Mark Levine is a Democratic candidate for Virginia Lieutenant Governor. His name will appear on the ballot on June 8 during the Democratic Party primary election.
Name: Mark Levine
Race: Lieutenant Governor
Biography: Mark Levine’s first act of civil disobedience occurred at age 5, against his mom. Having learned in kindergarten that cigarettes could kill her, Mark took an entire carton of Kent cigarettes and flushed them down the toilet. Sure, he stopped up the toilet, but how could his mother punish him for trying to save her life? She couldn’t, and an activist was born.
Mark grew up in Nashville, Tenn. with his mom, dad, and sister, Janet. Mark earned an economics degree Magna Cum Laude from Harvard University, received a Fulbright scholarship to study in French-speaking Switzerland, and graduated from Yale Law School. Mark worked briefly as a Nazi hunter, a Jewish historian, and an inner-city school teacher before becoming a trial attorney in Los Angeles.
In 1996, Mark’s life changed forever. His sister, Janet, was murdered by her husband, who fled to Mexico with Mark’s 6-year-old nephew and 2-year-old niece. When Tennessee law refused to allow the reunification of his family, Mark decided to write a new law. He lobbied Tennessee state legislators to allow children to be removed from parents who commit domestic violence. His law passed unanimously.
Then, Mark traveled to Mexico to help authorities track down and arrest Janet’s killer. After a 10-year quest for justice, the killer was sentenced to a long prison term, and the new law Mark wrote allowed his niece and nephew, and thousands of other Tennessee families, to be reunited. From early activism, to his service as Virginia delegate, Mark has been a fierce advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
In the early 1990’s, Mark came out as gay. At a time when being gay was still illegal in places like Virginia, Mark was marching on Hollywood for fair depictions of gay men and lesbians on television. The second bill he wrote was the first “full-equality” law for same-sex couples in the nation. Although that California bill did not pass, he co-founded Marriage Equality California and began lining up same-sex couples before marriage clerks on Valentine’s Day. While none of the couples were legally married, this peaceful act of mass civil disobedience achieved some press, and the Valentine’s Day Marriage Protests spread across the nation.
The next act of injustice Mark tried to fight was Bush v. Gore. When the U.S. Supreme Court refused to allow Florida’s ballots to be counted in December 2000, Mark was hired by the Congressional Black Caucus to challenge Bush’s Florida electors.
Soon after, Mark moved to Alexandria to work for Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. As Frank’s legislative counsel, Mark handled judiciary, financial services, and homeland security matters. From advocating for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and hate-crime laws, to fighting the PATRIOT Act, Mark was Frank’s point-man on legislation.
Meanwhile he worked quietly with the President George Bush Administration to ensure equal benefits to same-sex life partners of victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and to help gay immigrants obtain asylum due to political persecution on the basis of sexual orientation. He also worked with Sen. Hillary Clinton to defeat Bush’s taxpayer-funded religious discrimination.
After his work on the Hill, Mark spent a decade in talk radio and television advocating progressive principles, even in such inhospitable places as Fox News. In 2010, Mark wrote the bill that became Washington D.C.’s Marriage Law for same-sex couples and defended it in court.
In 2015, Mark was elected to represent Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax in the Virginia House of Delegates. On his second day in office, he formed the Virginia Transparency Caucus and eventually persuaded the Virginia General Assembly to livestream and archive all of its committee proceedings and to record all of its votes.
His extensive legislative record includes dozens of bills on issues, ranging from preventing domestic and sexual violence to promoting racial justice; from LGBTQ+ civil rights to fighting gun violence; from election reform to helping working families; and from battling climate change to advocating for everyone. Re-elected twice, he is currently serving his sixth year in Virginia’s House of Delegates.
Why should Virginians elect you as Lieutenant Governor?
Every month for six years now, I have hosted Mark’s Monthly Meetups. I’m fully aware that some of the best ideas come from the people we represent. I have often taken your ideas to Richmond. Furthermore, as founder and chair of the Virginia Transparency Caucus, I have brought Richmond to you: Instituting live-streaming and archiving of all committees and subcommittees, as well as insisting on recorded votes on everything we do.
Before I came to Richmond, many hearings were attended only by lobbyists. Now, I’m proud to say, citizens play a major role in observing and influencing our policies. I’m proud to have changed the culture of our once secretive government.
Despite my successful efforts, Virginians feel more disconnected — from each other and from their government — than at any other time I can recall in my lifetime. We live in separate media silos. We don’t trust one another. We don’t even talk to one another. Some of this is Trumpism, but much of it pre-dated President Donald Trump, and the problem persists still today.
I have a history of successfully reaching across the aisle, because I’ve been unusually accessible, transparent, and direct. I’ve led progressive protests and appeared hundreds of times on Fox News. I have a solid progressive record and a reputation in Richmond for being an honest broker and getting the details right. Fellow legislators know, if they work with me, we will arrive at a reasonable compromise. They also know I won’t quit until the problem is resolved, with or without their input. My model for successful government is that of my former boss, Congressman Barney Frank — both a solid progressive, and a person with a reputation for getting things done.
As Lieutenant Governor, I have pledged to personally go to every one of Virginia’s 133 counties and cities, to listen to ordinary citizens and local elected officials, and to strengthen the bonds that connect us as Virginians with each other and with the government we elect to serve us. I have promised a full legislative agenda each year derived from these conversations and focusing on your needs.
What do you hope to accomplish, if elected?
Quick: What’s the most important thing a Lieutenant Governor of Virginia has done? Having trouble thinking of something?
