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Spanberger declares victory in close Congressional race; Freitas waits

Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger declared victory Wednesday over Republican Del. Nick Freitas in the tight 7th District U.S. House of Representatives race, though some absentee ballots remain uncounted.

Capital News Service

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By Anya Sczerzenie 

Democratic congresswoman Abigail Spanberger declared victory Wednesday over Republican Del. Nick Freitas in the tight 7th District U.S. House of Representatives race, though some absentee ballots remain uncounted.

The reporting of absentee ballots from Henrico and Spotsylvania counties late afternoon Wednesday pushed Spanberger into a slim lead. Spanberger had won 50.5% of votes, while Freitas secured 49.4% of votes, according to The Virginia Public Access Project. Spanberger was leading Freitas Wednesday evening by 5,134 votes and as many as 5,269 additional absentee ballots still could factor into the race.

Spanberger, who just hours earlier has released a video on social media calling for patience through the process, declared victory after the boost in votes. She said she looked forward to continuing her work in Congress.

“Tonight, the Seventh District affirmed its commitment to leadership in Congress that puts Central Virginia first, works for everyone, and focuses on expanding opportunity for the next generation of Virginians,” Spanberger said in the press release.

Freitas said his campaign will make an official statement Friday when all votes are tallied, out of respect for the race.

Spanberger addressed her district in a Facebook Live speech shortly after declaring victory, in which she underlined her commitment to several issues. She promised to work on lowering the cost of prescription drugs, extending broadband internet coverage to rural areas, and protecting Americans from foreign hacking.

“I said I would find common ground, and I said I would hold my ground if necessary,” Spanberger said, “and I believe I have done just that.”

This victory would clinch a second term in a district that only recently turned blue in 2018 when Spanberger, a former CIA agent, beat David Brat.

Freitas is an Army veteran and member of the Virginia House of Delegates representing Orange, Culpeper and Madison counties. He is seeking his first term in Congress. Freitas first won a House seat in 2015. He kept his seat in a write-in campaign in 2019 and then weeks later he announced his bid for the 7th District. Freitas’ campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

 “The first issue Abigail Spanberger will work on is COVID-19,” said Connor Joseph, a spokesperson for Spanberger’s campaign. “Every issue is through the lens of COVID-19.”

Joseph said Spanberger plans to increase broadband internet access to rural communities, and emphasized the need for it during a pandemic where school and work often take place online.

The race was closely watched and predicted. Politico rated the race a “toss up” just before the election. The University of Virginia Center for Politics thought Spanberger might perform better than Biden in her district and said her two-years of experience might help.

Spanberger, who grew up in the same district she currently represents, is rated a moderate Democrat. She often touts a focus on bipartisanship. In October, Spanberger voted against the second HEROES Act—a coronavirus relief package endorsed by Democrats—and wrote in a press release that she found the bill too partisan. She is a member of the “March to Common Ground” caucus, which is working to draft a bipartisan COVID-19 relief plan.

Freitas is a conservative Republican who supports gun rights. He has been described as having a “conservative voting record and a libertarian streak” by the Associated Press. Freitas sponsored a resolution during the pandemic that would have allowed the legislature to vote on any state of emergency declarations made by the governor that last longer than seven days, but the measure didn’t advance. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in March, and it remains in place.

The 7th District now leans more Democrat with the 2016 removal of Hanover County, home to primarily Republican voters. It encompasses both suburban and more rural precincts, including Henrico and Chesterfield counties and also Spotsylvania and Louisa counties. The voter profile is 72% white and 19% Black, according to VPAP.

The race injected more cash into broadcast and cable TV advertising than the presidential race, a significant amount of money for a two-year seat. Around $15 million was spent on TV attack ads, according to VPAP. Spanberger spent more than the Freitas campaign. Spanberger ads mostly focused on Freitas voting records, while Freitas ads delved into Spanberger’s CIA past and attempted to make a negative association with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

The final count of remaining absentee ballots will be announced Friday at the earliest. Pundits often note that absentee ballots are often cast by Democrats, while Election Day returns lean more Republican.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Virginia Asian communities, lawmakers react to rise in targeted violence

Asian American communities in Central Virginia have come together in the past month, vigil after vigil in response to a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes. Virginia lawmakers are also trying to tackle the problem, and recently formed a Virginia Asian American Pacific Islander Caucus to push legislation on behalf of Asian communities, such as increased language assistance in government services.

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By David Tran

Capital News Service

White signs reading “End Violence Against Asians” and “Stop Asian Hate” illuminated against candle flames outside the Richmond Korean Presbyterian Church.

