Virginia elections are November 5, 2019. Qasim Rashid (pronounced Q-awesome) is campaigning to be the Democratic nominee for State Senator from Virginia’s 28th district. I am one of Rashid’s 260,000-plus followers on Twitter and conducted an email interview with him in 2017 prior to the first blue wave crashing into Virginia. When I reached the candidate by phone over the weekend, I immediately put him on the spot for something he takes real joy in — “dad jokes.”
“Recently, I was in London,” he told me, setting the stage. “I was eating an orange and inside the orange was a baby orange. And it was my first ever vitamin C-section.” The corny jokes have become part of Qasim’s well honed public image. His work as a public speaker, author and activist has built bridges between Americans of many faiths. He demystifies the religion that took a major social hit after the 9/11 attacks and turned his communication skills into a tool to expose hate of all kinds and bring people of good will together. It is that work that led me to interview Qasim.
I began by asking why he had chosen to become a sort-of spokesperson for his faith. “Well, I think that when you’re in a post-9/11 America, you really don’t have a choice; you’re already out there,” Qasim said. “And so for me, it was less a question of being out there or not but more a question of what am I going to do now that I am out there. I’m not one to shy away from telling my story. I’ve long agreed that if you don’t tell your own story, then somebody will tell it for you and you may not like how they tell it.” Qasim takes that message very seriously. He’s written or co-written 5 books including THE WRONG KIND OF MUSLIM where he wrote about the difficulties facing Ahmadi Muslims in the Arab world. “For me, this is really about embracing my identity as an American, my identity as a Muslim and demonstrating that not only is there no conflict, but they actually work pretty well together.”
Qasim talked about how his childhood developed his sense of service and his desire to help his community. “For as long as I can remember my parents and my brother got heavily involved in community service, humanitarian work and disaster relief. And that’s something that’s been ingrained in us and I’m grateful for that. Because when you’re helping somebody who’s in need and you’re doing it for the sheer love of humanity, it breaks down a lot of walls and it builds a lot of bridges. That’s something that I hope to infuse into my kids lives, something that I hope to bring to my run for public office and my, hopefully fruitful, tenure as a public servant.”
The issue that has become the biggest issue in the minds of Americans from Fredericksburg to Fresno is heath care. I asked Qasim what the Virginia State legislature has already done to help alleviate the concerns of Virginians in regards to the rising costs and lack of access to quality affordable health care, and where they need to do more.
“It was an important step forward when Virginia lawmakers expanded Medicaid last year. That’s 400,000 low income residents—400,000 people in general—that will now have access to health care that didn’t have access before. And so I think that’s very good thing. It was a five year battle to get it to go through, and I think that’s a very good first step. I think that needs to continue.” Qasim explained that expanding Medicaid can’t be the end because it’s not just the lowest income families that are in jeopardy in the current American health care reality. “The reality is that 63% of bankruptcies in America are due to people not being able to pay their medical costs. And as devastating as that is, I want people think about what that actually means because that’s just people who are going bankrupt from medical costs. How many more people are severely pinched due to medical costs? How many more people are in serious need of medical attention but just don’t go to a doctor because they can’t afford it? And so they’re just suffering in silence.”
Aside from policy changes, Qasim has been echoing Democrats across the country who seem to be calling for a change in the narrative that has been the political reality up until the Affordable Care Act began to heal the system—healthcare can’t be viewed as a privilege. “I see health care as a human right. And I think it is a disgrace that as the wealthiest country in the world, we can’t afford health insurance or health coverage for our citizens. I don’t know how you can call yourself pro-life and not want to protect the lives of people who need lifesaving treatment.”
Qasim rejects healthcare being a partisan issue. In an argument that reminded me very much of the Christian adage, “You don’t have to believe in God, God believes in you,” Qasim laid out the case that illness knows no political party in a monologue worthy of closing statements in a courtroom trial. “Cancer doesn’t discriminate between Republican and Democrat. Diabetes doesn’t discriminate between left and right. Something as simple as getting sick isn’t confined to blue or red. This is not a partisan thing. It’s crucial that we pass quality health care reform. And in my ideal world, we have a single payer option and we have a free market as well. So those who want to go into the private market are more than welcome to. I think having a free market is important, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of having a social safety net. These are all complex problems,” he concludes. “They require multifaceted and sometimes complex solutions that will necessarily require collaboration between the left and the right.”
The current administration in Richmond seems to agree that complex issues deserve complex solutions. The governor’s office announced the finalization of a deal between the state and Dominion Energy company. The power company agreed to spend 870 million dollars on increasing energy efficiency. There’s not a lot of talk of political buzz words or partisan wrangling. Just a practical solution to a common problem. I asked Qasim if the private sector/public sector teamwork is the right way forward.
“What’s interesting about Virginia regarding climate change is that with Virginia being a coastal state, you can see the coastal wear and tear caused by climate change. It’s pretty obvious,” Qasim explained. “And as a result, you see Republicans recognizing that, hey we need to do something about this. Our beaches are deteriorating. Our coastlines are decaying. So, it’s much more visual. It’s not out of sight, out of mind.”
He believes this leads to less partisan rancor over the subject. “I tend to see less partisanship in Virginia as compared to what we’re seeing on cable news. What’s encouraging for me is that it’s not only regarding climate change, but on a host of other issues as well.”
Qasim is focused exclusively on policy as we talk, but it seems important in a day and age where so much about our news is about divisions, to mention the fact that he has to first defeat a fellow Democrat before he can fully focus on the Republican in the race. I asked him what kind of primary campaign he means to wage and he replied simply, “I’m going to run for public office the same way I live my life.”
For him he explained, it’s not about personalities. “I don’t attack people as individuals. I will attack ideas and I will attack positions, but I don’t get into insults or demeaning or derogatory statements. That’s not who I am. It’s not how I was raised, it’s not how I’ve ever been, and that’s not how I ever go into the future.” Qasim said that his style of campaigning would not be any different in a general election. “Whether somebody is a Republican or a Democrat, if I attack it’s going to be about the idea exclusively. And I hope that if I am attacked, that it’s on my ideas not on my faith or my skin color or any other immutable characteristic.”
Qasim told me that he’s committed to a primary about the ideas. “I’m confident that my ideas are more effective and robust and that the voters hopefully agree and we can move on to the general election,” he said.
For the last question, I asked Qasim Rashid the question that every Democrat should be asked in every race where the primary is a factor. I asked him if he’d support his primary opponent if he were to be defeated? There was no hesitation. “Yes. Ultimately, we need to flip this district. In Virginia, for example, last year 81% of Virginians wanted to ratify the ERA. 81%. There’s no possible way that 81% represents only Democrats, or only Republicans. So the incumbent in District 28 is a person that voted against ratification. It is mind boggling to me that in a [representative] democracy, that when 80% of people want something that one man gets to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it.’ I think that’s contrary to the principle of representative democracy.” Qasim said, “I’m fully committed to ensuring that we flip this district and get somebody in there who values the principles of gender equality, criminal justice reform, more funding for education, and expanding Medicaid.”
Qasim is betting on these principles being considered American principles, not just Democratic principles.
Qasim Rashid is running for the Democratic nomination for state senate in Virginia’s 28th district. You can support him here: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/rashidforva and follow him on Twitter @QasimRashid