Jennifer Carroll Foy announced her 2021 gubernatorial campaign in late May—the first candidate to do so in this cycle. Carroll Foy grew up in Petersburg, attended the Virginia Military Institute, and in 2017 became the first public defender ever elected to the Virginia general assembly. This session, she led the charge for Virginia’s passage of the Equal Rights Amendment, and that’s just the beginning of the long list of legislation she’s proud of—10 minutes after our interview concluded, she called back to add a few more bills to the list of achievements she’d already mentioned. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
C-VILLE: How has your time as a public defender informed your political career?
JCF: I know firsthand the draconian laws we have on the books that have caused us to have an unfair and unequal criminal justice system. As a public defender, I ensured that there was adequate representation for my clients, who are often mentally ill, or suffer from substance abuse, or are children who have been traumatized.
And I’ve been able to transfer that skill set and that knowledge base into legislation that is going to make our criminal justice system more fair and equitable—like reforming our cash bail system. If you’re safe enough to be released if you pay $50, then you’re safe enough to be released period. We have a justice-for-profit system where if you can’t afford to pay for your freedom you sit in jail for months at a time, but if you’re wealthy you can buy yourself out of jail immediately.
You would be the first Black woman elected governor in the United States. Why is representation important, especially here in Virginia?
It’s past time for little girls to be able to look up and see themselves in the people who are making decisions. And one of the reasons that’s it’s so significant to see Kamala Harris named as the vice presidential pick is that for so long, little brown and Black girls haven’t been able to see that—and it’s hard to be what you can’t see.
Women of color have been the backbone of the Democratic Party for so long. It’s time to not only ask for our vote, but to also support us in leading the commonwealth and the country forward in positions of power.
In Charlottesville, where our congressional district is severely gerrymandered, we’re very concerned with redistricting reform. There’s a redistricting amendment on the ballot this fall. You were one of a handful of Democratic delegates who voted in favor of that bill in 2019 and then switched and voted against it in 2020. Why the change?
I have always stood for a third party non-partisan commission being responsible for drawing our maps…but often times you have to vote on what’s before you. In 2019, when that redistricting amendment came before us, it was the best we could do at that time. But it still isn’t what we need.
The thing that swayed me was the words of Delegate Jeion Ward, where she stood up and said, “Many people who support this redistricting amendment, they’ll get up and tell you that it’s not good—that it’s good enough, that it’s the best we can do right now.” When you have something like the Virginia constitution—our most sacred document, our foundational document—do you really put substandard amendments in the constitution?
All of those things helped me make the decision that we can do better than what we had. I’m the first one to denounce gerrymandering in all forms and I believe that legislators should have no part in the drawing of our maps.
How has it felt personally to watch everything that’s been happening in Richmond over the last few weeks?
You see your community angry. You see the communities that you used to walk, up in flames. I try to constantly remind myself that these protests are really people voicing their opinions and their anguish about what’s happening. For so long politicians have tried to placate people with false promises. COVID-19 has exposed what’s always beneath the surface. Too many Virginians can’t earn a decent paycheck, afford their bills, and get ahead.
I understand the challenges Virginia families face, because I face them also. I am a woman of the people. I am not a career politician. I am not in this to benefit myself. I’m in this because it’s the right time to do the right thing for the right reason.
What are you doing to take a load off these days?
In this time, you relish the small things. I mean, when you have two 3-year-olds you can’t even go to the bathroom by yourself. I have them, I still have my clients, I’m still representing indigent people, I’m still a delegate preparing for special session, and then I have a full-on gubernatorial campaign that’s running during a global crisis and full recession and racial reckoning…If I can take a bath instead of a shower, that’s a win.