More than 60 people gathered recently in Southside Richmond for the candlelight vigil to commemorate the Atlanta shooting victims and to call attention to recent anti-Asian violence.

“We did not want to be here, but we are here because of the hate,” said Mahmud Chowdhury, chairman of the Asian American Society of Central Virginia. “Because of madness in some people’s hearts and because of racism.”

The vigil was one of numerous events across Virginia this past March as communities, advocates and lawmakers came together in response to the murder of eight people in Atlanta. Six of the eight victims were Asian women. Police charged 21-year-old Robert Aaron Long, who is white, with eight counts of murder.

A “Stop the Hate” rally was held in Richmond’s West End three days after the vigil. Community leaders and dignitaries, such as Attorney General Mark Herring and State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, spoke at the rally.

May Nivar, who is Asian American and chair of Gov. Ralph Northam’s Asian Advisory Board, said she attended the vigil to show support for her community.

“It’s important that we all stand together and stand not only together amongst our own community but also with other marginalized communities,” Nivar said.

Nivar also is a founding member and chair of the Asian & Latino Solidarity Alliance of Central Virginia and member of the Richmond chapter of Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. She said fundamental local and federal legislative changes are needed to address anti-Asian discrimination.

“These vigils, they help bring the community together when we’re hurting,” Nivar said. “However, the real change has to come at the root cause. And that’s racism.”

These changes, Nivar said, include anti-racist policies in government and education, such as teaching the history of minorities. She said white supremacy plays a part in the absence of teaching the history of marginalized communities in schools, such as African American and Asian American history.

Nivar said the Asian American and Pacific Islander community also needs to internally reflect on its part in addressing systemic racism and striving for substantial changes.

“We need to work with ourselves,” Nivar said. “There’s a lot of anti-Blackness in our community. There’s a lot of colorism in our community. There’s a lot of layers to unpack.”

State legislators recently formed a caucus to advocate legislation for Asian American and Pacific Islanders in Virginia, which the founding members said was partly a response to recent anti-Asian hate crimes.

Del. Kathy K.L. Tran, D-Springfield, said the movement to combat Asian hate is part of a larger racial and economic justice movement.

The caucus plans to work alongside the Virginia Legislative Black and Virginia Latino caucuses to push out legislation to “achieve our common goals of a more equitable future for Virginians.”

Tran was overcome with emotions as she reflected on the surge of violence against Asian Americans in the past months.

“It’s as if we have been so othered, that we’re at the point that we’re dehumanized,” Tran said, “and that you could be cruel against us. You can be a bully against us, because nobody’s going to stand up to help us.”

Days after Tran’s remarks, a Filipina American woman was brutally attacked in New York City during the day. No one intervened.

Tran’s family came to the United States as refugees from Vietnam. Her family dealt with discrimination and microaggressions when they moved to the U.S, she said.

“I’m thinking about my own experience and unpacking that,” Tran said. “That’s hard. It’s just a lot of trauma.”

Del. Kelly K. Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, said the Asian American community has a long history of enduring xenophobia and racism. Convirs-Fowler, who is of Filipino descent, added the Asian American and Pacific Islander community will not be a scapegoat. She rejected the notion that the group is a model minority, a stereotype that paints Asian Americans as hardworking and economically successful compared to other ethnic minorities. She said the caucus formation “symbolizes a shift” in Virginia’s Asian American community.

The caucus members do not have a firm list of policy agendas, but they will have a virtual listening tour in April to gauge issues and concerns in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community. They will virtually meet with the public in Northern and Central Virginia and Hampton Roads.

Del. Suhas Subramanyam, D-Ashburn, said the caucus will incorporate the feedback into its policy agenda, which it plans to release in May, coinciding with Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. The caucus will pursue specific legislation during the 2022 General Assembly session.

Del. Mark L. Keam, D-Fairfax, said he wants to improve language access at government services for Asian Americans and others who do not speak English. He said non-English speakers are not getting vital information about COVID-19 vaccine distribution or unemployment insurance claims due to the lack of language assistance.

While Atlanta law enforcement have not declared the killings a hate crime, many Asian Americans believe the shootings are another example of the spike in anti-Asian violence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocates and lawmakers have linked the hate crimes to rhetoric blaming the Asian community for COVID-19. Many attribute the origin to former President Donald Trump’s usage of the terms “Chinese virus” or “Kung flu” to describe COVID-19.

