By Callie Hietala
Family is at the forefront of Kimberly Lowe’s congressional campaign. The candidate said she hopes to address a number of issues—addiction, education, job loss, and family separation—all in the hope of creating more stable, more successful family units.
In January, Lowe, a Republican, announced she would seek to represent Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, challenging incumbent Morgan Griffith (R-Salem) for a spot on the Republican ticket in the general election.
Despite recent redistricting putting Griffith’s residence outside of the 9th District, the long-time congressman has announced he will seek reelection. Griffith has represented the district, which includes Martinsville, Patrick County, and parts of Henry County, since 2011 after defeating incumbent Rick Boucher (D-Abingdon) in the 2012 election.
Primary elections are scheduled for June 21, 2022.
Lowe said she grew up in Roanoke, has one sister in Bland County and another in Wythe County.
“It’s hard to take the mountains out of me. I love Southwest Virginia,” she said.
Lowe was speaking from Del Rio, TX, where she said she was touring to learn more about illegal immigration and cartel activities along the Texas/Mexico border.
According to a press release announcing her candidacy, Lowe earned an associate degree in science from Virginia Western Community College, a Bachelor of Science degree from Radford University, and a master’s from Hollins University. She also completed post-master’s coursework towards a doctorate at the University of Amsterdam and Leiden University in the Netherlands and the American International School of Law.
The release stated that her professional career included working as an archaeologist and anthropologist, a farmer, policy advisor, college professor, and a school teacher.
Lowe said she taught grades 6-12 in Roanoke City Schools, which began to open her eyes to some of the issues in the education system that she believes need to be addressed on the federal level.
“In my opinion, the school system was failing the kids,” she said, noting that things may have changed in the city’s school division in the 20 years since she worked there. “I was told that my expectations were too high, that I needed to show them more movies. I was forced to change their grades. Twenty years ago, they were altering their SOL scores for federal funding.
“I realized then that I couldn’t fix education as a teacher,” she said, adding that education needs a complete overhaul. Specifically, she said, more time needs to be spent teaching critical reading and writing skills and programs that prepare students for modern jobs.
“I don’t think that we should be pulling people in from other countries to do American jobs when we have kids here that we could train in these technological jobs,” she said.
In addition to education, Lowe identified several pillars of her campaign, including bringing jobs to the area, working to solve the opioid epidemic, and helping to improve family stability.
“All that goes hand in hand,” she said, describing the three as a circle. “Solving all of those would strengthen Southwest Virginia.”
Her campaign developed its focus, in large part, from stories people have shared with Lowe about their own struggles with addiction, job loss, and subsequent separation from their children.
“People contact me around the nation,” she said, “I’m the person they come to, and Southwest Virginia, West Virginia are where I get the most calls. It’s extremely bad.”
Lowe said she became a touchstone for people struggling with these issues after her husband left her and their 3 children in 2017, and they began divorce proceedings through the courts.
There, she found, “there’s no due process, and whoever has the most money can basically torture you for years in court.”
Also, it was around that time when she learned “they are literally trafficking children through our courts. I found a trafficking ring between Southside Virginia and Alaska,” which, she said she believes targeted her own children.
She said a decade ago, 22 million families in America had been affected by child trafficking. Currently, she said, 1 child per minute goes into the state’s custody and “we don’t necessarily know where they go. We do know that 88 percent of children recovered by the U.S. Marshals Service all came out of foster care.”
“I had surveillance in front of my house for a year and a half,” she said, with unmarked cars bearing tags registered to people who were deceased. Her children’s photos, she said, went missing from her court file. She said someone wrote an article on her story, which is when people began to reach out both to share their own stories and to “warn me more about what’s really happening in the courts, which honestly saved my kids.
“Somewhere along the way,” she recalled, “I started to realize there was a problem with CPS (Child Protective Services) and then I learned from my own experience that no one would help me.”
With so many people reaching out, and because the issues she was addressing were so specialized, she said she became an expert on federal law and now helps guide people through court proceedings and through dealings with CPS.
“I have people ready to go on my staff, ready to come in with me so we can solve the family court issues because it’s costing us a lot of money and it’s destroying our families,” she said. “That’s money that can go back into our community when a family has a crisis.
“We should not punish our families when they have a crisis,” she said. “We need to help families, and I think Southwest Virginia’s a great example of that.”
Families in crisis are part of what brought Lowe to the Texas/Mexico border in the first place. Those struggling with addiction issues often face a number of difficulties, she said.
“When people are addicted, they end up committing crime because of it, and because of that they can’t get a job, so it’s a horrible circle.” Oftentimes, she said, that circle of struggle leads to separation of families. “The child removal rate is very high,” particularly in Southwest Virginia, she said.
“Even when parents get clean,” she said, “they don’t get their kids back and it’s creating so much trauma.”
Lowe said she was visiting the border in part because “massive amounts of drugs are coming in the ports. It’s costing a lot of money and it’s affecting Southwest Virginia, so I’m here to try to figure out what’s happening, how is it coming in. We haven’t been effective at stopping people from using drugs, but there has been some effectiveness in slowing down the movement.”
Lowe said that, if elected, she hopes to get a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which would put her in a position to help make decisions on what’s happening along the border, and could ultimately lead to helping stymie the influx of illegal substances. “I have experts working with me to make me an expert on what’s happening in southern border countries,” she said.
Also, Lowe said she has identified treatment centers in the western U.S. where people can go for addiction treatment and recovery that allow them to bring their children with them, preventing separation between child and parent.
Job creation, too, would help to address the issue of family stability, Lowe said. She has identified several ideas for bringing new jobs to the district, including working with a company that creates greenhouses which, she said, would bring in a large number of permanent jobs, create a continual source of local income, and become a source of fresh food which, she said, is needed in the area.
She said she would like to see some of that food make its way into school cafeterias, referencing a number of pilot programs focusing on bringing farm-to-table food to school divisions.
Lowe identified the modular housing industry as another potential source not only of jobs, but of affordable housing to families and individuals in the district.
She said she is also a proponent of creating federal incentives to buy local coal, and creating a transition program to address income gaps for families who have given their lives to the coal industry and are now “in a position where they don’t know what to do. Someone needs to swoop in and help them out.”
Of her opponent, Lowe said Griffith lacks understanding of the real issues in the district or how to address them.
“I hear he’s a nice guy, but he’s been a career politician for 27 years and people are dying in his district. I think he means well, but he doesn’t have the vision or understanding on how to address it and he has not addressed the family situation at all. It’s just time for him to go.”
Ultimately, Lowe said her campaign “is not about me, it’s about saving the people of Southwest Virginia. I have real ideas and vision on how to do that.”