Name: Gayle Johnson
Race: House of Delegates, 82nd District
Biography: Gayle Johnson spent her entire career leading, organizing, and finding solutions to complex problems. Gayle is tired of the status quo, and is ready to put her knowledge and experience to work serving her community.
Even as a teenager in Richmond, Gayle was known to stand up for what she believed was right and rally like-minded people to her cause. She even ran a mock-McGovern campaign at her conservative girls high school, which she won. Inspired by the first-ever Earth Day in 1970, she became an environmentalist champion, a cause she has lived by her entire adult life.
A lifelong champion of equality and social progressivism, Gayle chose to pursue her undergraduate education at Oberlin College and Conservatory, where she received a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music. After college, Gayle moved to Washington state where she became a Master Conserver with the city of Seattle, volunteering her weekends to do free energy efficiency upgrades for low-income homes.
Gayle chose to pursue a career as a baroque musician, living everywhere from Seattle, Wash. to Amsterdam. When she returned to Virginia, Gayle founded and led an award-winning baroque ensemble, Capriole, which became ensemble in residence at William & Mary and ODU from 1989-2000.
Why should residents elect me to House of Delegates?
I bring a unique combination of analytical thinking and creativity to my campaign, which allows me to think out of the box and find new solutions to problems.
My dad taught me to think like an engineer, but I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory and became a professional musician. After leading the baroque music ensemble Capriole to international acclaim, I changed gears in 2009 and became a LEED Accredited Professional with the US Green Building Council and a Class A Contractor.
I started a business, EcoBuilders of Virginia, which provided energy efficiency upgrades to existing homes. Then I used my knowledge to build the first net zero energy home in Virginia Beach, something I had dreamed of since the 1970s. I believe Virginia needs this blend of the creative and the analytical to solve the myriad problems we are facing, especially those created by the climate crisis in coastal communities like Virginia Beach.
For example, District 82 has had to deal with a massive increase in recurrent flooding in recent years, and its only getting worse. While our engineers propose massive projects like sea-walls that will take 15 years to implement, my experience as an environmental contractor taught me cost effective solutions that we can implement TODAY, like pervious concrete that absorbs storm water runoff before it gets to the storm drains.
I’m the best candidate for my district because of my background, and I have a plan to make these solutions ubiquitous without breaking the bank. My creative side envisions solutions that can provide a sustainable future that will bring prosperity for all. If we implement these solutions now, then we won’t have to raise taxes now or pay for disaster relief later as a result of more frequent and disastrous flooding.
What is the biggest issue facing my district and how do I plan to address it?
District 82 is surrounded by water on three sides – the Atlantic, the Chesapeake Bay, and the Lynnhaven River. Much of the southern edge of the district borders the Bow Creek floodplain, so even areas that are ostensibly far enough from major bodies of water are experiencing increasingly destructive flooding from something as simple as a summer storm. And as the seas rise, the problem will only get worse.
Recurrent flooding and sea level rise are already a major problem, but they will soon pose an existential threat to the existence of Virginia Beach. NOAA ranks Hampton Roads as having the largest population at risk from sea level rise along the Atlantic coast, and the second largest at risk population after New Orleans. The Navy already acknowledges that sea level rise is a major threat to our national security, and Virginia Beach is the front line in this new climate conflict.
The city’s engineers have prepared a plan to protect Virginia Beach against a 3’ sea level rise, but that plan will take 15 years to implement. Meanwhile climate scientists are projecting a 6.6’ sea level rise by 2100 if we do not reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2050. In other words, the existing engineered solutions alone won’t be enough – we also need to adapt by building sustainably and reducing our carbon emissions. But we also can’t expect our government to be responsible for implementing every single change. Sometimes we all need is a little help to make game changing adaptations.
That’s why a core part of my plan is to create tax incentives that increase green building techniques that both lower our energy demands and absorb storm water onsite, saving low-lying municipalities millions by decreasing the stress on storm drains.
From my perspective, sustainability cannot be achieved without addressing the rising cost of living. That’s why my vision of a sustainable future also includes measures to ease the burden on middle and lower income Virginians. Tax incentives could offset the initial cost of electric cars and solar panels, scaled based on income to encourage widespread use. Similarly, state incentives can be offered to municipalities to create more bike lanes and utilize smaller electric powered buses to make our transportation system more effective while insulating its costs from spikes or shortages of fossil fuels. And make no mistake, sustainability is not just about spending public money – effective adaptation will grow our economy.
Electricity generated by onshore turbines is now cheaper than natural gas and produces no carbon emissions and is capable of offering competitive rates to consumers. Meanwhile, the Department of Energy has estimated that there is enough capacity for offshore wind energy along the Continental Shelf and Great Lakes to provide double the power used by the entire country, yet at this moment none of the parts required for wind turbines are made in the U.S.
Our centrally located port with its deep channel gives us an incredible opportunity to become a manufacturing and distribution hub for offshore wind. If you don’t believe me, just ask the Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy (DMME). As Mark Twain said, “In the era of the Gold Rush, it’s good to be in the pick and shovel business.” Sustainable energy is the next gold rush, and offshore wind is today’s pick and shovel business. Clean energy jobs are growing twice as fast as the national average. The added benefit is that tax incentives to jump start clean green energy companies will not only boost our local economy but also slow sea level rise.
What was the most important vote taken in the Virginia General Assembly in 2019 and why?
There were two most important bills of the 2019 session: the efforts to join regional carbon dioxide cap and trade programs – HB2269 to join the Regional Transportation Initiative and HB2211 to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
These regional carbon dioxide cap and trade programs set targets for reducing carbon emissions and penalize companies who do not meet them, effectively converting CO2 into a tradable good. Both bills were blocked by incumbent Republicans. Contrary to Republican fears, these cap and trade programs have boosted the economies of the states that have adopted them, while addressing the long term goal of reducing carbon emissions which is necessary to slow sea level rise and other negative impacts of global warming.
The main driver of this opposition seems to be the fact that companies who do not comply will lose their competitive edge, which could negatively impact stock prices. The fact that many members of the General Assembly own stock in those companies and receive generous campaign contributions is probably not a complete coincidence.