Michael Feggans, the Democratic nominee for House of Delegates District 97 in Virginia Beach, sat down with me by Zoom to tell me about himself and this critically important race that could decide whether Democrats take back the majority in the House. – Cindy
Can you start by just giving me your background and what made you decide to run?
My full name is Michael Benjamin Feggans, I’m 39 years old, and I’m the Democratic nominee for House district 97 here in Virginia Beach. I was born in Louisiana–my mother is from Louisiana, and my father was in the Air Force and was stationed there, so that’s how my parents met. After I was born we then moved to Virginia—my father is originally from Virginia—he was a firefighter in the Air Force and he worked for his professional career for the Norfolk International Fire Department, and retired as a captain; and my mother retired after 30 years in Norfolk public schools, where she taught at various elementary schools. So I grew up here in in Virginia Beach in the West Kempsville portion of Virginia Beach.
Around my junior/senior year at Tallwood High School, when deciding what was going to be my path after graduation, I’d always leaned towards the military, especially growing up in this in this area. Because I was actually too young at the time to enlist in the Air Force, my mother signed for me. I left just about immediately after I graduated from high school, in 2001. I was in basic training during September 11th. My professional background when I was in the military was in healthcare services management which is the enlisted version of healthcare administration. My first 10 years, I served in healthcare administration; in my last 10, I worked in served in healthcare cyber security. While I was in, I had the opportunity to learn the importance of having a seat at the table. I served as the base president for a few years and that really gave me great insight to what it means to have a seat at the table, to understand budgets, to build a consensus, and to get to get a better understanding of how to serve, especially because you’re taking care of the issues that your fellow Airmen are having, taking them to the Base Commander and the Base Command Chief.
From there I knew that service in terms of public office was going to be something that I’d like to pursue once I retired, so I applied and became one of the first enlisted Congressional interns. When I was assigned to Senator Warner’s office, that was an incredible experience to be able to be on active duty be stationed on temporary Duty assigned to Senator Warner’s Norfolk office. Because I was a military intern they gave me a lot of a lot of great opportunities to represent Senator Warner at community events. Going to community events and working constituent services in Senator Warner’s Norfolk office gave me incredible insight into the importance of constituent services–it didn’t matter if you were a Republican or a Democrat or independent, seeing that when individuals had an issue that they would call our office and write us, and our job was to take care of the issue and to find a solution. That’s always been something that I’ve prided myself on is finding solutions to complicated issues.
So, fast forward, I retired after 20 years in the Air Force. I had the opportunity to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom for eight and a half months supporting Afghanistan operations, and also to serve overseas as well in South Korea, working as a cyber security lead and a project lead to help refurbish a mass casualty hospital there. During that time as well I was able to complete my education and my Bachelor’s in healthcare administration and a master’s in cyber security and graduate certification in political science from Virginia Tech and I was selected to the University of Virginia’s political leadership program. I had the opportunity to work in Governor McAuliffe’s office as a cyber security fellow, for Secretary Karen Jackson who was the Secretary of Technology.
I felt that now was the best time to step forward and to serve Virginia Beach again for my second service, for the House of Delegates.
Allie Berrie, Michael’s campaign manager: Michael you left out my favorite part of the story about the internship!
So, officers across the services have always had the opportunity to work in Congress as interns or fellows, but the Air Force at the time didn’t allow their enlisted to serve, but the Army did. So I took their rule book, and then I called down to Senator Jim Webb’s office in Virginia Beach, and they said “yes, you can you can interview.” So I took a few days on leave, and I drove down 12 hours to here, to Virginia Beach, and I got accepted as an intern to Senator Jim Webb’s office. So I then took that acceptance letter back after my leave was over, and presented my command, and then I asked for forgiveness, because in the Air Force that’s the best way to get things done is ask for forgiveness instead of permission. It took us about four and a half months, and it took some assistance from Senator Warner’s office to get it approved, but then I and a few others became the first enlisted Air Force cohort to work in Congress.
The things behind you on the shelves look very curated. Can you tell me about them?
