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11th Senate District Candidate Interview: Amanda Chase

Virginia Senator Amanda Chase
Virginia Senator Amanda Chase at the VPM News studio. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM)

Roberto Roldan sits down with Amanda Chase, the incumbent Republican running for re-election in Virginia's 11th Senate District.

Transcript:

Roberto Roldan: From the VPM newsroom in Richmond. I'm Roberto Roldan. I'm here with Senator Amanda Chase. Good morning. 

Amanda Chase: Good morning. Good to be with you. 

Roldan: Just to start off, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Chase: When I ran four years ago, people did not elect me because they wanted another politician. They elected me because I'm a mom of four small, a former small business owner – my family currently owns a business and I'm really excited that today here, four years later, I actually have a record that I can show that I can actually get things done. I can work across the aisle, across party aisles to get things done for the people of my district. I'm also very involved in my community. I'm a very active member of my church and my kids are still in school. I have one that started back to school today, he's going to be a senior, and my baby, my youngest son is  starting public school today. So, my kids keep me busy and we have a small business that keeps us all busy. And then I'm running for reelection this year, which consumes a lot of time, and I'm thankful for the opportunity to do it as I'm going door to door almost every night and meeting with constituents like I really have been for the past four years since people elected me into office. 

Roldan: And in the past four years, what would you say has been your biggest accomplishment? 

Chase: Well, I think most people think of a couple things. They think of the transparency caucus, which I helped to co-found, bringing greater transparency to the general assembly. And for the first time of Virginia's history, every day taxpayers, Virginians can go online and actually watch us on our committee meetings and actually hear those dialogues.

But I think probably what people remember the most is the coal ash cleanup in Virginia. And you know, a lot of people, we all know someone that's had cancer before. I've had members in my family and I'm sure those in your listening audience have as well. And a lot of people didn't realize in this area, we actually had an increased risk according to the Southern Environmental Law Center. And some really super smart constituents brought this issue to me, and hexavalent chromium, arsenic, all these known carcinogens were being dumped into the James River.

And so I worked hard across the aisle, again, with Senator Surovell –  incremental legislation, every year, successfully completed, signed into law – we put a moratorium so that they couldn't dump the water until we could do a thorough investigation. The investigation's done. And now we have a solution - for the first time ever in Virginia's history, we are dealing properly with the coal ash like many of the other Southeast States. So we're doing one of two things. We're either excavating this coal Ash - which is produced by electricity, by the way - we're recycling it or we're putting in a lined facility. I am super excited to play a significant role in champion the cleanup of coal ash in Virginia. You know, clean water is a great bipartisan issue that most people can get behind. We all want clean water and we all want to reduce our risk of cancer.

Roldan: And right there you mentioned Senator Surovell, and it might possibly be him, but can you tell us, someone from across the political aisle who you admire?

Chase: I have a great amount of respect for Senator Surovell. We've been able to focus on what we do have in common. We don't agree on everything, but we have really found this whole issue with protecting our constituents against the dangers of hexavalent chromium and all these known carcinogens and working together in a bipartisan fashion to get the job done. People thought we were crazy for even attempting to take on, if you will, take on Dominion. But with their help and, and working across the aisle and working with the stakeholders, we were able to get that done. And I think he's a super smart attorney. Like I said, we don't always agree on every issue but we work together very well and for the common good of Virginia and I think that's what people want. They're tired of the bickering and the partisan politics. Both sides of the aisle are sick of it. I think most people are in the middle, and they want us to get along and get things done. And we, we...together Senator Surovell and I can do that.

Roldan: And before we sort of get into the nitty-gritty of policy, I wanted to ask just a couple more questions so voters can get an understanding of who you are. Is there something that you could tell us or you, or you might want voters to know that maybe most people don't know?

