I recently sat down with Andria Thomas, candidate for U.S. Shadow Senator for the District of Columbia and asked her to introduce herself and her platform. She is challenging Michael D. Brown for his current seat: You will soon be hearing Michael’s answers to my five questions.
The transcript of our conversation is below, for those who prefer to read or who are deaf or hard of hearing. A special thank you to The Yard, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, for lending me a comfortable and quiet space to record this interview.
If you would like to skip to listen to a particular segment, you can let the time stamps at the beginning of each paragraph be your guide.
Maria Helena Carey: [00:00:08]We are here at the Yard, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the newest shared office space in the heart of the Hill. And today we are talking to Andria Thomas who is running for Shadow Senator for the District of Columbia. Welcome.
Andria Thomas: [00:00:22]Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
Maria: [00:00:25]We have five questions and then I’m going to give you some chance to give us a few parting thoughts. The first thing that I would like you to do is to introduce yourself to people who may not be familiar with who you are.
Andria: [00:00:37]Wonderful. First of all I think of myself as a Ward 6 resident. I live in what’s called Hill East just a few blocks from Eastern Market down by RFK. I’m a mom. I have two little girls. A older daughter Maggie who turns 6 years old tomorrow. And an 18-month old, Mina, who is just a few months walking and now eagerly jogging around the neighborhood, basically. [laughs]
But In addition to being a Ward 6 resident and a mom. I’m also a community activist since… Very honestly since the 2016 election when I became really frustrated at what I saw as the outcome of the election and what it meant for the direction of our country and I after a couple of months of crying organized a community action group and brought neighbors together to think about what we could do to have our part in … let’s call it righting the direction of the country and what we could really do as D.C. residents when so many of the actions seem to involve reaching out to representatives and senators that we just don’t have. So there is a community activist hat that I wear. There’s also a strategy adviser hat and that’s been my professional life for the last 11 years. I’ve worked for strategy consultancies, BCG, the Boston Consulting Group and then more recently Dalberg Advisors, where my only role has really been to develop strategies for leading organizations whether they be businesses or nonprofits or even governments… Help them develop plans and then build coalitions to help deliver on those plans.And so those are all different hats that I wear and that I think of as being part of why I am interested in running for this office.
Maria: [00:02:25]My first question is, do you think there is a clear path to D.C. statehood? The shadow office is a token office. It doesn’t carry a lot of power. So do you think that from that office there is a clear path?
Andria: [00:02:40]I think to characterize the office as not a lot of power is an under- and overrepresentation. It’s an unpaid job with no no technical authority. That’s all very true. At the same time it is a platform for which from which we can advocate. And that is its sole job is to help elevate and promote the cause of D.C. rights and D.C. statehood. So the answer to your question is, Yes I do think there is a clear path to statehood. All we need is a congressional vote on a Senate bill and a House bill that are currently pending in Congress today. All we need is votes the same way that you would need votes for a healthcare bill or a tax bill or a bill on immigration. So the path is to influence those members of Congress in the same way that you would for any other bill .
Maria: [00:03:27]If there is a clear path to statehood, what is your five year plan to get to that point? Or if that should not happen, how would you raise the profile of DC’s basic inequality? You know the motto on our license plates.
Andria: [00:03:43]It’s another great question. I’ll start by saying it’s not my five-year plan because there is a five-year strategic plan that’s been developed by the state coalition led by DC Vote. It’s been presented to the mayor and has a lot of buy-in and that’s a plan that’s being implemented already. So I believe in this plan and I think there’s opportunities to strengthen it even further. But it’s an “our” plan not a “my” plan. And that plan begins with influencing those members of Congress as I described but starting with the Democratic members. So if we can’t even get all Democrats on board how could we possibly think to influence a Republican number. Maybe there’s one little bridge over but it’s in the Democratic Party platform. It’s a fundamental issue of democratic rights so “small d” democratic. Why can we not get all “Big D” Democrats to sign on when we have a record number that have signed on this year. But a number who still have not. And that’s the number one challenge.
Maria: [00:04:41]Which ones have not signed on? Make us familiar with that issue– that’d be great.
