Fairfax County School Board Member Karl Frisch has announced his candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates in an upcoming special election to replace Del. Mark Keam (D-Vienna), who has resigned from his seat to take a position with the federal government.
Keam, who was first elected to what was once a swing district in 2009, is taking a position with the Department of Commerce and the Office of National Travel and Tourism in the International Trade Administration. House Speaker Todd Gilbert has announced that the special election to fill the remainder of Keam’s term will be held on Jan. 10, just one day before the start of the General Assembly’s 2023 legislative session, according to the local news site FFX Now.
In addition to Frisch, Holly Seibold, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters, will also compete in the upcoming special election. Seibold appears to be poised to run as a Democrat, as is Frisch.
Frisch, who was elected to represent the Providence District on the Fairfax County School Board in 2019, became the first out LGBTQ person elected to local office in Virginia’s largest county. He has previously worked as a public policy advocate, most recently serving as executive director of the consumer watchdog organization Allied Progress, highlighting and railing against predatory lending practices and financial scams.
If elected in January, Frisch would seek re-election in the November 2023 election in the newly court-drawn 12th district, based in Vienna.
In a statement thanking Keam for his service, Frisch sought to cast himself as the “progressive fighter” needed in Richmond to push back against right-wing ideological bills being pushed by the Republican-led House of Delegates and encouraged by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
“We need someone who will stand up to Governor Youngkin and the far-right — someone who will work every day to protect our world-class public schools, defend reproductive freedom, build an economy that works for everyone, prevent gun violence, heal our planet, and preserve our democracy,” he said. “That is the kind of leadership I can deliver, and that is why I am announcing my candidacy for Virginia House of Delegates in the 35th district.”
Besides his progressive bona fides, Frisch argues that he has demonstrated his ability to raise large amounts of money through small-dollar donations, with more than $140,000 currently in his campaign account, and notes that he has amassed a number of endorsements from Virginia officials, including U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, the former Speaker of the Virginia House, Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, Fairfax County Chairman Jeff McKay, and Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano, as well as several other senators, delegates, and county supervisors. He is also familiar to voters, having represented constituents in 12 of the district’s 19 voting precincts during his time on the school board.
If elected, Frisch would become the sixth out LGBTQ person in the General Assembly, along with Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) and Delegates Mark Sickles (D-Franconia), Danica Roem (D-Manassas), Dawn Adams (D-Richmond), and Kelly Convirs-Fowler (D-Virginia Beach), who recently came out as bisexual.
In an interview with Metro Weekly, Frisch said he wants to serve as a line of defense against Republicans’ legislative priorities, which promise to rescind some hard-won rights.
“I think we are at a moment in time where there is tremendous insecurity among the American people, certainly here in Virginia, worried about democratic institutions, worried about the future,” he said. “I think being in the General Assembly provides an opportunity to have a direct impact trying to remedy those fears.
“Our wonderful public schools in Fairfax County and across the Commonwealth are under constant attack by the governor and by far-right Republicans who see an opportunity to further weaken our democracy by weakening our public schools. Reproductive freedom is under attack, and this governor will sign a ban on abortion if he ever gets an opportunity. Republicans have already said they want to roll back initiatives designed to expand voting rights in Virginia. They want to pull us out of climate agreements and turn our backs on the science of climate change. Being a member of the General Assembly provides a unique opportunity to stand up and fight on every single one of those issues,” he added.
Frisch says he’s currently making phone calls and knocking on doors to reach out to voters who are most likely to vote in a Democratic primary. While the possibility of a state-run traditional primary is off the table, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee is expected to announce the logistics of the nomination process in the coming weeks.
Asked about whether his service on the school board might be a detriment with voters, especially following recent controversies involving public schools, including the accessibility of LGBTQ-themed books, outrage over nondiscrimination and anti-bullying protections for LGBTQ students and employees, and demands for more parental oversight over curriculum and administrative decisions — the latter of which helped vault Youngkin into the governor’s mansion last year — Frisch said that such arguments have tremendous traction with Republican voters, but do not speak to the concerns of a majority of Fairfax residents.
“The real scandal here is that for the last two years, school boards across the country have been the target of a well-organized, well-funded national right-wing effort tearing at the foundations of public education,” he said. “This is an assault on our democratic institutions. They’re trying to weaken protections for voting. They’re trying to weaken our public schools. They’re trying to weaken Americans’ [trust] in the traditional media. These things very much lean on each other, and they all stem from the same from the same problems.”
Frisch also cast himself as a reliable asset for the Democratic Party, touting his fundraising prowess and his record, throughout his career, of holding Republicans in power accountable, as strengths that could help Democrats win back the majority in the House of Delegates in the November 2023 elections. He also has plans to push for progressive legislation should he be elected, even though Democrats will still be in the minority come January.
“When it comes to schools, in Northern Virginia, particularly in Fairfax County, funding formulas disadvantage Fairfax County Public Schools. So over time, I’d like to work with colleagues to fix those funding formulas so that Fairfax County Public Schools are getting their fair share of tax dollars,” he said.
“When it comes to reproductive freedom, I’m not going to rest until we protect abortion, access and contraception in Virginia’s constitution. When it comes to building an economy that works for every Virginian, I’ll support collective bargaining rights. I’ll work to increase the minimum wage. We’ve got to re-establish Virginia as the number one place to do business in the country. And among the most important issues that we have is taking on gun violence prevention. That means strengthening our red-flag laws. That means disarming domestic abusers and stalkers and those convicted of hate crimes. It means finally banning assault weapons in Virginia. There’s no shortage of areas where I see a need for dramatic improvement,” Frisch continued.
Frisch also warned that the assault on individual rights could come in the form of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court, which is tilted 6-3 in favor of conservatives.
“We have to understand that there is a very far right Supreme Court and they are likely to continue handing down decisions that have wide-ranging implications for people that live in the states,” Frisch said. “So when you look at what they’ve done on Roe” — referring to the 1973 landmark abortion decision recently overturned by the court — “we’ve got to reinforce reproductive freedom here in Virginia. But they’re going to continue to hand down cases like that. So we’ve got to keep an eye on what they do to environmental regulations, on workplace protections.
He added: “We have to make sure, when they strip away fundamental protections and rights for the American people and for all Virginians, that we are a backstop in Virginia to fill in the gaps and make sure that those protections persist during this very scary time for a lot of people.”
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