There is no greater geographic representation of our current political climate than Virginia’s 58th district. The 58th was once represented by Thomas Jefferson, contains his estate Monticello and James Monroe’s neighboring Ash-Lawn Highland, and, in a bit of sardonic irony, also contains the Trump Winery. Yes, this is the winery that he claimed was one of the biggest in the world or the universe or whatever lie he decided to tell that day. (Just for clarification sake, it is not even the biggest winery in Virginia, nor does the President actually own it.)
Republican Rob Bell has held the seat since his election in 2001, and has been running unopposed since 2011. But, all that is about to change. Let me introduce you to ER nurse (and self-proclaimed connoisseur of dad jokes) Kellen Squire. He graduated from the University of Virginia and describes himself as ‘a Christian, an avid outdoorsman, and a hard-working, middle-class American.’. (In case you were wondering, his website also features photos of him with his three children, so the dad jokes are 100% authentic.)
On most issues, Squire holds typical progressive positions. He is in favor of increasing the minimum wage, moving towards renewable energy, and making college more affordable, just to name a few.
His stance on woman’s rights is where I found his language to get somewhat confusing. As a Democratic woman, I am immediately skeptical when a male candidate leads with being a Christian. I worry that I am going to find myself traveling through a rabbit-hole of rhetoric about how they’re not not pro-choice, but have some concerns about abortion… (insert other vague arguments here.) Squire’s website does fall into that trap, especially when discussion of these issues appear on a page labeled ‘family values’ with a sentence that seems to imply that he’s neither pro-choice nor pro-life. However, he does cede that ‘making abortions illegal only makes safe abortion illegal’ and tries to appease both sides by saying that he is actually ‘pro-family’ and is interested in ‘reduc[ing] abortions by reducing the reasons that people seek them.’ This sounds both promising and confusing.
Besides the non-committal language on his website, there are also accusations online reporting that he used to be a pro-life Republican. Seemingly the best way to gain some clarity was to reach out to the campaign and ask about both his past and his stance on abortion rights. The email response, which seems to have come from Squire himself, confirmed that he was once registered as a Republican, but also declared, in no uncertain terms, that he is pro-choice and has no problem being labeled such.
(While on the ‘Family Values’ page, also check out his short video on birth control. He says that, as a nurse, he’s happy to talk about cervical mucus all day, which is a refreshing break from most male politicians who probably can’t even walk down the tampon aisle at the store.)
While I hope that Squire will update the language on his website to reflect his apparent wholehearted embrace of the pro-choice movement, there is no question that he is far better on this issue than his opponent. Rob Bell’s support of legislation requiring women to undergo an ultrasound before receiving an abortion proves that the only thing he stands for is right-wing extremism. Squire’s political stance and experience as a nurse definitively offers the women of Virginia the better option that they deserve.
However, you do not need to solely trust my opinion on Squire. If you really want to get a flavor for who he really is, there is no better resource than his Reddit AMA. His answers are thoughtful but concise and contain enough colorful phrases to make me want to road trip down to Virginia to have a beer with him. (My favorite was his response to a question about ‘Right to Work’ legislation which he described as misleading as the term ‘Netflix and Chill.’) His response to a question about Thomas Jefferson, however, was the question that seemed to be the most telling. Politicians can learn the right buzzwords about different policies and positions, but this person asked specifically how he would uphold the legacy of Jefferson.
Jefferson’s legacy is something that is quite contentious these days, so I expected Squire to give a glossy and glamorized history of our 3rd president that mentioned positive things like the Declaration and largely ignored some of the controversies. However, Squire noted that while he considers Jefferson to be one of his heroes, he is also a complicated and hypocritical anti-hero. The answer isn’t completely clear, but he seems to be suggesting that the true legacy of Jefferson is both imperfection and moral courage.
While this a somewhat simplified and privileged position on Jefferson, I can appreciate his intent. All people are imperfect and all politicians are people. Squire’s own complicated political background seems to fit in with the historical narrative of his district. Based on his campaign thus far, he appears to be unabashedly honest, progressive, and true to his character. While nuances and disagreements on policy are unavoidable, those three character traits will always form a strong foundation for any aspiring candidate.