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11th Senate District Candidate Interview: Amanda Pohl

Amanda Pohl
Amanda Pohl in the VPM News studio. (Photo: Craig Carper/VPM)

Roberto Roldan sits down with Amanda Pohl the Democratic challenger for Virginia Senate in the 11th district.


Roberto Roldan: From the VPM newsroom in Richmond. I'm Roberto Roldan. I'm here with Amanda Poll, who is a candidate for the 11th district Senate seat. How are you doing? I'm doing great. How are you? Good. So I guess just to start out, um, tell us a little bit about yourself. Is this your first time in politics?

Amanda Pohl:  It is. It's my first time running for office. Um, I've been in the advocacy world, a little bit and working in kind of tangential to politics. Advocating for things that the community wants. I worked for a grassroots organization that helping people share their stories and connect that to policy previously. And I also work for a nonprofit that works with sexual domestic violence agencies across the state and they do some political work. I don't do the political work for them, but, so I have been around politics but not ever run for office.

Roldan: So then outside of sort of your first run for office, what would you say is sort of an accomplishment that you're most proud of so far?

Pohl: Goodness. That's a really good question. I like it. When I think back on accomplishments and I'm proud of it's, it's around helping people. Cause I love to help people. So for me, I think about a time when I was at a hospital chaplain, I served as a hospital chaplain for more than 10 years. And I can't tell you the specifics about this case, but I'll give you sort of a general. We had a patient who was dying, a mother, and the hospital staff, all of us worked really, really hard to make sure that this patient got the best care that they needed. And that included making sure that this mother got to connect with her child before she died. And that was just such a powerful moment.

And in the midst of this terrible tragedy and hard time in this family's life, it brought me a lot of pride to see all of us coming together and doing something as a hospital community and being able to bring some peace to this family, being able to have those sacred moments with that family, and really just working together to do that for them.

It was really beautiful even in the midst of all of the pain. So I'm really proud of that in my career, and think that's...I'll have to give that answer.

Roldan: Tell me a little bit about who you are. So what's something, I don't know that all politicians necessarily like to answer this question, but tell me something about yourself that maybe most people don't know.

Pohl: Hmm. Yeah, that is a good question. I'm open book too, so there's not a lot that people don't know about me. I served as a hospital chaplain for more than 10 years. I said that I have, I've been hearing this story. So I guess a lot of people know this now, but most people wouldn't know this if they didn't already have not already met me. I was born on the side of the road. Yes, in Moseley, Virginia. Right out on 360, if you go out West and Mosley. And I was born to teenage parents in the front seat of their van. So that's me. My parents always joke that I knew when I wanted to enter the world, so I made my entrance.

Pohl: We didn't make it to the hospital on time because my mom just kept vacuuming through her labor. She had to get her work done, her housework done, and she wanted to do that. And then she got in the car and you know, we went to the hospital and didn't make it in time. So the Manchester rescue squad got there just in time to deliver me and really catch me. And it's just a fun story that we always joke about in my house, but that's how I made my entrance. But I also tell people I was literally born in this district and had been here pretty much all my life.

Roldan: So what book or movie would you say has had the most significant impact on you?

Pohl: There's a lot of books. I love to read. But there was a book I read several years ago that was life changing for me. And that was The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I don't know if you've ever read that. So it's a story of a missionary family that goes overseas and kind of their journey and how they changed and adapted and what they learned. And Barbara Kingsolver’s writing is just so phenomenal and the way that she tells the story of how they changed and evolved and learned and grew within the culture which is so beautiful and beautifully written. It actually had a profound effect on me at growing up as you know, someone who was in a more conservative household. And then having my life changed by my faith and seminary and becoming a more liberal person and being a liberal Christian. I really identified with the narrative of that story and the arc of the main characters and how they were living. It was a really neat experience to read that in a novel.

Roldan: And now that you are sort of making your foray into politics, I imagine that you have had some time to familiarize yourself with some of your potential colleagues. So I'm wondering is there anyone from across the political aisle who maybe you admire or want to work with if you're elected?

Pohl: Yeah. So I'll tell you a story. A few years ago, many years ago when we were working on Medicaid expansion and when I was working for the community organization, community organizing group we were trying to get folks across the aisle to work on Medicaid expansion. And hardly anybody wanted to partner with us. But there was one legislator who agreed to hear us out and to listen. And he even drew all the way down from his district out and the mountains and came when all the way down to Virginia Beach to listen to somebody from health and human services in the federal side come and talk about Medicaid expansion and really wanted to listen to her and hear her out and ask questions. And that he was willing to listen. And so if he were to be reelected, I can certainly see working with someone like him on that side of the aisle because he is willing to listen and talk through the issues and he really cares about the facts of that issue. And I really admired that he was willing to make that drive and that commitment and just to hear and talk about what this meant for his constituents.

Roldan: And so now I want to shift gears towards policy and ask you a few questions about some of your policy positions. Some of the issues that are, have come up in the last general assembly session. Should Virginia change any of its gun laws? I think particularly after the shooting in Virginia Beach at the municipal center, and this is something that's come up and in a big way in state politics. So not only do I wanna know, do you think Virginia should change any of its gun laws, but should cities and counties be allowed to have more control over regulating guns?