Andria: [00:04:46]There are so many. But let me start with a few whose names should resonate. Mark Warner in neighboring Virginia. So we have two senators from Maryland and Tim Kaine from Virginia who have signed on but not Mark Warner. And there could be a couple of reasons why that might be. One: It’s honestly just not a priority for him as it isn’t for many. They’re focused on their constituents. Another could be his fear of what he would term a commuter tax– what I would call the same right to raise revenue as any other state. But that’s… He’s he’s been on the fence and he’s he’s never weighed in on statehood after all these years. Another would be Senator Chris Murphy in Connecticut. He is known to anybody who is active in thinking about gun regulations because he is the leading voice across the country I think among politicians in elevating that issue, after Sandy Hook. DC Cares very strongly about its gun sense legislation. He’s a natural ally but because he is afraid of being seen as “too D.C.,” he does not want to weigh in on our democratic rights. He wants to understandably be responsive to his constituents. But that leaves us in a tough position because we are technically constituents of no one.
Maria: [00:05:54]So what do you plan to do to protect D.C. from congressional overreach. Do you have a specific plan in mind? And what would you like to implement? .
Andria: [00:06:04]So I’m going to wrap this answer back into part of the answer to the prior question so what would I do to help accelerate the strategic plan even further. I think there’s two ways to think about it. Like, What can we do from a top-down perspective? And what can we do from sort of bottom-up or grassroots perspective? From a top-down perspective, I think there’s a couple of things we should be looking at. Could we go to –and this is definitely a role for the shadow delegation– could we go to influence specific state legislatures get them to introduce resolutions as I think has happened before, but use that action as a way to inform constituents in those states. Similarly, could we go to donors donors who are giving money to members of Congress get their buy in? And then have them, frankly, influence their members of Congress as well. It’s something that I think we should try– we should try every tool we have available. From a grassroots perspective I think we should be using social media much more than we are. We have individual activists who are doing this. Could we, frankly, get somebody who is a social media guru to help us understand how we can collectively use our social media power much more effectively? Just raise that profile. Who are the influencers who we should be trying to get onboard to so that we don’t have five or 10 tweets but we have 5000 retweets. Especially when there are critical issues of congressional interference. And frankly from a grassroots perspective I would like to see much more consistent sustained lobbying action. Part of how I got involved was I lobbied families to go and bring their kids to the Hill and make the case for statehood on behalf of our children. It’s visual but it’s also a way for parents who otherwise can’t get involved to get on board. But that’s a one-time thing. How do we do that sustainably?
[00:07:48] Could it be, literally, every Friday afternoon we are there were allowed to reroute and we’re like, “Do not forget us.” Could it be… I could think of a lot of different ways in which we could catalyze that, but I think there’s something around raising our voices more strongly and consistently as D.C. residents and as allies across the country that we should be tapping more.
Maria: [00:08:08]Thank you. And finally what can you do to make this position carry more weight if you should get elected? And even if you don’t get elected– what would you like to see to raise the profile of this specific position?
Andria: [00:08:23]It’s another great question. My sense is that if we start to take all of these other actions that I’ve described, the profile will naturally go up. I think the profile will go up for anybody who is just much more active and much more present in the in the places that we want to be influencing across states and on the Hill. And I think we have had a shadow delegation that has been there at certain events but could just be more. More focused on the Hill, more focused on on state legislatures and with key partners. So that would be my goal. .
Maria: [00:09:00]Wonderful. Thank you so much. I would like to open it up now if you have any parting thoughts or if you would like to maybe address people directly: Why they should vote for you.
Andria: [00:09:14]Thank you for this final opportunity I will say that understandably the Shadow Senator role is not one that people pay much, if any, attention to on the ballot. I do think we have an opportunity this year. Two years after the 2016 election, with a population that’s much more galvanized politically to make change– positive change– and a big step forward on statehood. And this role is critical for that. So while you might normally sort of shrug or sort of pass by that page on your election booklet, I ask you to look at it again this time. Vote for Shadow Senator and consider voting for me because I will be such an active, energetic and passionate voice for your statehood rights and bring a modern and strategic approach. Thank you. .
Maria: [00:10:02]Thank you so much. Appreciate it.