By Brandon Martin
Potential voters gathered for a “Firing up the Ninth for Sam Rasoul” campaign event at the New Heights Foundation Advancement Center in Martinsville on April 17.
Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, gave a shout-out to the city and the rest of Southside during the livestream event from Blacksburg while seeking support to become the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor.
“If you listen closely, you’ll hear a little bit of an idealistic bend to my message. I can’t shake it. I really believe that we are looking for something better,” Rasoul said. “To my friends out in Martinsville, to Vice Mayor (Jennifer) Bowles, and the crew providing for something better. We see that we have to economically uplift and meet the basic needs of folks all around the state. I’m asking you for your support. I’m asking to become your next lieutenant governor.”
Bowles gave an introduction during the event at the center, speaking about how she first came to know the nominee.
“I first met him at a committee event in Roanoke,” she said. “I remember that event very well because I was so nervous speaking to the crowd. It was one of my first times speaking to the crowd.”
Amongst the crowd of approximately 100 people, Bowles said she didn’t feel that she articulated herself well.
“When I finished speaking, I could tell Sam had listened intently because when he was moderating, he had the mic and he literally articulated exactly what I said even though I knew it was super unclear,” she said. “That’s the type of person Sam is. He is listening to the constituents, he is listening to the young leaders, he is listening to individuals to make sure that he stands up for us.”
It was this moment that changed Bowles’ perspective on politics and local governance, prompting her to start her own journey into public office.
“Too often, we have leaders who are too far removed from the everyday struggle of the normal Virginian. Sam is truly a voice for the people and his People’s Campaign rooted in truth, love and grit are what make our city inspiring and what made me want to run for office,” Bowles said. “Sam Rasoul is the type of candidate that I know will fight for our area. I know Sam has policy solutions rooted in helping working families and small businesses. If you want to elect someone that truly cares, who will fight for you, and will not forget about you in your time of tough moments then you can look no further.”
Suzanne Fuhrmeister, the relational organizer Rasoul in the Martinsville area, also said Rasoul’s platform is beneficial to Southwest and Southside, Virginia.
“He understands that public office is about public service,” she said, adding that Rasoul had previously visited Martinsville in February to discuss issues important to local leaders.
“A living wage, being able to support businesses, education, and hunger,” she said. “He has programs for all of that.”
An example of that is Rasoul’s COVID Recovery Plan. The plan has a range of policy solutions such as implementing a statewide public option, creating rural healthcare jobs and access, paid family and medical leave, instituting fair scheduling and tax rebates for Main Street businesses.
“It’s really about how do you go to a living wage and support small businesses,” Fuhrmeister said. “It’s two-handed like that. He does support a $15 minimum wage but that there is some kind of tax release for the small and medium businesses so they can afford to do that.”
Fuhrmeister also spoke about Rasoul’s Marshall Plan for Moms.
“So many women have had to quit working because they didn’t have anyone to take care of the kids,” she said. “As the schools reopen, that will help. But it also focuses on being able to afford childcare.”
According to Fuhrmeister, Rasoul has some bi-partisan bona fides as well
“He was the only Democrat to cross that line and support (State Sen.) Bill Stanley’s bill to help fund schools getting what they need for maintenance and upgrades,” she said. “Sam does something called the People’s Platform. That is where he goes out and listens and when people say ‘I need you to support a bill on this,’ that’s where his support came from. People were telling him ‘our schools are falling apart, they cannot keep up with the 21st Century.’ We can’t raise taxes. We don’t have the job base here.”
Under Stanley’s bill, a fund would have been created to disburse grants to localities that qualified for needed facility upgrades.
“I think that is very key for him (Rasoul),” Fuhrmeister said. “We have kids that haven’t been in school all year. With them going back, do they have adequate ventilation? Are the roofs leaking?”
Unlike Rasoul, Fuhrmeister said that other Democrats have turned a blind eye to these types of problems facing the Southern border of Virginia.
“My uncle was A.L. Philpott. This was a big Democratic area at that time,” she said. “Gradually, it flipped. People always say that all the Democrats from back then would be Republicans now. No, they wouldn’t. Then (President Donald) Trump flipped it but what we are starting to see is people who identified as Republicans that have turned away because of him. Sam is the perfect kind of person to be there for those people. He’s about a platform that speaks to everybody.”
The platform is beginning to speak to voters like Chance Trevillian, who was present at the event on Saturday.
“I wanted to get more involved with the party,” Trveillian said. “I do what I can to help out and I didn’t know much about him but I did know that he was from Southwest, Virginia so he is a local. We need more representation down here.”
Given the proclivity of the area to vote Republican, Trevillian said it was a priority to have local representation.
“I think getting someone from down here would get more local interest in the system, seeing that someone from our area is in statewide office,” he said. “That would definitely get the interest of young people to get more involved.”
Among the most important issues for Trevillian is education.
“Making sure he has a good commitment to education and providing good strong funding for that would help him get my vote,” Trevillain said. “I haven’t really gotten involved with politics at this level before.”
He added he has previously voted in general elections and primaries for federal representatives but never state-level primaries.
“I’m definitely interested in Sam,” Trevillian. “I’m going to look more into him after today but odds are that I’ll end up supporting him.”
The first day of in-person absentee voting for the Democratic primary begins April 23-24, depending on the locality.