By Jennie L. Ilustre
If and when she prevails in the November 7 general election, Kathy Tran would be the third Asian American delegate to the Virginia State Assembly. She would also be the first Vietnamese American elected at any level in Virginia.
But this is not the reason Tran is running for public office for the first time. In telephone and email interviews, her sincerity and passion for public service sparkled. “There is so much at stake in Virginia this November,” she said. “The entire country is watching what happens here.”
Candidate Tran is part of a recent national phenomenon in which citizens who would not ordinarily enter politics are running (or intend to run in 2018) for public office for the first time – at the federal, state and local levels, concerned at the direction in which the country is headed.
She won the Democratic primary for the Virginia House of Delegates’ 42nd District last June. The 42nd District covers parts of Springfield, Lorton, Fairfax Station, and Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Remarked Ms. Tran: “I’m running to fight for the American values that brought my family here. At the end of the Vietnam War, my parents were determined not to raise their family under tyranny, so our family left the only home we knew, when I was just seven months old, and fled Vietnam as boat refugees. On the voyage, I became so sick I almost died at sea.”
“My family has never forgotten that America stepped up to accept refugees at that time, and we have spent our lives working to give back to this country that has given us so much,” Tran said. It motivated her to be a public servant. Kathy’s dad provided free dental services to those who could not afford it. Kathy’s younger brother David is a Combat Engineer Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. “He completed two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan,” she said. “Our family is tremendously proud of his service to our country.”
“We risked everything to come to America because this country has always represented hope, opportunity, and freedom,” she added. “In America, I have worked to live up to these ideals by devoting my career to public service, helping working families and veterans acquire job-skill training and achieve the American Dream.”
Tran graduated from Duke University. She earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Michigan. She and her husband Matt have tried to instill American ideals in their children: Daven, 8, Charlotte, 6, Quinn, 4, and baby Elise. “Now, with these cherished American ideals under threat, I have decided to run for office to defend these values,” she stressed. The covers parts of Springfield, Lorton, Fairfax Station, and Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Virginia.
Kathy and her husband live in West Springfield with their children. They are avid Washington Nationals fans. Her parents, Long and Thu Tran Tran, fully support her candidacy.
Tran said she is honored to receive “a wide range of support from progressives, moderates, and independents who recognize our commitment to making progress on the issues that matter most for working families, including strengthening our public schools, expanding access to affordable health care, and growing economic opportunity.” (A list of those who have endorsed her at press time is in the Q & A segment.)
Tran on Issues
Candidate Tran’s stand on major issues in her own words follow.
Jobs and Economic Growth
I want to bring my experience and expertise to the House of Delegates to ensure that Virginia is globally competitive and that our region attracts good jobs. I will fight for workforce and education programs that build strong talent pipelines, and for worker’s rights as critical to economic growth and social mobility.
I have devoted my career working for all Americans to have the skills, training, and credentials to reach their full career potential. During my 12 years at the U.S. Department of Labor, I worked to draft and implement national legislation and manage multi-billion dollar federal programs that serve millions of workers and job seekers annually. I was also responsible for coordinating policies that helped veterans get the job skill training and employment help they needed to find work and return to civilian life, and for military spouses to keep their credentials and open small businesses so they could provide for their families.
I went on to work at the National Immigration Forum, one of the nation’s leading immigration advocacy organizations, pushing for policies that prepare immigrants in the workforce to reach their full career potential. Through that experience, I had worked with diverse stakeholders to achieve common goals. I gained a keen understanding of the legislative process, how federal funds flow to states and localities, and where states have opportunities to complement funding for existing programs or invest in pilot programs and demonstrations to test innovative solutions.
One of my proudest accomplishments at the U.S. Department of Labor was my work on the Veterans Opportunity to Work (VOW) Act, bipartisan legislation that helped expand employment services for transitioning service members and veterans.
As Delegate, I will take leadership in building partnerships with professional licensing boards, employers, industry associations, community colleges and others to make sure veterans are able to translate their intensive, world-class training and work experience to the civilian workforce. I will work to ensure that Virginia fulfills its obligation to our servicemembers and their families, and that our veterans have the tools and opportunities they need to succeed.
I am deeply committed to investing in education, having served on the Board of Directors of the Esther Peterson Child Development Center and currently as president of my local PTA.
I know we need to ensure all children in Virginia have access to high-quality public education so they can thrive and compete. As Delegate, I will fight to invest in our public school system so that we are able to attract and retain the best teachers and offer robust STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) academic and extracurricular programs.