Chase: Well, let's see. I just feel so strongly, I've dedicated my life to public service. I used to have a small business. I temporarily put that on hold so I could focus on doing the best that I could for my district. And what some people may or may not know - I had a radio talk show for three and a half years and it wasn't cut, it wasn't filtered, it with live, so anybody could call in. And for three and a half years I loved doing that show. It was really a town hall - people could call in. I wish I could still do it now, but because of federal campaign laws it's going to cost me $350 every time I did a show. I'm a grassroots candidate and I don't have that kind of money, but I love to serve others. Everybody's talking about health care, that I think that's the number one issue as I'm going door to door. I'm hearing from people, everyday families, they're saying “we're very concerned about the cost of health care.”

Chase: And so I tried to figure out a bipartisan solution for that and it was actually passed - passed the house, passed the Senate and was signed into law. And a lot of people haven't heard about it. And that is the healthcare transparency cost bill, which was signed into law. And it says this, it's once again about transparency because, you know, I love transparency. But it says that whenever you go to the hospital that that hospital is required by law to let you know, you can ask for an estimated cost of service and get it and they have to post it in a conspicuous place. My thought is this: we may agree and disagree on healthcare in general - some people want government to pay for that. I don't agree with that, I don't think the government should be paying for healthcare. But this is a bipartisan way which introduces competition because as a consumer, you'll now know what it costs and you can actually shop around different hospitals. And what that does, by having that transparency and allowing the consumer to know an estimated cost of service for a particular procedure, they can now shop around. And in essence, that's gonna drive down the cost of healthcare.

Roldan: And just one more quick sort of personal question. What book or movie any piece of media has had like a significant impact on you?

Chase: Oh my gracious. You know, I honestly, I don't get to watch a whole lot of movies and videos. I think I have adult onset ADHD. But I actually liked the home improvement shows. I actually found that I can relax whenever I'm watching those shows cause I don't have to do anything or fix anything. Favorite movie: the classic Sound of Music. I love that movie always, but I also like comedies too. I like some of the Madea movies that are out there, I think she's hysterical. Sometimes we see everyday situations and there are things that we want to do that we don't do and shouldn't do, but she does it. And so I like funny, comical movies.

Roldan: Switching a switching sort of pace a little bit, getting into policy, you're obviously running for reelection. So one of the big things that I think are on a lot of voters minds, particularly after the shooting in Virginia Beach, is gun laws. Whether or not you’re for them or you're against them. I think a lot of people are thinking about guns in our society, right? So I'm wondering, should Virginia change any of its gun laws?

Chase: What I would say to that, first of all, like every other legislator, I am 100% against gun violence. I'm a graduate of Virginia Tech, and watching the shootings there, or hearing about them and so tragic and just how it impacts everyday people. We all want to do something. That's our first reaction. Me as a mom of one of four teenage kids, college age kids. I'm like every other parent out there, I'm concerned about the safety of my kids as they start back school and are they going to be protected in those environments? So I think let's talk about what we agree on. We agree that gun violence is bad. And we need to do everything we can to deter that. Um, how we solve that problem is where there are some different solutions out there.

You know, one of the things that I've looked at is anytime that we pass legislation, what we in essence are doing, is we are restricting the rights of law abiding citizens because the criminals are never gonna follow the laws. They're not looking in July to find out the next slate of laws that we in the General Assembly have passed to find out which laws they need to obey. Absolutely not. As we know, murder is against the law, but criminals still murder, and they don't follow the law. So my concern is that whenever our hearts go out to these families and we hear of a shooting, we all want to do something. I mean, as a legislator, I'm like, I got to do something. What can I do? What I've observed is that many times, and you see different statistics on it, but one statistic I saw said 95% of these shootings occur in gun free zones.

And the way I look at gun free zones is they are basically safe havens for criminals who don't follow the law. You're basically saying there are no guns here. There's, there's no one here protecting themselves. Um, come here. It'd be like having uh, announcing to the world on the radio that you don't have a security system in your house and, and giving them your address. It's the same equivalent. Um, we need to have armed security in our school systems. Right now I think we need to eliminate gun free zones and I'm looking to introduce legislation this upcoming session to eliminate gun free zones. And if I have to compromise, and I know I'm unfortunately many times we do have to compromise cause we're working with a lot of other people to get legislation passed. I would at the very least say is that if a gun free zone is imposed, that there has to be some type of armed security so that people aren't sitting ducks, kids are not sitting ducks in schools with absolutely no protection and um, you know, that's, that would be my compromise.

