For the first time since 2011, voters will have a choice of at least two candidates in the 2017 Virginia House of Delegates election.
Stephanie Cook, 30, from Franklin County, is seeking the Democratic nomination for the 9th District, which includes Patrick County plus parts of Franklin and Henry counties.
So far, vying for the Republican nomination is incumbent Del. Charles Poindexter, Glade Hill, and challenger Justin Washer, 28, of Bassett.
Cook, who works as a substitute teacher in Franklin County, lives with her husband and their three children in the Sontag area. She said she’s never been involved in politics, and didn’t pay close attention to politics until the past few years.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Religious Studies from Stetson University in Florida, Cook said she was focused on her family and finding work. “I was just trying to keep my head above water,” Cook said. However, she began to feel the impact and a desire to facilitate change.
“Even if I’m not paying attention, that doesn’t mean politics won’t affect me and my family,” Cook said. “So I started paying attention, and I didn’t like what I was seeing. I didn’t feel represented.”
Cook said she began casting about for someone who might run for office, but realized “I shouldn’t ask someone else to do what I wouldn’t.” At that point, she looked into the process, made her intent known, and decided to seek the nomination.
“Honestly, I don’t have a world of experience in this,” Cook said. “But thankfully, the Virginia way is that we are not supposed to be not professional politicians. This is supposed to be a part-time experience.”
Cook said she hopes more voters will question whether they feel their needs and concerns are represented and addressed by state lawmakers.
“I think a lot of people don’t know who their delegate is and how he impacts their lives,” Cook said. “Once they start paying attention to education, to the hours they are working, and how they are impacted they think, ‘Hey, we’re a hard-working family but nothing I do seems to get me ahead and I wonder why that is.’
“My hope is that they look at the kinds of changes I offer versus the incumbent and they like those changes.”
In outlining those changes, Cook said she plans to focus on attracting jobs and industry to this district; and to partner with schools and labor organizations to promote training programs such as trades, health-care jobs, and cyber-security.
“We need to find a balance between preparing for the workplace of tomorrow and meeting the needs of today,” Cook said. “We have some incredibly hard-working people here, but the labor market makes them feel expendable. They wouldn’t feel that way if the government was working for them instead of against them.”
Cook also wants to continue to address business needs such as reliable internet and cellphone service in rural areas.
“Also, education is massively important to me,” she said. “Working as a teacher, I’ve seen first-hand the damage poverty has had in this area. Instead of trying to move money away from our public schools – which are already broke – we need to be investing in our public schools, which are for everyone.”
A member of Rocky Mount United Methodist Church, Cook said she draws on her extensive service work and church volunteerism. “Mission trips have given me vantage points I might not have otherwise had,” she said.
Cook is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Education with an emphasis on special education from Liberty University.