Ann Ridgeway isn't your traditional political candidate. Here's why.

By Keya Vakil

September 12, 2019

Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a series profiling candidates running in competitive Virginia state legislature elections. Make sure to check out our first installment, featuring Sheila Bynum-Coleman.

A former juvenile probation officer and local volunteer, Ann Ridgeway has long considered herself an advocate for the people in her community. But she never thought she’d run for office, until a friend suggested she challenge Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper).

Ridgeway was initially reluctant to run and asked several ministers for guidance. 

“You’ve had a calling from God,” one of them told her. 

“To run for political office?” Ridgeway responded, incredulous.

“God can call you to do anything and once he calls you, he’s not going to let you go,” the minister replied.

Ridgeway asked God to guide her and ultimately decided to run because she felt that the voices of the people in Virginia’s 30th district – which spans Orange, Culpeper, and Madison counties – deserved to be heard in Richmond. 

Ridgeway’s faith isn’t just an act, or an aside to her candidacy; it’s the driving force of her campaign and her life.

Ridgeway was raised by two parents who she described as “Mr. and Mrs. Minister,” and whose work to advance social justice influenced Ridgeway from a young age.  

Her father was the minister at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, where he fought to have an integrated church service during the civil rights movement, before being overruled by the Diocese of Virginia. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., her father and another local minister organized a 200-man march in Fredericksburg. 

Her life-long faith is also what helped Ridgeway survive the ultimate tragedy. In 1997, she and her husband, Michael, lost their six-year-old son in a car accident. 

“You can’t go back once you’ve had that kind of thing happen…I’ve worked very, very hard to become a survivor of this,” Ridgeway said. “I also feel totally supported by a higher power.” 

Ridgeway believes that “your life experiences are who you end up being,” and hers have made her a survivor and an advocate — two intertwined identities which inform every aspect of her campaign for Virginia’s House of Delegates.

‘Everyone has importance’

The 30th district is not considered to be a competitive one in the traditional sense – the district leans Republican by more than two-to-one margin – but Ann Ridgeway is not your traditional candidate, a fact she’s counting on to appeal to those who might not otherwise consider voting for a Democrat.

Ridgeway is also likely to receive a boost by the fact that she will be the only candidate on the ballot come November. 

In a bizarre turn of events, Freitas will not appear on November’s ballot after he failed to file his paperwork on time. He is mounting a write-in campaign, but his mistake has put an otherwise safe Republican seat in play.

Ridgeway said that it didn’t affect how she was running her campaign and that she remained focused on advocating for the needs of the people in the 30th district. 

Simply put, she wants to help the people in her district. “If we take care of everyone and start lifting up from the bottom, that helps us all,” Ridgeway said. “Everyone has importance.”

‘We need to have equality of schools in Virginia’

Ridgeway is passionate when she speaks about the issues facing the district and emphasized the need to increase school funding and teacher pay, and reduce healthcare and drug costs.

Ridgeway is committed to increasing education funding for rural schools, which she said are under-funded. “I think the state needs to put more money in the rural school system…We need to have equality of schools in Virginia.” 

She would also fight to increase teacher pay in Virginia. Currently, Virginia teachers are among the most underpaid in the nation, earning $8,483 less than the national average.

‘That’s just a death sentence for people’

Ridgeway spoke at length about how critical affordable healthcare is for the 30th district and said that one of the first bills she would introduce as a delegate would be legislation to lower insulin costs.

The price of insulin has nearly doubled in the past five years, forcing many diabetics to ration their insulin, turn to cheaper alternatives, or forego the medication altogether, all of which have had fatal consequences. 

“Diabetics need insulin…people are using half their insulin and that’s just a death sentence for people,” Ridgeway said. 

She said her bill would be similar to the one recently passed in Colorado, which caps co-payments on insulin to $100 a month for insured patients, regardless of how much insulin they need, with insurance companies absorbing the balance. 

Ridgeway also wants the state to take a more pre-emptive approach to healthcare to “keep people well” and keep costs down rather than treating people after their illnesses or ailments have already reached a crisis point and become significantly more expensive to treat.

She is also determined to improve Virginia’s mental health system, which she has seen deteriorate first hand due to her background as a juvenile probation officer. 

‘We need infrastructure for industry to come in’

Another issue that deeply animates Ridgeway’s campaign is rural broadband, or the lack thereof in Virginia’s 30th district. 

Ridgeway said insufficient broadband access has consequences for the region’s economy. “We need infrastructure for industry to come in,” she said.

She also emphasized the need to make rural broadband affordable for residents of the district. “In Madison County, people can’t always afford internet services, because it’s expensive. We have kids at Madison County schools that learn about computers and learn about learning through computers, but when they go home, they don’t have access to the internet,” Ridgeway said. 

One-third of Madison County residents went without internet access in 2017, according to an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau Data by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project. 

“People don’t get it, they don’t understand. It’s very very critical that rural broadband comes to this community,” Ridgeway said.

‘No farms, no food’

Ridgeway largely steers clear of the drama emerging from Washington D.C., except for where it affects her district, but when it does, she’s quick to address it.

She’s particularly frustrated by President Trump’s trade war with China, which she said is devastating farmers in her community. “The tariffs are really gonna kill our farmers. Last year, I had a farmer that had 200,000 bushels of soybeans and even with the Trump buyback, he still lost 90 cents a bushel on his soybeans, and this year is probably going to be worse because of the tariffs,” Ridgeway said.

Trump’s trade agenda has decimated farmers across Virginia. In 2016, Virginia sold $700 million in agriculture exports to China, but that number has since fallen to $235 million, and Ridgeway said farmers in her district are suffering because of it.

“If this trade war doesn’t end pretty soon, we’re going to have farmers closing.” Ridgeway wants the state and federal governments to invest in rural areas and support farmers in a sustainable way. The long-term consequences for not doing so are pretty clear cut to Ridgeway. 

“No farms, no food. We need rural areas and we need our farmers to be safe and we need to support them,” she said.

‘We have to work together’

Perhaps more than any policy stance, what stands about Ridgeway is her demeanor. She believes deeply in bridging the ugly, divisive gap that has emerged between Democrats and Republicans in recent years.

“We have to work together. It’s not about faith, it’s not about religion, it’s not about skin color, it’s not about being red or blue, it’s about trying to make sure that we do what we can to keep the quality of life for everyone the best it can be,” Ridgeway said. 

She has centered her campaign around engaging with her would-be constituents and sitting down with Independents, Republicans, and Democrats to talk about what is important to them and determine how she can best advocate for their needs.

“It’s very important to reach out to everyone,” she said, and she wishes more people would do the same. “I wish we could all turn off our televisions for two weeks and just go out and talk to people and try to meet people who aren’t in your little group that you talk to.”

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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