The Virginia State Senate Hopeful Battling a Vile GOP Incumbent

Dr. Jill McCabe talks about why she's running for office, why you should care about local politics, and why it's so important that doctors run for office when women's bodies are being legislated.

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Dr. Jill McCabe wakes up at 4:20 every morning. That's what it takes to run for state senate in Virginia's district 13 while also maintaining a day job as a pediatric emergency physician and raising a 13-year-old son and an 11-year-old daughter. Her description of her busy days is utterly no-nonsense. While waking up way before dawn would make the best of us want to whine to anyone within earshot, Dr. McCabe is without complaint, because she's animated by helping families.

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Dr. McCabe didn't aspire to run for office before this year. But when Virginia lieutenant governor Ralph Northam, who is also a doctor, asked her to run to represent her district even though he'd never met her, she decided to take it on. Northam's encouragement is incredibly important. There's a gaping gender gap in political ambition, which means women are far less likely to be socialized, receive encouragement, or believe they're qualified to run for office. It's why only about 24 percent of state legislators are female.

But she didn't decide to run just because she was asked; she was also motivated by the absolute vileness of the incumbent,  state senator Dick Black (one could not even make up a better name for such a person). Emily's List has a full account of the bonkers statements he's made over the years about rape, abortion, and the LGBTQ community, but my personal favorite is this one, about rape in the military, which Black described as "predictable as human nature," then added, "Wouldn't you love to have a group of 19-year-old girls under your control, day in, day out?" By the way, he was a military prosecutor when he made those statements.

Here's a brief Q&A with Dr. McCabe about why she's running for office, why you should care about local politics (get out and vote on November 3, people!), and why it's so important that doctors run for office when women's bodies are being legislated.

JG: This is your first time running for office. What inspired you to run?

JM: I never thought I'd run for office until this spring. As a pediatric emergency physician, part of our mission is to advocate for families. I'm about 20 years into my career, and I was looking for another way to advocate for those families. Eighteen months ago, Virginia made the decision not to expand Medicaid, and I was particularly frustrated that our state legislature made the decision that was an economic mistake but also keeping 400,000 people from getting health care — families, people I deal with every day. Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam recruited me this spring. He's also a doctor. He convinced me that it's so important to have doctors at the table to represent the needs of our constituents. There are no doctors in our state senate right now. But the state senate has passed incredibly crazy [health] policies. I'd also say I read about our current state senator. I didn't think he represented people I knew and their families.

JG: What's a typical day like for you from start to finish? I know you're still doing shifts at the ER and you have two kids.

JM: I usually wake up at 4:20 during the week because my son's a swimmer and he swims from five to seven. I get him up and get him there or in the car pool. I also find that's the time of day I can catch up on what's happened overnight. It's a weird job working as an administrator of an ER. Early morning is a good time to connect with the night-shift people.

I'm usually home around breakfast time when I'm not working a shift. Then, I am at meetings at the hospital. If I work a shift, it's a seven-to-seven shift. At the end of the day, one of the things we do is have dinner at home whenever we can. We try to squeeze in 30 minutes of check-in time with the kids, talking at the dinner table. In the evening now, I either knock on doors or go to a campaign event. I get home between nine and ten. My husband is the associate deputy director of the FBI. I would say it's part of why we're politically aware. Though, until recently, we've been more focused on national security rather than local politics. He has an equally demanding job.

JG: Can you tell us a little bit more about why this local race — and local politics in general — is so important?

JM: So much of what represents people's daily quality of life, especially if you're a working woman or raising kids, or young women trying to get started, it actually has to do with what's happening on a local level. Access to health care, education, transportation — all of that's decided on a local and state level. My race also really highlights that someone like my opponent — who has such extreme positions and who says such hurtful things — that someone like that can be elected because people weren't really engaged enough in what happens in local politics. I hope my race will really encourage people to know what they're voting for.

In the state of Virginia, it's a very important race. Right now, the state legislature has 19 Democrats and 21 Republicans. The Republican majority is preventing Medicaid expansion from happening. Without Medicaid expansion, our state is not getting a lot of funding we can really use. Many of the people affected by Medicaid not expanding are employed. I take care of young adults, and I'll be seeing a 20-year-old who is working part-time and going to community college who has diabetes or asthma. He's doing all the right things, but he doesn't have health insurance because politicians in Virginia wanted to make a political statement. We're all vulnerable to being in that coverage gap. The more and more data we have shows that people are healthier with insurance coverage, which ultimately reduces costs too.

This race is also important because it highlights the unreasonable views of my opponent. The more people get to know me, and the more people get to know the views of my opponent, the more they like me. Reasonable people don't choose someone with those discriminatory views.

Jessica Grose is Lenny's editor in chief.

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