“The past administration in the White House frequently sought to demean and dehumanize,” the Asian American and Pacific Islander community and didn’t respond to growing attacks, said Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Chesterfield.

Hashmi introduced a bill this legislative session to expand the definition of hate crimes to include attacks based on the perception of a person’s identity. The bill failed to advance.

Tran said anti-Asian hate crimes may go unreported because most people are afraid to come forward.

“They might not have the language abilities, the trust of law enforcement, and they just don’t know how to report,” Tran said.

Subramanyam said he received calls and emails from Asian Americans, especially South Asian Americans, reporting hate incidents to his office because they feel uncomfortable reporting to law enforcement.

There were 215 reported victims of anti-Asian hate crimes in 2019, according to an FBI hate crime statistics report. Anti-Asian hate crimes increased nearly 150% from 2019 to 2020 in 16 major U.S. cities, according to a Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism report.

Almost 50 hate incidents against Asian Americans occurred in Virginia since March 2020, according to a report by STOP AAPI Hate, a group that tracks hate incidents against Asian Americans. The organization uses the term hate incident to account for incidents motivated by bias that might not be legally defined as a crime, such as racist slurs.

Nearly 3,800 hate incidents nationwide were reported to the organization since the pandemic. Virginia was one of the top 18 states with the most reported incidents, joining Maryland and the District of Columbia.

Reported hate incidents in Virginia were much lower than incidents reported in California, New York and Washington, which accounted for a majority of incidents. The group received almost 1,700 hate incident reports in California.

The majority of individuals reported verbal harassment, followed by shunning and physical assault. Chinese is the largest ethnicity group to report hate, followed by Koreans, Vietnamese and Filipinos. Women reported more than twice as much anti-Asian discrimination than men, according to the report.

There is a long legacy of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. that is often intertwined with misogyny, experts said. One of the earliest acts of anti-Asian sentiment was the 1871 Chinese massacre in Los Angeles that killed 19 Chinese immigrants, said Sylvia Chong, associate professor of American studies at the University of Virginia.

The Page Act of 1875 denied Chinese women entry into the U.S. due to “lewd and immoral purposes” because “they were seen as a sort of a threat to immigration, but also, they were characterized as not being virtuous,” said Shilpa Davé, associate dean and assistant professor of media studies at UVA.

 Anti-Asian discrimination seeped into laws, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that prohibited all immigration of Chinese laborers. It was the first federal law to bar a specific ethnic group from coming into the country.

Chong and Davé said the U.S. military presence and imperialism in Asia during the 20th century escalated the sexualization of Asian women. Chong said there was “persistent encouragement and use” of the local population to satisfy the military’s sexual needs.

“This introduces to American troops … the notion that Asian women in particular are in the position of sexual servitude,” Chong said. “So this follows people home.”

This narrative carried over and persisted in American popular culture, in numerous films and musicals, such as “Miss Saigon” portraying Asian women as sex objects, Davé said. It created the stereotype of Asian women being “sexually promiscuous or self-sacrificing” which became ingrained in American society.

The Atlanta shootings and recent violence underscore the intersectionality of gender, class and immigration status in anti-Asian racism, Chong said. While there is no indication the Atlanta shooting victims engaged in sex work, she said, Asian massage parlor workers are vulnerable to sexual exploitation. Low-wage laborers, such as massage spa workers, are often exploited and demonized, she said. There is also a narrative that they need to be “saved from their lives,” which is harmful, according to Chong.

“They need to be given the protection to live their lives as others do,” Chong said. “Free from coercion, law enforcement coercion, as well as the random violence, societal violence. This is what any person in society wants.”

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Community-based doula project launches in Henrico, aiming to provide free support to pregnant women of color

Eligible individuals who apply for the program receive free Doula care through Birth in Color RVA or Urban Baby Beginnings.

RVAHub Staff

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Richmond and Henrico Health Districts have implemented a fund to support Black- or African American-identifying pregnant individuals living in Henrico to access local community-based Doula organizations. Eligible individuals who apply for the program receive free Doula care through Birth in Color RVA or Urban Baby Beginnings. The doula program is made possible by the Greater Richmond Regional Maternal Child Health Taskforce, which is composed of public health, birthing, parenting, and equity experts. The program was launched in March and is funded through a grant sponsored by the Henrico County Office of Emergency Management.

A community-based doula is a trained labor support person who comes from the same culture and background as the person giving birth. As trusted community members, community-based doulas perform home visits, help connect persons giving birth to local social services, and provide a holistic approach focusing on prenatal and postnatal health.

