CULPEPER — The Democratic nominee for the House of Delegates’ 30th District hopes that her message will break through the drama surrounding the reelection campaign of Republican Del. Nick Freitas.
“The theme of my campaign is ‘We the people,’” said Ann Ridgeway. “I need the people of this district to understand who I am, what I stand for and that I want to represent them in all of the ways that have not been addressed in a very long time. I want to try and improve their quality of life — that is my goal.”
Ridgeway is a community volunteer and a self-described “determined citizen activist” who said she cares deeply about the future of the next generation.
A Madison County resident, she previously worked as a juvenile probation officer in Orange County, where she also helped establish the youth council and parks and recreation department. She also was a substitute teacher and holds a degree in psychology from Old Dominion University.
Twenty-two years ago, she lost her 6-year-old son in a car crash, prompting her to set up a fund in his name, Michael’s Gift. The Orange Office on Youth maintains the charity that provides financial support for local children to participate in recreational activities and esteem-building programs.
A paperwork mishap may have provided a path to victory for the first-time political candidate.
Freitas was expected to win reelection to a third term in the Republican-leaning district, but he failed to file his campaign paperwork on time and his name will not be listed on the ballot. Freitas is now running a write-in campaign, though Ridgeway said that has not changed anything about her strategy.
“Supposedly, a write-in campaign is harder to win,” she said last week, “but I had planned to run a hard campaign, regardless.”
Ridgeway said she had all the filing deadlines clearly posted on her calendar.
“I get very, very anxious about getting my forms turned in — like, ‘whew, got that off my plate,’” she said, laughing and noting she turned the required voter signatures in early. “It’s like applying for a job: certain things have to be done to get the interview, so it was very important to me.”
Three issues important to Ridgeway are equal funding for public schools, serious investment in mental health services and affordable health care for all.
The current state funding formula that gives more money to school districts with higher populations is not working, Ridgeway said.
“Schools are the basis of our future,” she said. “If we give our children a good education, their future will be better, they can get a better job, support their family and not be dependent on the state.”
All public school children in Virginia, regardless of ZIP code, should have access to a multi-discipline education with a focus on technology and careers, and they should have equally good infrastructure in place, Ridgeway said. All school districts should be able to pay their teachers well, she added.
Ridgeway declined to specify details of how she would change the funding formula but said, if elected, she would work with anyone, regardless of political party, to come up with a plan.
Bolstering mental health services is also important to Ridgeway, who included heroin and suicide among the causes of much pain in the area. Orange County used to have a multi-level, state-funded mental health clinic, but it closed quietly as the funding lapsed, she said. Ridgeway said she regularly referred juvenile probation clients to the clinic.
“It wasn’t like this child was a criminal; this young person has a problem, so we would contact mental health and work with them — not this high school-to-prison pipeline,” Ridgeway said.
People seeking services at the state-funded community services board clinic in Culpeper experience long wait times, she added, noting that the overall mental health system is inadequate. She added that improving care is a bipartisan concern, as it affects families and entire communities.
Overall health care affordability is also key, she said. Advocating for a cap on insulin costs, for example, could help, as was recently done in Colorado. Ridgeway said she will continue to share her ideas for change leading up to the November election.
If elected, she said she would host town hall meetings quarterly in the district’s three counties: Culpeper, Madison and Orange. “That’s what a delegate should do: make sure they are keeping in touch with the constituents.”