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Suburban 10th Senate District In Play As VA Democrats Fight To Gain Control Of The General Assembly

10th District Senate Race (D)Ghazala Hashmi and (R)Incumbent Glen Sturtevant
10th District Senate Race. Democrat, Ghazala Hashmi and Republican Incumbent Glen Sturtevant.

Glen Sturtevant calls his diverse 10th Senate district a microcosm of the state of Virginia. It spans west from downtown Richmond into Bon Air, Midlothian and rural Powhatan County.

That diverse demographic is also what makes the Republican incumbent particularly vulnerable this election to a challenge from Democrat Ghazala Hashmi. She’s a community college administrator who immigrated to the U.S. from India 50 years ago. 

The district went to Governor Ralph Northam in 2017 and Senator Tim Kaine this past November. Both Democrats won by more than 10 points. 

Sturtevant has tried to cast himself as an independent voice who’s not afraid to break with fellow Republicans on issues like gun control and supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. 

“You have to be somebody who is going to be willing to stand up to the party leadership and to people in power,” he said during a Chamber RVA-sponsored candidate forum, hosted by VPM earlier this month.  “I actually have a record of doing that.” 

Sturtevant said that Hashmi already failed that test when she called on Governor Ralph Northam to resign after the blackface scandal and then later accepted $25,000 in campaign donations from Northam’s political action committee. Hashmi dismissed Sturtevant’s repeated reference to the donation. 

“Governor Northam is not on the ballot in November of 2019,” she said. 

And she pushed back on the Republican’s claim that he is an independent voice in the General Assembly, particularly on the issue of gun control. Lawmakers convened this July for a special session on gun control in the wake of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Republicans ended the session abruptly, and sent gun legislation to the State Crime Commission to be studied rather than taking votes. 

“They made one decision,” Hashmi said. “And that was to adjourn. We can make important changes to gun safety measures. There is a public will to do that. We just need a political will.”

Sturtevant maintains that he broke with his party by supporting a “red flag” law which would permit police or family members to petition a court to order the temporary removal of firearms.  

“That would get people going through a mental health crisis in front of a judge, get them the mental health treatment that they need and get them separated from a deadly weapon before they can hurt themselves or others,” he said. 

Hashmi said voters want tighter restrictions on guns, but also better-funded, higher-quality education and access to affordable healthcare. She criticized Sturtevant’s “no” vote on Medicaid expansion in Virginia as another nod to the Republican’s adherence to party politics. 

“We gave 400,000 previously uninsured Virginians access to Medicaid,” she said. “This was done because we had Democrats committed to doing this.”

Sturtevant said he voted against Medicaid expansion in 2018 because he said it would make healthcare more expensive for middle class and working class Virginians. 

“But Medicaid expansion is now the law of the land and I do not support rolling it back,” he said. “But we have to be efficient and effective in how we spend those dollars on that care.”

Hashmi proposed a cap on rising prescription costs and making alternative health services like telehealth more available. 

Sturtevant highlighted legislation he pursued in the Senate to shield patients from receiving surprise bills. Those are bills they get after they unknowingly receive care from an out-of-network provider. The bill died in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. 

When it comes to the state budget, both candidates rank education funding high on their list of priorities. A recent report from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis said state funding for K-12 education is still down from what it was prior to the recession in 2008. And it’s disproportionately felt in school divisions with the highest child poverty rates. 

“We have to focus on making sure that every child no matter what zip code that he or she lives in is receiving the same quality public education,” Hashmi said. 

Sturtevant agreed with Hashmi that education funding is a priority, but said this requires policies that promote a strong economy and low taxes. 

“Virginia’s economy now is on fire and doing exceptionally well,” he said. “And we have got to keep that going forward.”

The Commonwealth Institute report said that the pre-recession lag has continued despite a decade of economic growth. 

Hashmi argued that decisions made to support the economy sometimes negatively impact vulnerable communities. And that’s one reason she supports increasing the minimum wage. 

“We need to have an opportunity to earn a sustainable living,” Hashmi said. “Seven dollars an hour or anything below $10 an hour does not give our folks an opportunity to actually earn a living. 

Sturtevant joined ranks with fellow Republicans in the General Assembly this year to shoot down a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“When the 16-year-old kid who delivers your pizza to your house on a Friday night is making $15 an hour, not only is his job going to be gone but a lot of other people up the chain of command who will have to be forced to make more than that,” he said.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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