“We are intentional about addressing health disparities for black people… Doulas can help improve the maternal health experience and address health disparities by reducing the impacts of racism and racial bias on pregnant and postpartum people,” explains Kenda Sutton-EL, Full Spectrum Doula Trainer and Executive Director, Birth In Color RVA.

This program seeks to eliminate health disparities and offer an empowering birth experience. Promising evidence indicates doulas lessen the chance of low birth weight and infant/maternal mortality. Working with a doula has also been associated with more spontaneous vaginal births, higher satisfaction with the birth experience, increased breastfeeding initiation, and shorter labor.

“Perinatal community-led programs help address barriers by providing a culturally congruent web of support centered around respectful and quality reproductive care,” explains Stephanie Spencer, Registered Nurse, and Executive Director, Urban Baby Beginnings. “For over 27 years, Urban Baby Beginnings has addressed barriers… We are honored to continue expanding our community-based support programs.”

Interested individuals can learn more about the program by visiting Henrico County’s website or apply using this screening form. Due to limited resources, acceptance into the program is not guaranteed.

The community-based doula fund is just one of the initiatives coming out of the taskforce; the group seeks to improve maternal and infant health outcomes and eliminate disparities through focusing on doula care, family planning, and integrative care models.

“Our partners in this work are knowledgeable, experienced, and committed to serving our communities,” says Whitney Tidwell, Maternal Child Health Nurse Coordinator at Richmond and Henrico Health Districts. “It has been an honor to work with them.”

Anyone interested in learning more about the taskforce can visit the website or email [email protected].

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Early voting begins for Virginia June primary 

The first day of early voting began Friday for the June 8th Virginia primary election.

Capital News Service

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By Sam Fowler

The first day of early voting began Friday for the June 8th Virginia primary election.

Voters will be able to choose candidates in advance of the November state election, including for the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general races. Republican and Democratic candidates for the House of Delegates are also on the ballot.

 Legislators recently changed laws to allow early, in-person and no-excuse absentee voting. A record number of absentee and early votes were cast during the last presidential election, according to the Virginia Department of Elections. Turnout was at its highest since 199, 2.

Voters do not have to fill out an application to vote early. They can go to their voting location and cast a ballot, VDOE stated in a news release. Early, in-person voting remains open until June 5.

 The voter registration deadline for the June primary is May 17. The deadline to request to have an absentee ballot mailed to a residence will be May 28 at 5 p.m.

Nearly half of Virginia’s Democratic voters are backing former Gov. Terry McAuliffe in his second bid to lead the state, according to a report released April 22 by the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Newport News-based Christopher Newport University. McAuliffe, according to recent campaign finance reports, also leads the pack in fundraising.

None of the other four Democratic candidates reach double-digit support. Also on the primary ballot are Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (8%); Richmond Sen. Jennifer McClellan (6%); former Prince William Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy (5%); and Manassas Del. Lee Carter (1%). The report states that 27% of voters are undecided.

The field for lieutenant governor is also crowded and almost two out of three Democratic voters are undecided, according to the Wason Center. Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, has emerged as the front runner with 12% support.

Attorney General Mark Herring, vying for his third term in the position, currently leads the attorney general race with 42% of Democratic voter support. Herring’s opponent Del. Jerrauld “Jay” Jones, D-Norfolk, has 18% voter support. More than 30% of Democratic voters are undecided about the attorney general race.

The gubernatorial election could be historic, said Jatia Wrighten, an assistant professor in the political science department at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Four Black women are running for governor this year: two Democrats, one independent and a Republican. If any won, they would be the first Black woman to serve as head of any state, Wrighten said.

“What is so very different right now in Virginia is that you’re not only looking at one very competent, very viable, Black woman for the governorship, there’s two [Democratic] women running,” Wrighten said.

Wrighten doesn’t believe there will be an uptick in early voting.

 “I don’t think there’s going to be [an] even larger increase from November but it is possible that maybe the rates stay the same,” Wrighten said.

A record number of Democrats in the House of Delegates face a challenge from within their own party this year, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. 

The 2020 Virginia General Assembly session marked the first time since 1994 that the Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly along with the governor’s office. Virginia has shifted from a red to a blue state, which could be due to a change in demographics, especially around Northern Virginia, Wrighten said.

The Republican party will hold a statewide convention on May 8. The party will determine its candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general by ranked choice voting among participating delegates.

Early voters must bring an acceptable ID to vote in person. They also can request an absentee ballot through the Virginia Department of Elections website or return an absentee ballot request by mail, fax, or email.

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