Roldan: And I think one of the things that you saw from some of the, the larger metropolitan areas in, in Virginia after the shooting in Virginia Beach was that you saw city and County officials who are asking, um, for more control over, um, regulating guns. And those were some of the bills were associated with that were introduced at a special session. What do you think about cities and counties and localities having more control?

Chase: So I'm an, I'm not in favor of them having more control. Let me tell you an example of why. I conceal carry. And every time you go into another state, like I traveled to visit my, you know, my 95 year old grandfather. And when I'm going through all these states, I have to figure out before I leave, what knew what laws that I have to comply with as I'm going through those states. So it makes it very complex for a, uh, a law abiding gun owner to follow the laws. We desire to follow the laws. We're law abiding citizens. And when we go through the process of getting a conceal carry permit, we want to follow those laws. But what happens is you're creating added burdens on law abiding citizens who want to carry, who are traveling through these counties and through these cities. And every time they do that they have to think “what laws, what additional laws, what additional restrictions do I have to comply with?” And it gets really complex and confusing. And so I think we need to do our best not to impede or hinder a law abiding citizens right to, to, to carry. And I think that's what giving that control to the localities...I think that's in essence what it would do.

Roldan: So for you it's kind of about that uniformity.

Chase: It is. It is. Absolutely.

Roldan: And Virginia is known for having sort of lacks campaign finance laws when compared to a lot of other states. Do you think that there should be more limits in place in terms of how people are using money or receiving money?

Chase: Well, I have and I've actually, um, been a part of those discussions with campaign finance reform and I'm actually sit on the privileges and elections committee. I don't believe that our money should be used toward personal finances at all. And most of the time it's not one thing. I'm thankful for organizations like V pap, um, where all that information is available to anybody that wants to find it through that private organization. They look at our expenditures, what goes in, what goes out. I mean, it's reported to the state board of election. So there is a transparent process in place where people know where we're spending our money, who we're receiving the money from. So, I do feel like that it is transparent if you know about it. I mean, a lot of times people don't know where to go, where to look.

But I'm all for being a up and above board and, you know, making sure that, that we're compliant. I actually put in a constitutional amendment that said that you could not, that outside money could not be funneled into Virginia. I think Virginians need to determine who wins elected office, Virginia. And I think if you ask Republicans or Democrats, both sides of the aisle, they would agree, Virginia needs to pick and select its own candidates. We don't need those influences from outside of Virginia. And you know, many times organizations on both sides pour thousands upon millions of dollars into the Virginia political system in an effort to influence people. And, and I have put in a constitutional amendment to get rid of that. I think it's, um, not in the best interest of Virginia.

Roldan: And one of the other big issues that's come up, especially recently in the general assembly is sports betting. So a lot of sports betting companies, casinos are pushing for legalizing more gaming in the state of Virginia. Is that something that you would support?

Chase: You know, a lot of people in the state and in the district support that as an opportunity to, uh, bring in more revenues. And I get that I know that Senator Kericho introduced a bill that basically put on the ballot, um, the option that the localities could determine whether or not to go in that direction. I personally have not been a fan of, of the gaming and the, and the betting and that type of thing because I think that, um, one thing that we have to look at are what are the unintended consequences of whatever we pass legislatively and is that, what kind of jobs are we going to be bringing? Is that the type of jobs that we want? Is that the type of environment that we want to bring? Let's take a look at some of the other states that have already passed that and, and how is it affecting the public safety of those areas? I think public safety is a huge concern. The quality of life of the people in that area. I just think we need to really thoroughly study this. Then instead of just, you know, first glance of, oh, that sounds great. I want the studies. I want, I want the actual science behind what, what other states have done and how it's affected them before I would even think about voting for something like that.

