A rural Virginia gay man is challenging the author of last year’s failed “religious freedom” bill for Virginia’s 30th House District.
Until last month the delegate in question, Delegate Nicholas “Nick” Frietas (R-30) was running unopposed in his reelection campaign. However, that has now changed with the nomination of local computer programmer Ben Hixon for the Democratic Party’s candidate in the 2017 election in the rural district which consists of the Culpeper, Madison and Orange Counties.
Hixon freely admits that he was not very engaged in politics before starting his campaign. He moved from Seattle in August of 2016, and gained a fascination for politics after President Trump’s election. In early 2017, he read a GayRVA article about his own delegate submitting House Bill 2025 which could have allowed private businesses to deny services to LGBT couples. The bill passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate before being vetoed by Governor McAuliffe.
Realizing that a Frietas re-election could have an impact on him and his partner, Hixon decided it was time to throw his hat in the ring.
“I was reading articles about how it’s everybody’s personal responsibility to get involved,” he said in an interview with GayRVA. “And so when I found out that he was unopposed, I decided to run.”
Hixon believes that the Democratic Party needs some introspection if it wants to win elections again. He said that liberals have “have lost sight of who…we are,” and that they no longer have a clear message.
“I’m actually running to get back to what I think is the core of the Democratic Party, which is freedom,” Hixon said in an interview with GayRVA. “It’s the civil rights movement, its FDR and his four freedoms…that’s who the Democratic Party is, it’s the party of freedom.”
Hixon claims that conservatives like Freietas have attempted to hijack words like “freedom” for their own purposes, and that they are able to do that because Democrats have let it happen.
“I think we’ve become too much about sleeping in bed with crony capitalists,” said Hixon. “That’s why I’m running, to get away from some of the top-down control that the Democrats have done,”
Hixon is confident that days are numbered for legislation like SB 2025 because he does not see anti-LGBT beliefs as representative of the majority of Virginians, or the majority of conservative voters for that matter. He insisted that such views are now part of the “far right,” and that the far right and the left are only ones still concerned about LGBT issues.
“People don’t actually care that I’m gay anymore,” he said “. I haven’t actually had any pushback on that since I’ve been running…It’s no longer an issue… It’s an issue for Democrats, because we like the sense of moral superiority that it gives us, right? And it’s an issue for the far-right conservatives, the very far right, because of their moral inferiority.”
In an interview with the local blogger, Frankie Stockes, Hixon felt as if he experienced this first-hand.
Stockes writes for the conservative blog Unity and Security , and “he is beginning to become dissatisfied” with the Republican Party, according to Hixon. Stockes was previously a volunteer with the Corey Stewart’s campaign for Virginia governor, “until he realized more about the guy he was volunteering for,” said Hixon. Stockes dislikes the rhetoric that surrounds immigration in GOP circles, especially since his girlfriend is an immigrant.
“We had a great interview, and he emailed and called me a patriot,” said Hixon. “He said that he agreed with me on much more than he expected. And he didn’t say he would vote for me, but he did say he’s glad that I’m campaigning, that he likes my ideas.”
“That’s how I think I can appeal to these folks…and that’s why I think that this is actually a winnable district,” Hixon explained. “Because the hateful rhetoric that we’re seeing that gets blasted off on the news, that’s not representative of most Americans, that’s not representative of most Virginians.”
Hixon thinks of himself as being a left wing libertarian, and he states that the Republicans do not adhere to the small government, free enterprise ideas they claim to love. He backs up this claim with an example of a bill passed by Senator Tommy Norment (R-3), SB 1578. The bill made it legal for localities to regulate house sharing services like Airbnb. Hixon said it amounted to outlawing the modern form of room rental, and pointed to the money-rich hotel industry as the driving force behind the bill, swaying legislators financially instead of listening to constituents.
Hixon also expressed his desire for marijuana legalization. “Because that’s a regulation that does not help anybody.”
His sexuality has helped him form his anti-authoritarian politics as well.
“I’m gay, I grew up in Louisiana, and it was illegal to be gay there,” he said. “So this might be my influence; why I so strongly believe in freedom and liberty for everybody. That’s why I think that everybody should get healthcare, that’s why I’m a progressive libertarian.”
Hixon agrees with the criticisms some have thrown at the Democratic Party in the months since Donald Trump’s election, and he believes that addressing these is part of what will happen when the message is changed. One of these issues is that, as Hixon says, “folks from urban areas don’t quite understand what it’s like to live in a rural area.”
Speaking about his new home town of Culpeper, Hixon explained that broadband access was a massive issue.
“In a lot of rural areas, power lines are above ground, and trees get knocked over in a storm, so they knock over the power lines,” he said.
Other rural-specific problems are the regulations on meat production that he said gives “unfair advantage to big farmers.”
“The cost of transporting their animals to one of these USDA-approved slaughterhouses exceeds the profit that they make from selling them,” he explained. “So I want mobile slaughterhouses.” He said that other states use refrigerated trucks that farmers can load livestock into to be transported to the slaughterhouse.
“These are issues that urban progressives would not necessarily think of.”
Hixon also remarked that Hillary Clinton lost district 30 in the 2016 presidential election, and he believes that this is due to the misguided philosophy behind the Democrats’ campaign message.
“I love Hillary,” he said. “But one of the things she would do in her ads here is she would say that if you’re considering voting for the other person, you’re immoral, and it’s morally wrong.”
Hixon faces off against Frietas this November along side every other House district and state-wide executive race.
Top photo of Hixon via the candidate