given that the last presidential election went handily to Biden," she told me yesterday, "we are seeing a growing blue wave forming here in Chesapeake, but it’s going to be a tight race." Blue America has endorsed her and you can contribute to her grassroots campaign by clicking on the ActBlue legislative candidate on the left. Please read her guest post below and then consider if you want to help her replace a Trumpist in a changing part of Virginia.

Hold My Baby While I Throw This Hat In The Ring

by Melanie Cornelisse

Yes, that's me in Virginia Beach, with my youngest on my hip, speaking into the megaphone held by a fellow Moms Demand Action advocate. This is how we get work done- with little ones on our laps or in strollers while we canvass or call bank for legislators who have pledged to get good laws passed. And all of this work is possible with the help of our friends and family. This is how Virginia MOMS helped to flip the Virginia General Assembly blue and got critical gun safety legislation passed here. But nothing is a done deal, and there’s still so much more work to do.

Let me take you back a few years. The next pair of photos shows the following: The left photo is one I took at the Special Session called by our Virginia Governor Northam in 2018 for the General Assembly to respond to the Virginia Beach mass shooting in which twelve city workers were killed in a city government building. The photo shows my friends and Moms Demand Action advocates talking about the then recent Virginia Beach mass shooting to a national news team. We are all standing in line outside a capital building, waiting for our turn to speak with state legislators. My MOMS friend is a survivor of the shooting, her husband worked with the shooter and had seen him that very day. He had narrowly escaped with his life and was on the phone with her during the shooting. While she speaks to the reporter, two gun lobby group members push up behind her. They wear the orange stickers of the Virginia Citizens Defence League, led by the disgraced Phillip Van Cleave, and wear black III Percenter hats. What we didn’t even realize at the time (and can be seen from the other side in a second photo taken by a MOM) is, while the one man shoves his cell phone near my friend to record her personal identifying information, he holds a long gun in his right hand. At the time these photos were taken, it was perfectly legal for gun lobby groups to open carry long guns all around our state capital. Going back ten years or more, when our General Assembly was in session in January and gun violence prevention advocates and gun violence survivors showed up on Martin Luther King day to advocate for gun safety legislation, the gun lobby came on the same day to threaten us and pretend to be legitimate military or police forces. The reason they try to obtain our personal identifying information is so that they can dox us online.

In this picture, the same day, the gunman with the orange “Guns Save Lives” VCDL sticker and the III Percenter hat is flashing a white supremacy sign. This is how the local gun lobbies showed up that day. Here is how Hampton Roads MOMS looked:

After this happened, you might think that Virginia Moms Demand Action might be threatened, or scared, or deterred. But have you met MOMS? We do the hard work for our babies. We worked to flip our state House and Senate blue and then we got important gun safety legislation passed, like criminal background checks and red flag laws (that temporarily remove guns from those who threaten to harm themselves or others.) And we are just getting started.

That gives you some flavor of my background advocating with Moms Demand Action and being the local lead here in Chesapeake, Virginia. Now, I’d like to flash forward to a very recent event, again involving getting important legislation passed in Richmond. This week, I brought my two boys with me to see the signing of Virginia HB1157, which effectively requires all local elections that were formerly held in May (usually resulting in abysmally low turnout) to be held instead in November (when many more voters come to the polls). My friend and fellow advocate, Jeanne Hanewich, began this Change the Date campaign three years ago in our local City Council. But because low turnout elections were favorable to many of the incumbents on our Council, it was voted down. We would not be deterred. We spent the next year soliciting thousands of signatures on our petition to Change the Date and returned to our city council-- (eight out of nine of them are Republicans). They refused to change our charter again-- even though it would save our city over $110,000 and keep our schools that were used as polling places safer. Jeanne did not stop. She finally took our campaign to our local state Senator Lionel Spruill and Delegate Cliff Hayes to have our campaign sponsored as a bill in our General Assembly and through a lot of hard work and citizen advocacy, we got it signed into law. It is a tremendous triumph for ordinary citizens and allows more voters to choose their local leaders instead of the other way around.

So I have been encouraged in advocacy, as I am encouraged to run for my local state delegate seat, by my friends and fellow advocates. We fight to make a better, safer, healthier world for our loved ones. Honestly, I never understand how that becomes so politically adversarial, but these are the times we live in. I run against the Republican incumbent in my district because for four years now, we have petitioned him to vote for common sense gun safety legislation and laws that combat systematic racism endemic in our police forces. He refuses each time to meet face to face with us, all the while lining his coffers with NRA gun lobby money. Our Chesapeake MOMS group has expanded now to include Suffolk and Portsmouth and we are a growing group of gun violence survivors. It’s time to do things differently in HD78- we’re tired of being ignored. Please do what you can to help support my campaign. We can do hard things- when we do them together. #KeepGoing.