Roldan: And you talked a little bit about, uh, the bill that you had specifically around transparency, but I'm wondering if maybe you can elaborate on what can be done at the state level in order to lower the cost of health care in Virginia

Chase: As in any industry, you know, the best practices and you know, we're small business owners and we're constantly competing for other people's businesses. People are able to shop around, they're able to compare our business and the price of our services, um, to other businesses. And you get that in every other industry, whether it's insurance, whether it's home building, um, you know, simply going to the grocery store, except for health care, except for healthcare. Why is there that exception? Well, there's, there's lobbyists and small interest groups and insurance companies that don't want us everyday average citizens knowing what that cost of services is. And until we get a hold of how much it costs for a service and we're able to have that competition. Whether you supported Medicaid expansion or not, I didn't support Medicaid expansion because I feel... for a whole number of reasons. I just don't think that's the role of government.

But what I would say to that is the cost of services has to come down. So whether you support Medicaid expansion or not your, you've still done nothing to address the actual cost of services and until it's transparent, until there is a transparent process in place where we can actually know the price of that drug and how much it costs, and the cost of that service. And we incentivize people to save money. And there's a lot of different programs that are out there that, that we've taken a look at that we could take a look at that are available and out there that would drive down the cost of services and help us overall with reducing the cost of health care.

Roldan: And one of the other issues that we talk about when we talk about the sort of costs, the everyday costs for residents in the state of Virginia is the cost of higher education. And one of the things that the general assembly did this year was implemented tuition freeze. So I'm wondering what do you think that the state can do, uh, to keep down the cost of higher education and would you support tuition freezes for future years?

Chase: Yeah, I was actually pretty instrumental in this rate freeze. It's just a, we've got to get a hold of what is driving the cost, why the cost keep going up astronomically. You know, I'm a mom with four college aged kids at this point and it's unaffordable. I mean you can afford maybe one, maybe two kids, but the everyday average family is getting to the point where they can't afford to send their kids to college. Now we've done things on the general assembly and on higher education to support programs like the passport program where you can go to a community college for two years and then get guaranteed admission into a four year university. You know, if you follow the passport courses you're supposed to take, those will transfer over. Every single piece of legislation that has come before me on my subcommittee that which I serve on in higher ed, I have always supported college affordability, whatever it looks like.

I have always supported transparency. I've always supported any bill and I know we don't have time to go into all of them, but any creative solution that would drive down the cost of college, I have always supported it. And in many times as I have patrons have bills to come up and present a bill, I said, let me co patron that bill with you. Let me co patron that bill with you because I want to make sure it gets through this higher ed subcommittee and I want to champion and support lowering the cost of education. It's not like it was probably 20, 30 years ago when we were going through college.

You know, I'm a proud graduate of Virginia Tech. I’m a Virginia Tech Hokie through and through. I bleed maroon. But, um, you know, when I stayed in West AJ, we had cinder block walls. It was not a Taj Mahal. I mean their half the dorms weren't even air conditioned. And now we go into our colleges and our universities, there's weight lifting equipment, you know. They live better than I do, you know. I remember when we checked our daughter into the James Madison University, I said, man, I would like to come stay with you. This is really nice. I know they're doing everything they can cause they're competing, you know, between the universities and everything, but I think it's just kind of gotten out of control and, and we need to get back to lowering the cost of education so that any kid that wants to go to school  and has that aptitude to do it.

And, I support the trade schools too, by the way. I have two of my kids who are doing the trades and two that are, you know, one that's finishing PA school, another one that wants to go to the university, but two of my kids don't want to go to the university. They're like, “that's not for me.” One of them wants to be a police officer and go into law enforcement and he's gonna go a different route.  I just think we need to have lots of options for our kids.

Roldan: One of the issues here in the Richmond region, you have a lot of K through 12 schools going up right now being built. And one of the things that have come through the general assembly has been state funded financing for school construction here in Virginia. Is that something that you've supported?

Chase: So I will tell you this. Um, I think the localities know best how to spend that, spend the money that's been given to them.  I don't think we want to throw money at a problem. I think we need to take every single school on its own merits and find out what those issues are and make sure that your zip code doesn't determine your education. We need more equitable education. Um, but one of the things I'd like to address is there is a statewide shortage of teachers. And one of the bills that I passed and was signed into law by the governor, um, was a bill that allows our retired teachers to return to teaching without losing their benefits. And that was signed into law by the governor as a great temporary fix to solve some of the shortages. But I've also supported a raise for our teachers.

