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Nov 11, 2022

Interviewer: MATTHEW BERKMAN. While its place in the mythology of the nation’s founding suggests to many that Virginia must itself be a democracy, political activist JOSH STANFIELD points out that in practice it has fallen far short of that ideal. Governed at first by an oligarchy of white planters, and then during the twentieth century by the corporate-friendly Byrd Machine, it has known only brief interludes of revolt against the entrenched interests controlling the commonwealth. In his discussion with political scientist Matthew Berkman, Stanfield describes the current structural impediments to popular representation that make Virginia an undemocratic outlier: uncompetitive districts, unregulated campaign finance, and poor compensation for legislators to ensure that only the wealthy can serve. Stanfield points out that the chief obstacle, however, is the widespread belief that nothing can ever change. Since 2016 he and other democratic activists have challenged that hopelessness and have notched a number of significant victories in the areas of candidate recruitment, finance reform, and environmental justice.