Danica Roem
Graphic via Keith Warther for Dogwood

When Roem first won her delegate seat, she instantly became a national figure. Four years later, that fame hasn’t gone to her head. But she has learned how to pass legislation.

This is the first part in a series profiling the historic number of women running as Democratic candidates in Virginia.

MANASSAS – In two years, Cab Ride Home metal vocalist Danica Roem can apply for antique license plates on her 1998 Honda Accord.

Yep, that’s her vehicle of choice for driving around her hometown of Manassas. That vehicle came after her 1992 Dodge Shadow bit the dust, followed by a short stint with a 1998 Toyota Camry.

And the drive to Richmond? That’s all in a day’s work: Roem is also a Virginia House delegate.

A Metal Approach

Roem is rather aware that she’s not a cookie-cutter candidate. That didn’t stop her from winning her district in the 2017 election against 25-year incumbent Bob Marshall.

And just how did she do that? By using lessons learned from her love of metal music along the campaign trail, of course.

“To be in politics, you’ve got to be versatile,” Roem said. “And being in heavy metal, you’ve got to be versatile too.”

She explained that a performer can’t have a stagnant show. They also can’t expect the same folks to buy tickets time and time again. To translate that to the campaign trail, a good candidate maintains fresh ideas and reaches out to connect with all kinds of different people.

READ MORE: Everything You Need to Know About Early Voting in Virginia

In the 2017 election, Roem made friends with other candidates. From there, she got to know people in their networks, and they got to know the folks in her network. Before long, their donors became her donors and her donors became their donors. The same occurred with volunteers, ready and willing to help on the campaign trail. 

Forming genuine connections is a strategy Roem continues this campaign go-round: She’s running for re-election in the Nov. 2 election.

“Eventually the well will run dry and you’re not going to be able to move your numbers,” Roem said. “You learn that from being in a band just as when you’re in office. So, you know, there are plenty of things that you take that you learned from being on stage or being in the studio that you bring over here.”

From Rookie to Veteran Legislator Passing Bills

When Roem won her delegate race in the 13th district, she made history as the first openly transgender woman to be elected to a US statehouse seat. 

The good news is that Roem wasn’t hounded about which restroom she would use. But she didn’t always get the warmest of welcomes. She was from a swing district and a Democrat who unseated a Republican man who’d held the position for a quarter century. 

“For all the people who say, like, ‘Trans women aren’t women’ and they get all snippy … spend a day in the General Assembly as a trans woman and you get treated like any other woman who’s in the chair,” Roem said. “Simply, you get talked over, not believed, ignored, interrupted—you know, just not taken seriously.” 

Although all of her policies got shot down during the first year, the rookie delegate knew the following year could be different. During off-session time in 2018, Roem drove to Virginia Beach where she met up with Republican lawmakers. Together, they talked over their differences in the prior session and worked on policies for 2019.

“I was going hundreds of miles out of my way to … literally meet my colleagues across the aisle,” Roem said.

Forming those connections worked. The following year, Roem passed three bills. In her third year, 14 of Roem’s bills passed. This year, delegates were capped at seven bills total. Six of hers were approved.

One impactful piece of legislation she got through prohibits school boards from suing families to collect school meal debt. Last year, she led a bill that guaranteed free school meals for an additional 109,000 Virginia students. Another bill, also passed in 2021, bans the use of gay or trans “panic” defenses in the commonwealth. That means a person’s actual or perceived sex, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation is not enough grounds for a defense to murder, manslaughter or other violent acts.

Back on the Re-election Road Tour

As re-election comes into focus, Roem’s hitting the road again. Any given day, people in the Manassas area might get a knock on their door—but chances are, it’s not a door-to-door salesman.

The delegate doesn’t rely on screen time or Zoom meetings alone. She meets folks by seeing them in person to talk face to face.

With her first campaign still fresh in her memory, Roem offered some advice to first-time candidates hoping for a win in their district—unsurprisingly, the delegate went back to her metal band handbook for that. 

Be authentic to yourself, she said.

“[If you aren’t authentic], no one will buy your band’s album. No one would go to your shows if they think you’re fake, they think you’re full of [explicative]. They will not do it. If they think that you’re just, you know, putting on a show because, you know, you’re trying to be something other than yourself. No, like, they won’t support you,” Roem said. “In politics and in the modern politic, the perception of authenticity is vitally important, whether or not it is based in reality. But I don’t know how to be more authentic than being an out trans woman, heavy metal vocalist, journalist, vegetarian … step-mom from Manassas.”

Amie Knowles reports for The Dogwood. You can reach her at amie@couriernewsroom.com.