Chase: The people that in my opinion matter the most, the people who are investing in our kids, our teachers, need to have an increase. And, and how much they're making. Um, I know my oldest son or my middle son, Tim, he wanted to go into education, but he looked at how much it was going to cost with the loans that he's gonna have to take out. And he looks at how much he's gonna make. He does the math and he said, “Mom, this is what I want to do, but I can't afford it.” You know, we need to look at, we need to look at ways to incentivize  kids that want to teach to go into the profession and figure out a way to encourage more young people going into the education field. We need to really reevaluate what we're doing.

Roldan: And we've heard of overcrowding in state psychiatric hospitals with hundreds of people stuck who are ready to leave, but they can't. What do you think needs to be done in terms of support for first state psychiatric hospitals or mental health services?

Chase: You know, it's interesting you should say that. I routinely, I was just at Arby's this past Sunday and was talking to one of our Chesterfield County police officers who said, “Amanda, he said, you would not believe the suicide that I see.” And you know, that just, that just breaks my heart. There's a lot of mental illness that we're seeing people not knowing how to deal with the stress of life. But suicide is, is a major issue and mental illness.  I know the state has a, we've approved a lot of money to go in to mental health issues and battling the opioid and heroin crisis that we see. And even in our jails, which I've visited the Chesterfield County jail and you would show a raise of hands, and of the 50 people that were in there in that women's unit, there were probably...I would say 95% of them from a prescription drug. It's a complicated issue, but we need to do more prevention in our schools. If someone is having an issue we need to increase the number of guidance counselors in our schools that can give referrals, and try to get treatment for kids and try to head some of these issues off early earlier than what we've seen. So that's what I would say to that.

Roldan: And should the general assembly hold hearings, do you think into the allegations of sexual assault against Justin Fairfax?

Chase: You know, I've always said from the beginning that I support due process in place, and as a member of the Senate, if there is any type of impeachment process put into place that would be called by the house and the Senate would actually serve as jurors.  I have to keep my comments to myself because I could potentially be a juror, but I've always supported due process...I have to keep kind of my thoughts to myself on that cause I could end up being a juror.

Roldan: And do you think that locality should be given the ability to modify or take down Confederate models?

Chase: You know, I do not believe that is the case, and in most cases they are not owned by that locality. They belong to...depending on which statue or monument we're talking about, some are national but it doesn't always, it's not always owned by the locality. And the way that the law is currently written, that those types of decisions are made by the general assembly and that the localities don't actually have the authority under the Dillon rule to take down any type of statues or anything like that.  I think we need to learn from history. I don't think that we should erase it. We need to teach our kids. I mean...let's add more. Let's add more statues of heroes from all different communities, but let's learn from our, from the past and not repeat past mistakes.

Roldan: And I'm wondering what role do you see state lawmakers playing in housing affordability?

Chase: Sure. So I sit on local governments in the Senate and one of the big issues that come before us is proffers. Proffers are basically an assessment that are put on a home. It's a negotiation that's made between the builder, the home developer and the County. Money's set aside for infrastructure such as schools, roads, fire, EMS, you know, basic infrastructure needs. And the question is, you know, at what role, um, you know, should we have proffers, should we not have proffers? I personally think these proffers...I can argue both sides of this, but I will tell you that to have affordable housing, the more you add to the cost of housing, the more it's going to be passed onto the homeowner. And so we need to do everything that we can to support infrastructure and make sure that we have the necessary roads, schools infrastructure in place so that we have adequate public safety.

Chase: But at the same time, we don't want to add burdensome regulations on to our builders and to those that build our homes. There was all types of federal storm water regulations that were passed down from the federal government down to the state. And guess who eats that? Cause our home builder does and guess who he passes that cost on to, he passes it onto the consumer. And what does that do to the price of a home? It makes it go up. I've always thought we should have greater transparency in the price of a home. So that, and I know in some States like Utah, they do this actually. They have the cost of the home and then they add on there so that the consumer can see all these added fees that are added to the price of a home so that the homeowner can see what additional fees are added because of all these federal regulations that are put on our, our builders and our small business owners.