Pohl: So both of the answers to that is yes. Yeah, we do we need to look at the evidence and I'm a macro social worker, which means I look at policy social work. I look at things from an evidence based perspective. It's part of my code of ethics as a social worker. And the evidence shows us that we can prevent gun violence by enacting some common sense gun violence prevention legislation. Things like universal background checks. Right now, if you're a federally licensed dealer, you have to do a background check. But that is not the case for every person who sells a gun, and so we want to make sure that those same federal requirements are the same for everybody who is selling a gun. That seems pretty standard.

Something 90 plus percent of people in the country and in Virginia agree with that. In addition, I think about the red flag laws, right? If someone is a danger to themselves or others...and that can be determined by a judge, we should make sure that they have a cooling off period, that they temporarily do not have access to their weapon so that we can just make sure that they're not going to hurt someone or themselves. Additionally, we need research and we need funding for research on gun violence prevention, because we can see when we have more evidence and we're able to see what's going to stop this, then we'll be able to do better. So if we know better, we can do better. We can't just do nothing. We can't continue to do nothing. That's part of the problem. And yeah, we can't just sit here and do nothing and say, “Well oh well our hands are tied.” That's not how it works.

Roldan: And what do you see as cities and counties roll in that regulation of firearms?

Pohl: I think that cities and counties have a good pulse on what their communities need and want. And I think that they should be allowed to explore those opportunities and those options. I think right now they can't because of the Dillon rule. But we need to be more open to understanding that cities and counties do have that pulse on their community

Roldan: Virginia is known for having lax campaign finance laws compared to other states. Do you think that there should be more limits in place on campaign finance?

Pohl: Yeah, I definitely do. Yeah, it's pretty much anything goes in Virginia right now. It's kinda icky to see. Maybe that's not something people want to hear from a future state Senator, hopefully. What I've been seeing in politics is anybody can pour any amount of money into any campaign that they want. Seeing these large, $500,000 donations from a single person to influence a campaign...that that doesn't feel right. We focused a lot on grassroots fundraising. And in fact, 95% of our donations are from $250 donors or less. So, that's where our focus is. But we do need to make sure that we're limiting donations from corporations and these larger donations because it is an undue influence to have corporations, especially those that are regulated by the General Assembly, to be spending money in politics like that.

Roldan: One of the things that we've seen come up sort of in the Richmond region has been sports betting. So sports betting companies and casinos have also been pushing at the state level for legalizing more gaming in Virginia. Is that something that you would support?

Pohl: Actually I don't have an opinion on that. And to be honest, it's not something that's come up. Constituents haven't been talking about it too much. So I guess I would want to know what my constituents think before I address that.

Roldan: Fair enough. And what do you think can be done at the state level to lower the cost of healthcare? I'm assuming that healthcare is always a big issue and that's probably something that you've heard as you've been knocking on doors. Yeah, it has.

Pohl: It is a big issue and it has been something I've heard at the doors. Folks are really tired of their premiums being so high. Folks are tired of their drug costs being so high. I shared with you as a chaplain. I had a patient who passed away who would not have died had Medicaid been expanded. So first and foremost, we need to protect Medicaid expansion. That's 300,000 people who've been insured who weren't injured before. More than 300,000 people now. And I believe that we not only have to protect that, but we have to build upon that. So we have to think about innovative solutions. I'm not prepared to release a policy statement yet, but I do have some innovative ideas around how do we work on private public partnerships so that we are not increasing taxes.

But we are reducing the costs of healthcare. We're reducing the premiums, we're reducing the cost of premiums, we're reducing the costs of deductibles and we're also reducing the cost of drug prices. Cause we really do need to have some caps on those things so that we're not seeing this enormous pricing that we have right now in the marketplace. The other thing we need to do is to focus on prevention. We've seen, everywhere we look, if we focus on prevention, we know that that will be worth more than having to interrupt and disrupt a cycle of disease later on. So if we can spend money on prevention that we're already spending now on treatment...if we can focus that on prevention, we won't have to spend as much down the road on, on treatment.

Roldan: And in the most recent General Assembly session, one of the things that they passed was a tuition freeze. Um, and I believe all colleges accepted that tuition freeze in the state of Virginia. How can the state keep down the cost of higher education? And going forward, would you support future tuition freezes.

Pohl: Yeah, tuition freeze is great. We definitely need to keep the cost of tuition low. We need to look at what's driving that tuition price higher. I think that sometimes what we do is we look at a symptom and...again I worked in a hospital so I tend to think in these terms. We look at a symptom and we want to put a band-aid on the symptom and solve for the symptom, but we're not always looking at the underlying causes. And so what I want to do when I get to the Senate is to look at what the underlying causes of these issues are and focus on those underlying causes. So I think we need to look at the underlying causes of the price increase and figure out how to fix those, not just address the symptom.

Roldan: And when we're talking about education more at a local level, one of the biggest costs for localities is the construction of new schools, particularly in localities that are growing. Would you support state funded financing of school construction in Virginia?

