On Wednesday night, Danica Roem, delegate to the 13th District of the Virginia House of Delegates, discussed election strategies for unseating incumbents, her background in journalism and getting the press to move beyond simplistic labels during a question-and-answer session moderated by Allyson Hobbs, associate professor of history and director of African and African American Studies.
The event was organized by Stanford Women in Politics (SWIP) and co-sponsored by Stanford in Government. Undergraduates and graduate students as well as people from Palo Alto and the surrounding areas were in attendance, with a line forming outside the event long before it began.
According to SWIP President Azucena Marquez ’19, the group invited Roem to come speak on campus to inspire people thinking of going into local politics and present a role model on how to create real change.
“[Roem] is an amazing politician whose devotion to her constituents is remarkable,” Marquez said. “She is extremely genuine and charismatic, and she can connect with everyone … [SWIP] knew that her determination to achieve meaningful impact would inspire many people.”
Hobbs opened up the discussion with a brief introduction about Roem, such as her participation in the Virginia heavy metal scene and the fact that she is the first out-and-seated transgender individual to be elected to a state legislature in the United States, before asking Roem to talk about topics that are important to her but were not covered as thoroughly during her election.
Roem started off by observing that many people seemed determined to pigeonhole her as the transgender candidate, rather than focusing on the public policy issues she cares about, such as fixing the roads in her home district.
“The stuff that I guess everyone knows about me, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, it’s the trans lady from Manassas,’” Roem said. “Okay, got that. If you’re in my district, you know that, ‘You want to fix Route 28.’ If you’re outside of the district, ‘You do stuff with roads.’ And if you’re a Washington Post headline writer, ‘your name is transgender candidate.’”
A significant portion of the discussion was spent exploring how Roem seeks to take the conversation from her identity to the issues she cares about, without ever discrediting or discounting her identity.
Roem’s priorities in the 13th District of Virginia include expanding Medicaid and fixing roads, though she said she always tries to focus issues in a local way. When explaining her drive to expand Medicaid, she emphasized the number of people in her district who would be affected: 3,700.
Roem said that whenever other delegates would try to persuade her not to vote for Medicaid expansion, she would return to those 3700 residents and how important it would be for them to to receive medical coverage.
Not all of the time was spent on policy issues. Roem also quoted heavy metal lyrics, including those of her favorite band, Metallica, and recounted how they helped her get through times of self-doubt in her teenage years.
At the end of the session, Hobbs asked Roem what everyone could do to get her to run for state or national office in 2020.
Roem’s response: “Nothing.” She said that she wanted to focus on the issues that matter to Virginians in the 13th district and continue to concentrate on local politics.
Event-goer Akhila Moturu ’18 commented on Roem’s devotion to her constituents, as well as her outgoing personality.
“The event was an incredible opportunity to revel in Roem’s passion but also her hilarious outgoing personality,” Moturu said. “She broke all expectations of what I expected a politician to be, but at the same time, she was intensely committed to her constituents and the policies that affect them.”
This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Danica Roem is the first openly transgender elected official in the United States rather than the first transgender official in the United States. It has also been updated to reflect the fact that Roem was referencing Washington Post headline writers, not Washington Post reporters.
Contact Becca Smalbach at smalbach ‘at’ stanford.edu.