Roldan: Do you support ending cash bail statewide?

Chase: Do I support ending cash bail statewide? I know that our jails are overcrowded. Our prison system is over crowded. And I've always felt that if it's not a violent offense, we need to look at everything we do to make sure that only, you know, those that are in our prisons are those that are, you know, endangering society. So, um, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that we're not imprisoning people because they can't pay their fines or their bills. Let's give them a reasonable payment plan. I do feel like if you've committed a crime and you need to restore people to whole, but you know, we can do so in a way where they're not losing their driver's license and not able to go to work and actually pay back the debt that they owe.

Roldan: And one of the things that's come up with this special session recently was the idea of stricter mandatory minimum sentences for violent criminals. Where did you fall on that issue?

Chase: We voted on so many bills. I'm trying to remember specifically how I voted on that one. I would say this: a lot of people trust our judges to make those type of decisions. And, you know, I remember trying to weigh both sides of the decisions. If you put in automatic minimum requirements...I did support that when it came to the bill relating to the death of the police officer for instance. There was not a sentence...adequate sentencing in my opinion for that, the death of that police officer. I mean they pretty much got off scott-free. And that's a crime. I mean that's not right. And so that's where we got this desire to introduce legislation to create some type of automatic minimum sentence. And I supported that. But I'd also at the same breath, we have to be careful that we, um, also allowed judges the ability to weigh every single case and make those determinations as well. So I could argue both sides, but I remember voting because of this particular situation, that I would support the, the mandatory minimum sentencing cause we we’re looking at the death of a police officer and the, the person that committed that crime did not get a significant penalty given the crime that was committed.

Roldan: And I've just got one last question here. So you've ended up in the news a few times recently, right? There was a confrontation that I think was covered by the Richmond Times Dispatch with  a Capitol police officer. There was a Facebook comment about rape victims. You know, do you think either of those two new stories are going to affect your ability to connect with voters or your re-election bid?

Chase: Well, here's what I would tell the voters. You know, it's election season. It's the silly season. And you know, I have had, I've been very grateful to have the favor of the press, what I feel for three and a half years. I was even invited to be the speaker for the Correspondent’s dinner. I think it's so important for legislators to communicate and be open with the press, which I have all the press out. They have my cell phone number and I'm not one to hide from the press. In fact, I embrace it and encourage it and I'm going to continue to do that. I'm not going to be afraid to talk to the press because you all have a job to do. And that's reporting back to the people. I will say this believe nothing that you hear, and only believe half of what you see. And I think I'll probably leave it at that.

You know, it's unfortunate when things are taken out of context whenever words are twisted. I think our own President talks about the fake news. I've certainly felt that way, you know, since about February. And  it's very frustrating for someone like myself who is so conscientious about doing the right thing.

And I've been a champion for our law enforcement. In fact, the fraternal order police chose me to carry most of the legislation for our law enforcement. I mean, I was the co-patron for the Sheriff's raises. I was instrumental in getting raises for our state police. My first piece of legislation I passed in the general assembly allowed our retired police officers to actually right now, they can purchase their pistol for a dollar... their shotgun and everything else. They just had to hand over under my legislation. They could actually purchase it at fair market value once they retired.

And then also for our firefighters. One of the bills that I introduced passed was signed into law was a bill that extended the types of cancers that are covered under workman's comp for our firefighters. So, you know, I think some of the criticism was...I think people just heard one side of the story and I tried to tell my side of the story, but, it just kept getting twisted and, and to the point where I just, hopefully after the election when things go back to normal, I can share my side of the story and people will be like, “Oh, I understand.” So, I'm looking forward to the election season being over.

Roldan: Well, I'm talking with a Senator, Amanda Chase of Chesterfield. Thank you so much for sitting down. I know we ran through sort of this laundry list of questions, but, um, hopefully voters or sort of get to know you better and, and where you stand on a variety of positions. So I appreciate you taking the time today.

Chase: Well, thanks for having me.

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