By Brandon Martin
GOP hopeful Thomas Speciale hopes he may be the one to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat, who is seeking re-election after his second term wraps up this year
Speciale is among the contenders who hope to secure the GOP’s nomination to challenge Warner in November.
“It’s about the candidate that can beat Mark Warner, and that’s me,” Speciale said. “I’m getting into the fight because I am sick and tired of the country club liberal elites like Mark Warner who have spent their entire political careers working to dismantle the American Dream. I am fighting to restore our liberty and give the government back to the people.”
Speciale, who currently serves as a Chief Warrant Officer 3 in the Army Reserves with 28 years of Active and Reserve service under his belt, said he knows a little something about fighting.
He said that his experience working in the military and intelligence communities as a subject matter expert on terrorism and Middle Eastern conflict issues will give him a leg up on his competition this year.
“With my intelligence background, I feel like I can go toe-to-toe with Warner,” he said. “That’s why I’m best suited to be his opponent come November.”
Speciale made it clear that if he gets to Washington, he will have four things on his mind: immigration, mental health, education and criminal justice reform.
According to him, these policy grounds all influence one another and many other aspects of our daily lives.
In terms of immigration, Speciale said he sympathized with those who want to come to the United States in search of freedom and opportunity, but that he sees issues arising over low skilled labor.
“A big part of the problem here is the lack of low skilled labor available in the U.S., creating a demand for labor and drawing hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants to fill these jobs every year,” he said. “But when they arrive illegally, they become vulnerable to abuses due to their status and drive down the wages for our existing low skilled labor force. This demand for labor, and the massive influx of immigrants then impacts our entire system: education, healthcare, the legal system, housing availability, etc.”
He believes the issue could be solved with four steps. First, he said the immigration system must be reformed to better align with labor market needs. Next, he thinks that laws should discourage employers from hiring illegal immigrants. Then, he said he would call for a Secure Border Initiative, including a wall if necessary. Finally, he said that “the law must provide a pathway to citizenship for those people our past political leaders encouraged to come here illegally.”
He also is looking for other changes in the criminal justice system, and recounts a story on his campaign website about how an incident at a comic book store in his early life could have landed him with a felony charge.
“Our lives and our futures would have been forever changed,” he said. “It was a mistake. We were being stupid. I took full responsibility, but it was the $200 I borrowed from my grandmother which saved us. I paid an attorney $200 to get our charge reduced to a misdemeanor. It shouldn’t be a crime to be poor.”
“When our laws were initially established, I don’t believe the intent was to permanently handicap someone for their crime,” Speciale said. “The intent was to punish them and then let them move on with their life. But because of the computer age and the ease of access to public information, now every single mistake a person makes is available for anyone to read and as such, people can be permanently handicapped from a very early age as a result of a mistake in their youth. The poor in particular. The rich can just buy their way free of the brand.”
To address the issue, Speciale said that “we need to reinvest in our human capital as a country.” This concept could also tie into his education platform as well.
“I believe we need a new American Dream, a dream of freedom of opportunity and I believe that begins with education,” he said. “We need to fundamentally change how we think about education and we need to go big.”
His plan calls for more investment in physical and instructional improvements. As far as instruction, Speciale said that the country should move towards STEMM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine) education. His plan also calls for more vocational education.
“Teachers can’t just teach, they have to teach to test,” he said. “They can’t focus on uplifting and nurturing children.”
Speciale tied in his plans for STEMM on rejuvenating the nation’s mental health services.
He said increased focus on medicine will create more staff in the mental health field. This is only the first step, according to Speciale. By combining technologies, such as Zoom, free training can be provided to more individuals. He said this would create more awareness and people to potentially respond, adding that law enforcement should be the first group to receive the training.
Increased efforts on mental health will also change the conversation on guns, according to Speciale adding that the focus on the issue makes this year perfect to unseat Warner.
“The best thing to happen to me was the gun grab by the Democrats,” he said. “People have missed how monumental this is,” he said about the gun rights protest on January 20 in Richmond. “Never has there been as big of a mobilization of a militia. When he (Gov. Ralph Northam) poked the bear, the militia woke up.”
Now that democrats have control of the executive and legislative branches in Virginia, Speciale acknowledged that he would have to work across the aisle, but he has a plan for that too.
“It’s not about compromise,” he said. “It’s about shared values and convincing them (democrats) of our shared values and working on legislation to address them.”
One way that he plans on accomplishing this is through “straight bills with no riders.”
Riders are provisions added onto bills that have little or nothing to do with the topic of the original bill, according to online information.
“That’s the biggest problem when it comes to the gridlock in Washington,” Speciale said. “Bills don’t stand on their own merits.”
His differing views on the issue may tie into his differing goals.
“I have no desire to be a politician,” he said. “People that make a career out of this have lost sight of what it means to be a civil servant. They are supposed to carry the water for constituents.”
Unlike some politicians, Speciale said that if elected, he would step down after his second term and endorse another candidate in his final year.
Speciale and his wife Amy live in Woodbridge, Va., with their two children Evan (17) and Nicholas (8). He also has two children from a previous marriage: Thomas (21) and Sophia (18).
Other candidates seeking the republican nomination this year are Daniel Gade and Alissa Baldwin.