First time political candidate Princess Blanding already has experience in creating new state law. She intends to build on that while addressing a variety of issues she says both Democrat and Republican legislators have either left off the table or not fully addressed.
If elected, she would also become the first Black woman governor of Virginia and the first LGBTQ governor of Virginia.
“First” this or that aside, Blanding says she is ready to get to work on a number of issues while bringing the state’s most affected stakeholders to the table to help.
The beginning of her political journey, however, is much more personal.
It was a sunny day in May 2018 when Blanding’s brother, Marcus-David Peters, was killed by a police officer unarmed and unclothed following erratic driving. A use of force investigation by Richmond’s Commonwealth Attorney later justified the officer’s actions. Meanwhile, Peters’ family asserts he was in the midst of a mental health crisis and a different response beyond law enforcement could have resulted in a different outcome.
Peters’ name now lives on in a new state law that outlines how mental health experts can be involved in response to 911 calls, including limiting law enforcement’s presence. Having taken effect this year, localities around the state are sorting out their compliance with the law.
While Blanding’s advocacy and input helped create that framework, she still aims to build on it if elected.
Calling it “watered down” from its earlier drafts, Blanding also criticizes legislation that “enables” rather than mandates police civilian review boards.
“I will ensure that the bill is amended to be the life-saving bill we fought for it to be,” Blanding said. “We fought for a layer of police accountability to be added, because police officers can let mental health [professionals] take the lead, but they can also resort to the same things that are why Marcus is not here.”
Following the murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, which captured the nation’s attention in the summer of 2020, Blanding began to realize she could potentially effect change beyond protests and consultation, but actually from an elected seat herself.
“We can’t keep voting blue no matter who. We the people have power when we unite,” she said. “We have to expand our fights from the streets and into the seats of these elected positions.”
On amending the Marcus Alert, Blanding says her own experience as an educator helps to inform that. She recalls interacting with students with intellectual disabilities for whom a sudden loud noise has been a trigger that perpetuates or exacerbates their trauma.
Similarly, for someone in a mental health crisis, she says, a siren or the overt presence of law enforcement could be even more triggering.
“If we don’t get this bill right, it allows officers to brutalize them or incarcerate them,” Blanding said. “We need to start building relationships and getting into communities to address the spark of mental health issues before they turn into fires. Let’s start breaking the stigma of mental health.”
On governance style, Blanding intends to ensure community engagement is involved.
“How can I address things if I’m not getting in those communities?” she pondered.
“As governor, I’ll make sure no legislation is passed about us without us,” she added. “People in positions of privilege are making decisions about people who have no voice.”
As a third party candidate, Blanding is running on the ticket for the Liberation Party, a new party that she established and hopes can be seen as more inclusive than the Republican or Democratic parties. Despite qualifying for the ballot in November, she has been excluded from debates that feature her opponents.
“The system is not broken, it’s been in place to ensure that third party candidates don’t have a chance,” Blanding said.
Dissatisfied with binary politics, Blanding said that whether she wins or not, she feels her campaign can signal the ways the two-party system has not served everyone.
“The diversity of people who have joined the movement for liberation is continuously growing. The duopoly is making the decision for them,” she explained. “This is bigger than what they think it is. I know that come Nov. 2, the state of Virginia is going to have an awakening. My campaign is very small but very powerful.”
Blanding’s other policy priorities include police reform, climate resiliency, education, racial justice, affordable housing, healthcare, food access, and LGBTQ+ rights.
Her plans include raising teacher pay, ending qualified immunity, ensuring that minimum wage is tied to and adjusted for inflation, supporting renewable energy jobs and infrastructure, addressing some root causes of gun violence, and Medicare expansion so that “healthcare is treated as a human right and not as a privilege.”
On environmental stewardship, Blanding will protect forestry and waterways from overdevelopment while supporting incentives for renewable energy jobs in the state. Blanding also aims to subsidize composting programs to reduce waste.
As recent years have seen Virginia’s democratic-controlled legislature enact numerous gun safety laws aimed at reducing gun violence, and the Republican party has largely pushed against the laws in support of access to guns and Second Amendment rights, Blanding says there’s nuances that have not been addressed fully by either party.
“Oftentimes we hear our legislators saying ‘get guns off the street.’ I’m smart enough to know if a person wants a gun, they’re going to get one. We need to address the why variable,” Blanding said. “We [need to] get to why areas have high instances of criminal activity. We need to address the lack of resources.”
Blanding attributes continued reliance on guns in some communities to over-policing, lack of access to resources that can lead to crime and lack of access to mental healthcare. In solving these issues, she says that gun-related violence could also be lessened this way.
The “why” she says is crucial to understanding the variety of issues around the state. Blanding says that through the governor’s office, she will gather constituents and stakeholders from around the state to best understand how the state government can aid in solutions.
Her own campaign, she says, exemplifies the hard work she plans to put forth for the people of Virginia.
“In order for me to get on that ballot, that was no easy task. I had the least amount of money. What we did have was people power. We had grassroots organizers who know how to organize people and got the signatures,” Blanding said. “We are breaking down every barrier they are putting in front of us.”