Traci Dippert, Rappahannock County Elementary School’s music teacher, is hoping to make a difference in Virginia’s General Assembly, by challenging Republican incumbent Edward Scott to represent Virginia’s 30th District. The district includes the counties of Madison, Orange and most of Culpeper.
Though the school where she teaches is in Virginia’s 18th District, Dippert has lived in the 30th District for eight years. Born and raised in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, and now in her 16th year of teaching, Dippert believes Virginia needs more women in elected office, and that the state legislature can benefit from an educator’s perspective.
In a conversation with Dippert in the elementary school music room during her lunch break, Dippert said it was in fact her opponent who inspired her to run for office.
“It wasn’t really about me as much as the fact that [30th District voters] haven’t had a choice for eight years; Scott has run unopposed for the last eight years,” Dippert said, noting that although the 30th District in the past has been predominately Republican, that’s starting to change.
In 2008, the town of Culpeper went blue for Obama. In 2012, Obama won both the town of Culpeper and Orange County. The district has also been re-districted, Dippert said, eliminating four northern precincts that were heavily Republican.
“Farther down the ballot, voters are willing to cross party lines,” Dippert said. “And so I really talk about the fact that I’m an educator and a woman, and that we need more women in elected office — and I talk about families, education and health. So I don’t really make it about party, I make it about needing a change and needing more women in elected office, which resonates with a lot of people.”
Scott, in his fifth term, is a native of Culpeper and a graduate of Virginia Tech. He is also a partner in EcoSeptix Alliance, a small business focused on the operation and maintenance of septic systems.
Dippert said 90 percent of her fundraising has come from individuals, and that “over 90 percent of my opponents’ funding has come from big PACs, and mostly outside the district: big oil, tobacco, alcohol. And so I think I am closer to the voters than my opponent is.” And therefore, Dippert said she’s not beholden to any special interests.
Of Dippert’s 25 top campaign contributors, according to the most recent campaign finance reports, 21 are individuals, mostly from Culpeper County. The other four contributors are three local chapters of the Virginia Democrats and the Women’s Strike Force. In total, Dippert has received $152,252 and has spent $75,529.
Of Scott’s top 25 campaign contributors, the first 23 are PACs and corporations, including Dominion Power, Universal Leaf Tobacco Co., Virginia Association of Realtors, Omega Protein, Virginia Transportation Construction Alliance, Infiltrator Systems, Lifepoint Hospitals and the Virginia Beer Wholesalers Association. In total, Scott has received $82,992, has spent $53,128, and still has $117,394 on hand from earlier campaigns.
The two candidates differ on nearly every policy issue: Dippert is pro-choice; Scott is pro-life. Dippert supports gay marriage; Scott doesn’t. Dippert supports expanding Medicaid; Scott doesn’t. The list goes on.
Rappahannock County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Matthews said that a teacher in the General Assembly could offer keen insight into educational programs, an area that consumes a significant portion of the budget.
“A teacher interacts with a broad cross-section of the population, meeting the educational needs of students and working hand-in-hand with families across Virginia,” Matthews said. “A teacher has the rare opportunity and the experience needed for a well-balanced perspective of community and educational needs of our constituents.”
Since January, Dippert said she has knocked on 4,400 doors in the district, meeting voters and asking for their support. She plans to knock on at least 2,000 more before election day Nov. 5.
“When you knock on someone’s door, as the candidate, and shake their hand, look them in the eye and ask for their vote, that goes a long way,” Dippert said. “I knock on the door and say, ‘My name is Traci and I’m a teacher. I’m running for the House of Delegates because we need more women in elected office.’ I talk about things that bring us together, and not things that separate us. And a lot of people say, ‘Thank you for running against Ed Scott. That you for giving us a choice. And it’s time for a change.’ ”