(EDITOR’S NOTE, 6/12/19, 3:22 PM ET: At the request of the Rashid campaign, the phrase “home country of Pakistan” in this article has been changed to “birth country of Pakistan,” as Rashid told Grit Post that “America is my home.” This article was also updated to include that both Rashid and Ghazala Hashmi, who won her primary on Tuesday night, are the first Muslims to win state senate primaries in Virginia.)

After Tuesday night’s Virginia primary elections, human rights activist Qasim Rashid will face off with Republican Richard Stuart in a district that’s been held by Republicans since 1978.

And with partisan control of Virginia’s state senate narrowly in favor of Republicans — who have 21 senators while Democrats have 19 — Rashid could potentially flip control of the Virginia state senate if he wins the general election this coming November.

Should he prevail in November, Qasim Rashid told Grit Post he plans to address “skyrocketing healthcare costs” and “a very underfunded education system,”  as well as the legislature’s failure to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

“For me, this race is about taking my advocacy and turning it into policy,” Rashid told Grit Post. “Given that I’ve dedicated my life as a human rights lawyer to these really important issues of women’s rights, increasing education access, increasing healthcare access, and criminal justice reform, these are critical policies that we need to improve upon.”

Rashid’s primary victory on Tuesday night was a milestone for Virginia, as both Rashid and Ghazala Hashmi in Virginia’s 10th Senate District are the first Muslims in the history of the commonwealth to win primary elections for the Virginia state senate. It was also a personal milestone for Rashid — as he tweeted earlier in the day, neither Rashid nor his family were able to vote in their birth country of Pakistan.

Virginia’s legislature has become so comfortable with corporate-friendly backdoor dealmaking that governance in Richmond has been dubbed the “Virginia Way.” A more recent example of the Virginia Way in action was the House of Delegates (Virginia’s lower chamber) awarding $750 million in tax breaks to Amazon for its new headquarters after a mere nine minutes of debate.

Rashid railed against the deal, pointing out that Amazon paid $0 in federal taxes on more than $11 billion in profit last year. He also proudly mentioned that his campaign has flatly refused donations from corporations, lobbyists, and real estate developers, “to stay accountable to people, because that’s who we’re elected to serve.”

As of the most recent reporting cycle, Rashid’s state senate campaign has raised approximately $130,000, with 98% of those donations coming from donors giving $100 or less.

Rashid promised to not only upend the Virginia Way, but to combat wealth inequality, calling it “one of the single greatest cancers afflicting America right now.” To underscore his point, Rashid pointed to the Gini coefficient, which the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) uses to measure income inequality throughout the world. The United States’ Gini coefficient ranks between Lithuania and Turkey, and three billionaires — Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and Berkshire Hathaway founder Warren Buffett — own more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans combined.

“There’s a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots,” Rashid told Grit Post. “The level of wealth inequality now is worse than before the Great Depression in 1929, so 90 years later we’ve unfortunately not learned from the mistakes of the past.”

“Every aspect of society, whether it’s education, healthcare, whether it’s criminal justice reform, it’s all intrinsically tied to wealth inequality,” he continued, adding that he would vote to make “millionaires, billionaires, and mega-corporations pay a fair tax rate,” and that Virginia would “lower the tax burden on the lower and middle class.”

Rashid will face an uphill battle in winning the upcoming general election for Virginia’s 28th senate district this November. While his opponent, Richard Stuart, has been the district’s state senator since 2007, his predecessor, Republican John Chichester, held the seat for nearly 30 years. District 28 also includes Westmoreland County, which is described by Ballotpedia as one of the 206 “pivot counties” that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016.

However, Rashid — a devout Ahmadi Muslim — isn’t worried about the Trump supporters in his district and told Grit Post some of his supporters include Republicans who have since distanced themselves from President Trump.

“A significant number of the Republicans that I’ve spoken to are very clear that they don’t tolerate racism or Islamophobia, and I’ve gotten emails — even this morning — who have described themselves as conservatives, who are voting for me because they value my approach of civility and dialogue,” Rashid said. “If you look at the core of what the compassionate conservative historically was, it was someone who focused on these marginalized communities.”

“Based on the thousands of doors I’ve personally knocked, there is a large contingent of conservative Republicans who aren’t on board with Trump’s rhetoric, who aren’t on board with his policies,” he continued. “There absolutely is some racism, but there is much more good than bad, and that’s exciting.”


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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