That’s not so much a reflection on the people who have occupied the position as it is a description of the position’s traditionally minimal constitutional role. For centuries, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governors have gone to Richmond, presided over the Senate for two months, broken ties there, and occasionally checked on the governor’s health. For the remaining 10 months, they have returned to their other job, whether it be lawyer, doctor, or car salesman.
Virginians deserve more than that from one of our only three statewide elected offices. The lieutenant governor is the only person in all of Virginia government that serves both the executive and legislative branches, so it is the perfect office to solve problems. The lieutenant governor can serve as a conduit for the best ideas, coming from the people we serve, to the legislature that changes laws to make them better, and the executive branch that implements these laws. The lieutenant governor can also help the governor by convening workgroups to examine specific thorny issues that require detailed study.
I will work year round and transform the office of lieutenant governor so that it plays a meaningful role as the connective tissue Virginians desperately need right now. When my term is up, I hope and expect future lieutenant governors will similarly exercise the more expansive role I envision.
What is the most important legislative issue facing Virginia, and what is your position on it?
As someone proud of my record on a large array of diverse topics, from expanding health care, broadband, and voting rights, to reducing domestic violence, sexual violence, and gun violence — and as one of the most prolific bill writers in the General Assembly — I am hard pressed to name a single most important legislative issue.
But, I do think too many Virginians believe they have not gotten a fair shake from the system. Whether that unfairness derives from inadequate economic opportunity, racial injustice, health care disparities and high cost, educational barriers, red tape, or a crumbling infrastructure, people feel their government is too distant from their concerns.
So, I think the most important legislative issue is reducing inequality and unfairness by promoting civic awareness and democratic participation. We have to listen to our bosses: The electorate. By listening and bringing people with disparate views together, we both reduce cynicism and discover practical solutions to solve the knottiest of problems.
What is your position on Virginia’s overall response to the coronavirus pandemic, and what might you have done differently?
Virginia’s progress against the coronavirus has been in fits and starts. I’m proud to have used my role as delegate much as I would as lieutenant governor: To increase communication between the people and their elected officials, and to play an important role in solving the problems we’ve had. With my help, Virginia is doing a much better job now than we did before, and we can do even better.
From the beginning, I have put detailed information on my website and in my newsletters to convey the latest information on the pandemic to the people I serve and others across the Commonwealth.
When the pandemic began, I immediately noticed the spike in cases and deaths in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. My constituents alerted me to their being shut out of the critical information they needed to protect their families in their facilities. Early on, I wrote Gov. Ralph Northam a critical letter on this early issue. My recommendations were taken, and these early problems were largely resolved.
Then, there were problems with inadequate testing. This was a nationwide problem, as well as a Virginia problem. Again, I worked with the administration and local officials to increase the availability of testing and to decrease the turnaround time for these tests. I also worked to make sure communities in my district that were most at risk (such as immigrant communities) had easy access to these tests. And, I worked to ensure not only that folks would not be evicted or have their utilities shut off, but also that people in crowded homes had access to alternative housing (including empty hotel rooms) so as to help decrease the spreading of infection.
I supported mask mandates and worked at the local level to make enforcement more effective as early as St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2020. At the time, folks just didn’t realize the danger they were putting themselves and others in. I’m proud to say that in the communities I represent, mask wearing went up from non-existent to practically universal. With this increase in mask wearing and social distancing, our COVID-19 transmission sharply decreased.
I worked with schools, teachers, and parents to try to satisfy both parents who wanted in-person learning, as well as those who wanted hybrid and virtual learning. This was no easy task in Alexandria’s crowded schools! I’ve worked hard to accommodate both the likelihood that we will be back to normal next fall, and the possibility of catastrophic relapse, so as to be prepared for all eventualities.
Our office also worked to ensure folks had access to the Virginian programs I had championed, as well as federal programs, including aid to small businesses and the unemployed. The biggest problem that still remains is the Virginia Employment Commission which, as I’ve written in the past, has just been too slow to resolve all of the constituent requests in a timely manner. I’ve worked legislatively to beef up the VEC, but this is the area where Virginia is most lacking. Conversely, we’ve had great success with our parts at the Department of Motor Vehicles in quickly answering the pandemic needs of constituents.
When the initial rollout of vaccine distribution was confusing, I was one of the first in the Virginia General Assembly to host not one, but three town halls for the three communities I represent, Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax. It was important to connect the public with both the state vaccine czar and their local health authorities, as distribution was handled slightly differently among the localities. With my help behind the scenes, we’ve had great success in moving Virginia from one of the 10 worst states in per capita vaccine distribution to one of the 10 best.
I did all of this is as delegate. Imagine how much more effective I could have been had I been lieutenant governor. I think we would have resolved these complications even faster and more effectively.
What are the top three issues created by the coronavirus pandemic in Virginia, and how would you plan to address them?
I’ve described more than three coronavirus-specific issues above. But, of course, the pandemic not only has its unique concerns; it has exposed pre-existing problems that have been made much worse. Here are the top three:
- Education inequality — Too many students across Virginia missed out on critical learning, because they didn’t have access to broadband. This was true both in rural areas where it didn’t exist and among underserved urban populations who couldn’t afford it. We need to make broadband as ubiquitous and affordable as electricity and water.
- Racial and economic inequality — People of color suffered disproportionately during the pandemic because of poverty, job insecurity, health care disparities, and persistent systemic racism. We must continue to address all of these serious concerns, as I have done with legislation since long before the pandemic. These issues remain my priority in the years to come.
- Gender inequality — Women lost jobs at a far greater rate than men during the pandemic as they removed themselves from the workforce to take care of school-aged children. It’s not just that kids were out of school; the pandemic illustrated why affordable childcare remains critical to participation in our workforce, both to parents in general and women in particular.