I will fight for affordable higher education, invest in our community colleges, and work to build strong career pathways from schools to the workforce. A former board member of the Esther Peterson Child Development Center at the U.S. Department of Labor, I understand the critical importance of early childhood education in determining future academic success. I will be a strong advocate in the General Assembly for universal pre-K.
I always work to protect and expand Virginians’ access to quality, affordable health care. Expanding Medicaid in the commonwealth would ensure that 400,000 vulnerable Virginians will no longer have to decide between paying for health care over other essentials, or waiting for a chronic condition to reach an emergency situation before seeking treatment.
I will oppose any attempt by politicians to interfere in a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body, and will fight against any proposed legislation that would impose medically unnecessary restrictions on reproductive health care providers or limit the ability of a woman to make the best decision for her health with her doctor.
As a working mother, I personally understand the importance of equal pay for equal work. In the House of Delegates, I will stand up for working women, and fight for equal pay for equal work and for paid family and medical leave so Virginians can take paid time off to recover or care for a sick family member.
Gun Violence Prevention
Enacting common-sense gun violence prevention measures means protecting our children and our communities. As Delegate, I will fight to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, domestic abusers, and those with severe mental illness. I will push for universal background checks to close the loopholes for sales of firearms at gun shows and over the Internet. I will fight to restore Virginia’s “One-Handgun-a-Month” rule to combat gun-running. I will also fight for an assault weapons ban and limits on high-capacity magazines.
I will always fight for a welcoming and inclusive Virginia, and will strongly oppose any attempt to deny immigrants access to public services for which they currently qualify. At the state level in Virginia, I will fight for policies that fully integrate immigrant families like mine, including continuing to defend in-state tuition for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, expanding citizenship preparation classes, pushing for additional funding for adult education, including ESL (English as Second Language classes, and ensuring small businesses have access to the resources they need to thrive.
Q & A
Getting to know more about Candidate Tran in a Q & A format.
When did you make the decision to run? And please describe that day and that moment.
My husband Matt and I were due with our youngest child on Inauguration Day of this year. After the November 2016 election, we were concerned about sharing our due date with the start of the Trump presidency.
So we decided to give our daughter a name that reflected our family’s values. Our daughter’s full name is “Elise Minh Khanh.” “Elise” was inspired by Ellis Island. Matt has family that escaped anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe at the turn of the century, and passed through Ellis Island as they were seeking hope and opportunity in America. “Minh Khanh” is Vietnamese for “bright bell,” and that’s inspired by the Liberty Bell. To us, her name means “to ring the bells of liberty, and champion opportunity for all.”
When Elise was about a month old, I decided to run in this election because I realized I couldn’t give such an aspirational name to this tiny little baby and rest upon her shoulders the responsibility of safeguarding her future and the values that inspired her name. I realized I needed to step up and fight for my children’s future, and leave the legacy for our children that when our country is in a moment of crisis and our most fundamental ideals are threatened, that we stand strong and do everything we can to defend our nation and our values.
Please state your views on the Charlottesvile, Virginia rally on August 12.
This hatred threatens to undermine our nation’s most fundamental values. The President has displayed a complete lack of moral leadership in not only refusing to unequivocally condemn white supremacists and domestic terrorism, but also by embracing a brand of politics that seeks to divide us. It is the duty of every American to work together to uphold the values of our democracy. In the face of this violent hate that seeks to drive us apart through fear, we must remain committed to building a more welcoming and inclusive Commonwealth and country.
Who are the party officials, others who have endorsed you?
Our endorsements include the Northern Virginia Realtors® Political Action Committee (NV/RPAC) and the Realtors® Political Action Committee (RPAC) of Virginia, the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s AgPAC, New Politics, the Virginia Professional Fire Fighters (VPFF), the Virginia AFL-CIO and the Northern Virginia Labor Federation, the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, SEIU 512, the Sierra Club, the Virginia League of Conservation Voters, People for the American Way’s (PFAW) Next Up Victory Fund, CASA in Action, EMILY’s List, Virginia’s List, NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia, the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, and Diversity Declaration.
We were very proud to win our Democratic primary election this past June, and head into the general election this November with a wide range of support from progressives, moderates, and independents.
I have been humbled by all of the support we have received from local leaders in our community, including U.S. Representatives Gerry Connolly and Don Beyer here in Northern Virginia; Fairfax County School Board Member Ilryong Moon, the first Asian American elected to any office in Virginia, and Delegate Mark Keam, the first Asian American elected to Virginia state government. Virginia state Senators Adam Ebbin, George Barker, Dave Marsden, and Scott Surovell, and other members of the Virginia House of Delegates, including Democratic Leader David Toscano, Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, and others representing Fairfax County where my district is located, like Paul Krizek and Mark Sickles, have also been very supportive of our campaign.