Editor’s Note: Monica Gary is running as an independent in Senate District 27. She recently sat down with FXBG Advance to talk about her upbringing and its impact on her development as a politician, her priorities should she win, and how running a lean campaign has focused her efforts.
FXBGADVANCE: There’s a sensationalist side to your personal story that’s well-known, but we know less about how your upbringing influenced the politician you’ve become. What was your life like growing up, and how did that affect the policy views that you’ve come to hold?
Monica Gary: My whole life has informed the way I do what I do, as well as the issues that I’m most passionate about.
I grew up very poor. My family lived on government assistance, and we lived in subsidized housing. I became a mom at 17, and found myself living in a Section 8 neighborhood because I couldn’t afford anything else. In that community, I experienced a lot that was difficult to watch.
That experience showed me the problems that the government wasn’t solving. So, when I was able to finally run for my supervisor’s seat a few years ago, I did so because I wanted to tackle those problems.
In my time on the board, I’ve been very effective. And I’ve done all of this as a political independent.
FXBGADVANCE: If you are being successful at the local Board of Supervisors’ level, then why run for state Senate?
Monica Gary: The idea to do this began to take shape after redistricting, when a number of the people in my district began asking if I would run for House or Senate. That idea proved appealing because while I’ve had success at the Board of Supervisors, there are problems that can’t be solved there because of the many unfunded mandates that Stafford – and all counties – face. Especially in the area of education.
How deep do these problems run? I’m fortunate to have seven children. All attended public schools, and four are still enrolled in Stafford schools. By the time my 8-year-old is done with her education, Stafford’s schools will still be overcrowded.
We need help that can only come from the state. The quickest way to get this is to ensure that Stafford receives increased CoCa (Cost of Competing Adjustment) funds. I met with Tara Durant after winning my board seat about CoCa, but she hasn’t picked up that mantle and is now pushing vouchers.
I also ran because, as a woman who has been through abortion, I have trouble supporting someone like Joel Griffin who has previously supported Durant financially.
FXBGADVANCE: You have a reputation for building a connection with the people that you represent. Where does that ability to connect come from?
Monica Gary: For a decade, I’ve been deeply involved with ministry, and that experience has informed how I go about caring for people in a difficult world.
FXBGADVANCE: How does your personal religious experience inform the way you think about government and your role in the Senate should you win election?
Monica Gary: I’ve always believed in the separation of church and state. This is the issue we have with Christian Nationalism, which I hesitate to even call Christian. These people think they want control of both religion and government. But then what? Are we back to the religious wars of Europe, which we escaped to come here?
Separation of church and state is central to our way of government. Never should anyone’s personal religious beliefs dictate the rights of other people.
My theological education also shapes my view of church and state separation. I went to the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, and the staff there is from all over the world. I had professors from Ghana, South America, and Russia. It was not something like you would see at Liberty University.
FXBGADVANCE: So it’s not just the personal religious experience that informs your thinking. There’s an intellectual underpinning as well.
Monica Gary: Yes. My training was more a guided study, and we focused on the personal spiritual growth and intellectual growth of the student. We read Bart Ehrmann, a New Testament scholar, and others that you aren’t likely to read at places like Liberty.
We looked at things like how the church should act alongside the government .
I wrote a prayer book for people working in the sex industry. I’d go out and talk with these women and just let them know they had a friend – especially when I was in Northern Virginia.
FXBGADVANCE: With a successful run in ministry, what happened to push you into government?
Monica Gary: When my husband, Peter, was stationed in Afghanistan, I took a two-year church planting cohort. Toward the end of that study, I lost my mom. I also got sick. COVID had started so we couldn’t meet like normal. From there, my attention shifted to serving the community in a civic way
I went out to the first march after George Floyd was killed and there I formed relationships with pastors and others who wanted to make our community better together.
FXBGADVANCE: What would your priorities be if you’re elected?
Monica Gary: First and foremost, we must get our public schools in a better situation. They’ve become ground-zero for culture wars.
We need record investments in our school facilities and those who work in them. It can’t just be a financial investment, however. We need to find a path for education that develops people in a way that can sustain the world into the future.
There are so many jobs that could be done away with because of tech advances (AI), so we need to focus on things that are innately human. The arts. Social Emotional Learning. That we find a way to do that that is not politicized. We have to find a way to be among one another.
There are all kinds of people. How do we guide people in being kind and honoring the humanity of other people that they may not understand? I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that we can’t continue to politicize our schools.
Another area of concern is finding an effective way to deal with child abuse. Child Protective Services is not an effective mechanism.
The truth is that our social services in our region are grossly underfunded. In Stafford, the caseload per social worker is 2,000 people. It’s just 600 in Fairfax.
Finally, I will work to codify reproductive rights immediately. I will also fight to reduce the requirement for later term abortion care to two doctors opinions instead of three, which is cost restrictive and unnecessarily burdensome in already difficult situations.
FXBGADVANCE: Being an independent candidate, do you feel that you can be more straight-forward with people because you’re not tied to a party?
Monica Gary: At the end of the day, service is about honesty. Am I going to be honest with myself? Or am I just going to give you what I think you want to hear? I’m a terrible liar. I’m very passionate about truth, and that’s the driving factor in the growth that’s allowed me to get to this point.
I know who I am, and I’m going to be who I am, so I figure out where I’m going to fit. If my purpose in this world is to serve in these roles, then I should be free to be exactly who I am because it’s where I was meant to be.
People are frustrated with parties because they aren’t doing what they say they’re going to do. Most of the people I’ve met who are voting for me now say they’re independent because they’re tired of the parties not standing up.
It’s time for something different. And people are ready for that.
FXBGADVANCE: The hard part about running as an independent is campaign funds. Both your opponents have access to far bigger dollars and donors. How does that affect you and your campaign?
Monica Gary: It’s made us very fiscally responsible in the campaign. There’s no room for waste. We have highly targeted marketing, and because I’m not with a party I don’t have to worry about messaging one way to Democrats and another way to Republicans. We hone our message, and then focus on getting that out to the most-active voters.
Our first mailer, we wanted to make sure that we engaged people who have been here for a while. So we targeted people who have voted in the last four general elections and a couple of primaries. These people are going to show up and vote.
FXBGADVANCE: Any closing word to our readers?
Monica Gary: I really have faith that people will vote for what they believe in, and not out of fear. When we vote out of fear, we don’t get good results. And we’ve seen it again, and again.