A Different Type of Candidate in the 17th District

Freeda Cathcart

by Gene Marrano

Farm owner. Grandin Court Neighborhood Association president and community volunteer.advocate for midwifery. Former teacher and insurance agent.

Freda Cathcart may not strike some as the typical political candidate, but she picked up the mantle and decided to run as the Democratic contender for the 17th District House of Delegates seat when no one else did. This Tuesday (Nov. 8) she’ll square off against Chris Head for the seat being vacated by Republican incumbent Bill Cleaveland.

“I never actually considered serving in a public office,” admits Cathcart, “but when I saw the challenges our state faces and at the time nobody stepping up to challenge for my party … I offered to step up. Now I’m on quite the adventure.”  Cathcart said she has enjoyed meeting people during the campaign, talking about ways “to bring prosperity back to our state.”

Cathcart inherited a basic philosophy from her father, who was an insurance broker, that everyone should leave the negotiating table feeling they got a fair deal. “Everybody should feel that their needs are met. Focus on the needs of a community first,” said Cathcart, “then look at the wants.”  Jobs are what she is hearing about, as is funding for education.

“Those can go together,” she points out. “Investing in education is a wonderful way to stimulate the economy.” Having fewer teachers for more pupils is stressful and not conducive to a good learning, added Cathcart, who taught public school for a while.  “We want well-informed, educated citizens; that’s the bottom line.”

Cathcart also advocates for wellness programs that can lead to fewer problems down the road as a way to reduce healthcare costs. Her brush with the General Assembly in the past came from advocacy for a midwife program in Virginia, working with a coalition of “pro life and pro choice advocates,” to have certified midwives legalized in the Commonwealth. She testified for midwifery in the General Assembly, went to committee meetings and conducted one-on-one with legislators.

“The [annual] session is really intense when there are [in Richmond],” noted Cathcart, who was later appointed by then-Governor Tim Kaine to an advisory board on midwifery. Her experience  there, learning how  to implement the midwifery law, “will be helpful as well,’ she believes.

The midwifery bill passed wasn’t exactly what  Cathcart and others wanted, but it was the best they could get at the time and meant their two-page bill didn’t become a 50-page document. Learning the art of compromise is a valuable lesson when dealing with the General Assembly. “Later you can take greater steps,” she notes.

Cathcart has expressed concerns about cuts in health care programs, which could affect her family directly, with the possible loss of a family farm in Floyd County to help pay for her mother in laws care now covered by state programs. She suffers from dementia. “I’m really concerned about our family and other families too, that they receive the support that they need from society.”

As for infrastructure, Cathcart seems open to a hike in the gas tax to pay for roads, bridges and rail improvements: “it hasn’t been raised in 20 years. That’s not really in line with the rest of our lives.” She was told by one business owner in southwest Virginia that he may move out of state when it comes time to expand, due to poor road conditions that affect shipping of products.

“I know these are hard economic times … so I’m thinking that it needs some type of integrated program, something that’s fair for everybody.” That could mean a smaller gas tax hike and tolls perhaps in specific areas where work on roads is most needed. “But we need to deal with this transportation issue.”

In a Republican leaning district, Cathcart faces an uphill battle perhaps against Chris Head, who lost the nomination to Bill Cleaveland several years ago. The owner of a home health care company, Head has a leg up on name recognition from his run for the GOP nomination just two years ago. Undaunted, Freda Cathcart soldiers  on as Election Day looms. “Our greatest days are ahead of us. We need to remember that. I’m willing to serve the public. I have the education and experience.”

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