RICHMOND — Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, a self-described democratic socialist, formally announced Friday that he is seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor, promising to be a voice for “the rest of us.”
Carter, 33, a member of the House since 2018, is again pushing to repeal the right-to-work law in which union membership cannot be a condition of employment. He also has called for devoting all future tax revenue from legalized cannabis to reparations for Black and Indigenous Virginians.
His New Year’s Day announcement came the same day that a law he sponsored took effect, capping insulin cost-sharing payments for patients at $50 per month.
“It’s no secret that Virginia is divided,” Carter said in an announcement video, “but it’s not divided between red and blue. It’s not divided between big cities and small towns. Virginia is divided between the haves and the have-nots.”
Carter is the fifth Democrat to announce a bid for the party’s nomination, which will be decided in a June primary. The other contenders are former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Prince William; Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond; Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax; and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
Carter said in a telephone interview: “Someone in Virginia government needs to be looking out for all 8 1/2 million people who call Virginia home — not just lobbyists, corporations and special interests.”
He said Virginians need someone who is willing to stand up — including against his own party — when he believes it is doing something wrong. He said he is the candidate in the Democratic field to fill that role.
Carter, who served in the U.S. Marines from 2006 to 2011, including tours in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, is an electronics repairman by trade. After leaving the service, he spent four years repairing cancer therapy equipment. Following his election to the General Assembly, he supplemented his legislative salary by driving for Lyft, until the pandemic hit. Now he is first and foremost a legislator.
Following the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis, Carter took part in street protests in Prince William County and tweeted that Virginia State Police had sprayed him with a chemical.
He was a key opponent of the constitutional amendment on redistricting, which voters approved in November. It set up a commission of eight legislators and eight citizens to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative boundaries. Among opponents’ objections is that the amendment does not guarantee representation on the panel for people of color.
Carter, who was a Virginia co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid in 2020, is known in the legislature as a critic of government support for big business. He backs banning corporate donations to political campaigns and establishing a public financing mechanism.
Carter’s announcement came a day after a year-end fundraising deadline for his rivals, which statewide campaigns often use to tout their viability. He will have to sprint to raise donations in the 12 days before the legislative session starts, when lawmakers are required to pause their fundraising.
“My path to the nomination is just walking the walk,” Carter said, noting that he does not take donations from for-profit corporations or from industry interest groups.
In his announcement video, Carter said Congress took care of large companies in the initial federal stimulus package. “When COVID-19 hit, they got massive taxpayer-funded bailouts for their businesses. We had to make do with thoughts and prayers.”
As a delegate, he decries Dominion Energy’s influence in the General Assembly, and he has criticized the state’s incentive packages for Amazon and for the expansion of a Micron manufacturing facility in Prince William County.
Under Virginia’s right-to-work law, which Carter calls the “anti-union freeloader law,” employees can work in unionized workplaces without joining the union or paying regular union dues. Many businesses support the law as important to the state’s economic competitiveness, and Gov. Ralph Northam has opposed repeal. The governor said in November 2019: “I can’t foresee Virginia taking actions [that would include] repeal of the right-to-work law.”
During his tenure in the House, Carter has been anything but conventional. In October 2018, The Associated Press reported that Carter had unleashed a series of preemptive tweets to disclose personal information that could potentially be damaging for him in future campaigns. Carter encouraged Republicans to “enjoy the oppo dump,” in which he disclosed, among other things, that he was going through a third divorce and that, when growing up in North Carolina, he was not always as repelled by the Confederate flag as he is now.
Two Republicans — Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, and former Speaker of the House Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights — have announced bids for the GOP nomination, which will be decided in a convention. Cox issued a statement Friday criticizing Carter’s support for repealing the right-to-work law, saying: “It’s a scary policy that will turn the commonwealth over to the union bosses that run Chicago and Illinois.”
Princess Blanding, sister of Marcus-David Peters, who was killed by Richmond police in 2018, has announced a third-party run for governor.
Carter said his experience growing up in majority-Black Elizabeth City, North Carolina, the county seat of majority-white Pasquotank County, showed him how Democrats sometimes take voters of color for granted and Republicans sometimes take white rural voters for granted. He says he plans to bring in voters who have never taken part in a Democratic primary.