Pohl: Yeah. I think that states in general, we need to fully fund our public schools. I mean, this is something that I've been campaigning on and truly believe our schools are underfunded. We are one of the wealthiest states in the union. And yet, we spend so little on our public schools, and we don’t invest in our future. And so yeah, we need to fund our public schools. And we need to invest now because we need to prepare the future generation. These are our future for Virginia, for the U.S. for beyond. That's who they are, so we need to invest in them now.

Roldan: And one of the things that Virginia is have heard from some of their senators as well as the governor is the issue of the overcrowded state psychiatric hospitals. They have hundreds of people who are stuck there who are ready to leave, but can't. What do you think needs to be done to help the state funded psychiatric hospitals?

Pohl: We need to focus on community based interventions and programming. I was actually visiting with, the heart program in Chesterfield. I visited there this week and learned a lot about some of their concerns and now they're dealing with addiction and recovery. But there’s some overlapping issues with addiction and mental health concerns and behavioral concerns. And one of the things that I learned about is that they really want more funding for community based resources and peer recovery specialists and peer recovery support in the community. And if we could find ways to support that peer recovery, community based services, we could end that overcrowding situation and we could find that support because that's really truly what folks need to address that trauma, to address what's happening in our system. You know, we need that wrap around service in our community and we need more funding for it. I mean, it's system is already over taxed even in the communities.

Roldan: Do you think that the General Assembly should hold hearings into the allegations of sexual assault against Justin Fairfax?

Pohl: That's a really good question. I think there's a lot of opportunity there for those hearings to be really exploitive to those who are the survivors. I think what I'd like to see is for there to be some other kind of option. I think we need to focus on the fact that we have two women who have come forward with their stories who are sexual assault survivors who we need to trust and believe. We need to support women in all the times when they are sharing their stories and we need to address that. And that is a real concern. I work for a group that works on sexual violence and for me that's a really important thing. To address the fact that we need to believe survivors in all instances. That said, I don't want to see this overly politicized, because I do think that can be harmful to survivors. So what I'd like to see is justice be served and the politics stay out of it

Roldan: In the state of Virginia, localities don't have the ability to move or modify Confederate monuments. This is something that's been coming up in the legislature for about the last two or three years. Do you think localities should be given the ability to either modify or take down their Confederate monuments?

Pohl: We talked about localities being the people who know best for their local folks, right? So I think localities should be the ones who are making those decisions. That's not for the General Assembly to decide. It is for the localities to decide. The localities know the people in their communities. So let's give the localities the power to do that. When the people say they want this, let's let the localities make those decisions.

Roldan: Home prices and rents are up not only in Chesterfield and in the 11th district, but across the state. What role do you think that state lawmakers should play in fixing that problem of affordable housing?

Pohl: Yeah. I think that we, we absolutely need to address the affordable housing. I think another thing we need to address is minimum wages. The fact that wages have not kept up with inflation is a huge problem. We need to ensure that people have good jobs and wages that pay enough for them to be able to purchase a house. The fact that the prices keep increasing and yet our wages stay stagnant. Honestly, they're decreasing based on what they were years ago. Even though it looks the same, it's a decrease because of inflation. That's not okay. We need to make sure that folks can afford to live. And to me, that starts with addressing the minimum wage issue.

Roldan: So looking at the issue of criminal justice reform, one of the things that local governments and state governments across the country have been looking at is ending cash bail. Would you support ending cash bail statewide in Virginia?

Pohl: Yes, absolutely. I think that we need to reform our criminal justice system overall. There needs to be an absolute overhaul. We know from the data that the criminal justice system has a history of racism and a current present continued legacy of racism. And we need to address that. And it is a problem for folks who, both based on racial injustice and also for folks who can't afford to be in the system, right? It's a problem for people who are living in poverty. You shouldn't suffer just because of that. We need to address that. And again, this goes back to prevention, right? How do we focus on diversion? How do we focus on making sure that we're focusing on a criminal justice system that is rehabilitative instead of as punitive as we've been focused on, because it doesn't always turn into a rehabilitation when we just focus on the punishment.

Roldan: And when you talk about criminal justice reform, are one of those things that you're looking at mandatory minimum sentences as well? 

Pohl: I do not believe in mandatory minimum sentences at all. Those are strictly punitive and actually harm people. From a wide variety of stances, if you look at mandatory minimums...let's talk about survivors of domestic violence. There was an op ed written in the Richmond paper not too long ago from some colleagues of mine who talked about how folks who are in a domestic violence situation. If they fight back for the first time they might get a mandatory minimum sentence. So you're harming people who have been victimized already and then you're going to put them in jail because they fight back for the first time? These are the kinds of things that happen that are the unintended consequences when we look at mandatory minimums.

And also mandatory minimums are not uniformly applied. We've seen that in other places that they are not uniformly applied. So we really need to get off of that train and not follow that model.

Roldan: That's Amanda Pohl, the Democratic candidate in the 11th district Senate race. Amanda, thank you for joining me.

Pohl: Thank you so much for having me.

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