To Del. Dan Helmer, serving in Virginia’s House of Delegates is “incredibly humbling,” and that’s why he’s running for office again. Recently, he sat down with The Dogwood to discuss everything from why he first ran for office to his love for camping in the commonwealth.
As a military veteran who is also the son of immigrants and the grandson of Holocaust survivors and refugees, Dan Helmer knows what it’s like to step up and be a leader for the community he so dearly loves.
But Helmer also loves camping, as does his family. He noted that being able to travel across the state and raise his children to appreciate it in various ways is one of his favorite things in the world. While he wouldn’t give up his favorite camping spot, he did discuss his love of Virginia’s state park system, slyly noting that his family’s favorite camping spot is somewhere within one of those parks.
“If you haven’t been to one, you should go because they offer just incredible experiences and have beautiful campsites.”
When Helmer first ran for the House of Delegates in 2019, he knew that the community needed better representation than what they currently had, and with that in mind, he was able to unseat a 17-year incumbent who was “out of step on issues around access to safe and legal abortion and gun violence prevention.” He also felt like democracy was under attack under Donald Trump’s presidency.
Helmer is running for office again in the hopes that he can continue to protect access to abortion, pass common sense gun legislation, and help build an economy that works not just for some Virginians, but all Virginians.
Before getting into politics, Helmer served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan and is currently a member of the U.S. Army Reserves as a Lieutenant Colonel. His military service helped him prepare for serving in the state legislature.
“You never ask the soldier, the Marine, the airman, the sailors sitting next to you [about] how they vote. You actually ask, ‘How do we work together on behalf of our national security?’ and it’s an approach I’ve sought to take in public office,” he said.
“I’m proud of the fact that I’ve been able to pass…over a dozen bills, almost all of them with bipartisan support, and many of them with patrons from another party.”
He said that serving makes you focused on solutions that can benefit everyone and inspires you to take the time to listen to others who have different perspectives than your own.
“I think it’s about pragmatism. You look for the way in which you can accomplish the goal, and you do so in a way that brings in many voices,” said Helmer.
Even when it comes to simple things like asking for a stop sign in their community, he enjoys helping his constituents and working with state agencies to get that done.
Helping others is the most rewarding part of his job, or as Helmer puts it, “When you are able to make government work in the way that it is supposed to, to build community and make people’s lives better.”
Many of Helmer’s constituents in the Northern Virginia region are wrestling with the rising cost of living and how expensive everyday household items and groceries have become.
“It is just too expensive right now to live here. It is too expensive to get health care. It is too expensive to put food on the table. We need to take real, meaningful action to ensure that jobs are abundant and well-paying.”
He wants to see kids graduate from high schools and get jobs and be able to afford to live near their families. He noted that it’s “not possible right now” for many, and he wants to help fix that.
Education is another topic that weighs on his mind as a legislator.
When talking about how Gov. Glenn Youngkin has handled public education for Virginia’s students, Helmer expressed his frustration, noting that “[the administration is] so focused on culture war issues that they shortchanged our schools by $200 million. They’re not even doing the basic blocking and tackling of licensing teachers.
Helmer wants to make sure that every child in Virginia has access to a world-class education without the culture-war politics that the Youngkin administration seems to be trying to introduce into Virginia’s education system. Attracting great teachers and ensuring that students are prepared for graduation and ready for the real world that they’ll live in is essential to that goal, he said, adding that he’s willing to do “anything [he] can to make Virginia safer, more affordable, to protect our freedoms and ensure an access to a world-class education for our kids.”
Discussing the most recent General Assembly session, Helmer says that he’s disappointed that a state constitutional amendment to protect reproductive freedom failed in the GOP-controlled state House.
“I regret that we didn’t get that done, even though I’ve pushed incredibly hard to try and have that happen. That means that safe and legal abortion – and even birth control – is at risk in Virginia,” he said, noting that it is “incredibly important” to prevent a GOP takeover of the General Assembly this year so a few Republicans in Richmond aren’t able to take full control of women’s health and decisions over their bodies.
Despite that disappointment, Helmer is incredibly proud of his work to make life better and more affordable for Virginians, like protecting expanded Medicaid and requiring hospitals to show their prices to help drive down the costs of health care.
There’s one big legislative accomplishment that Helmer is especially proud of.
“The big win for me was introducing and passing legislation that means that 25,000 students in Virginia have access to free breakfast and lunch.”
Helmer also mentioned his role regarding sexual violance prevention, saying that the Virginia legislature has done “tremendous work” by ensuring that victims of sexual assault on college campuses can be free to report without facing repercussions.
Looking ahead, he believes that there are certain things that lawmakers should be doing in Virginia now to make the commonwealth a better place to live.
“The things that we need to be doing in Virginia, we need to be protecting our freedoms; they are under attack, whether it’s voting, whether it’s abortion rights; we need to be doing all we can to protect our freedoms. Number two, we need to be fighting to protect our community; make our communities safe. You shouldn’t have to worry if you’re a university student, if you’re just going to shop at a Walmart, if you’re walking around in our streets or schools that you’re going to get shot.”
Helmer believes that Virginia can become a leader [in America] within the next five years if the right people are in place to serve and lead when it comes to the green economy, innovative policy choices, and to make the commonwealth more affordable for all.
“It’s the place that I want to live with my children. It’s the place where I’ve raised my family. It’s a place I want them to come back to. I think if we could stop the MAGA extremism that we’re seeing on the other side of the aisle through electoral success, and through working together on policies that make sense, that Virginia can exist five years from now.”