It’s a collection of the awards that I’ve won over the years in the military. Some of them are awards that I’ve won for my businesses. So it’s medals, patches I’ve obtained over my career. When you’re meeting up with other units or you’re on temporary duty or deployments, we would exchange patches or exchange coins; or you would be granted or if you were recognized. Like the large machetes you see over my shoulder are from when I served in Guam, and the logo is the logo I made for the unit. That’s the Guam Rail and we made a cartoon version of the Guam Rail. So that was their way of saying thank you for making a unit patch for us. Then I also have some awards from my businesses– I’ve always been an entrepreneur. When I was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, I started up my own multimedia production company and we shot commercials and vignettes, and I had the opportunity to shoot music videos for members of Bone Thugs Harmony and various other artists in Ohio.
What are going to be your top issues? What’s your first bill going to be?
The number one issue for us is going to be reproductive health, reproductive rights, especially running against an incumbent whose background has been on being anti-choice, in terms of being so in the forefront of pregnancy crisis centers, and some of her bills have been about the restrictions on reproductive health. So that’s our number one issue when we’re talking on doors that really resonates here in this area.
The second issue of course is going to be education, not just supporting in terms of increasing teacher pay, but also supporting our educational support staff, our security guards, our cafeteria, our bus drivers, and making sure not only that they have a livable wage, but that they’re able to actually live in the same city that they work in is really important for me. So I’m making sure that when we do get to Richmond that we continue on with increasing the minimum wage here in Virginia.
Third, the issue that is important for our campaign is kind of multi-pronged—supporting our veterans, and small business owners and entrepreneurs. We want to make sure that we’re finding great ways for internships and apprenticeships. Professionally, through my business I’ve worked with partners both in education and the renewable energy sector to make sure to connect veterans to great-paying jobs, especially those in renewable energy and specifically within offshore wind, especially down here in Virginia Beach, with the offshore wind turbine farms being so close and the economic and environmental advantages that that will come from that we think that is going to be a great winning formula for this area.
How do you think Governor Youngkin pulling Virginia out of RGGI affects your district specifically?
It affects it a lot. It’s so short-sighted. When we’re looking at RGGI and what it does, not only in terms of giving back to areas that are most impacted by environmental issues, but because so much of it does seem to be a political issue for him in terms of him trying to raise his stature for whatever office that he’s trying to obtain here, to the detriment of our community here in Virginia Beach, specifically around Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia. When we look at environmental issues here in Virginia Beach and Hampton Roads it isn’t just an issue just in terms of the environment. It’s a national security issue here; you know when you’re in an area that’s prone to flooding, you have to think about how service members are going to get to work; when you’re in an area that that is affected by the environment, you have to look at in terms of how is that going to affect military readiness. So for him to pull out of RGGI is such a short-sighted decision for him, but it’s going to have lasting impacts unfortunately here in Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth as a whole. Virginia should be a leader in this area as it has been, and instead he’s trying to align us with unfortunately some of our other Southern States.
We just passed the anniversary of the Virginia Beach Shooting. Do you think that we’ve made significant policy changes since then that would prevent such tragedies again?
We’re not quite there, and you can see it unfortunately with the recent shooting in Richmond outside the school. And here in Virginia we’ve had a few other shootings that maybe didn’t reach the national level of attention, but they’re equally hurting here. There is more than enough room for us to improve, to address what are the protections that are needed. I think it’s going to be important for validators like myself—someone who is a responsible firearm owner, who has utilized them, who has trained with them in the military—to be out there and saying “hey we need to improve our red flag laws, we need to improve any types of areas where background checks are not being taken care of (in terms of interpersonal transfers).” We need to do as much as we can. One of the things we have to also say is that this this isn’t about removing the Second Amendment, this isn’t about trying to take your guns, because I’m a responsible firearm owner. It’s the responsibility that comes with that right, and that’s what’s important for me when we’re out there speaking: that there’s a responsibility that comes with that, and we need to do as much as we can to keep our community safe.
I saw on your website that you worked on broadband access when you were in McAuliffe’s Administration. I thought Governor Northam said we were on target to be the first to reach full access to everyone across the Commonwealth. Where are we on that?
Yes, I worked on the RU Online VA? project then. I have to be honest, I don’t have the exact numbers in terms of where the project has been since then. But I can just give anecdotally, just from traveling on the western part of Virginia’s areas that some of my family live in, in terms of the southern parts of Charlottesville, is that we need to continue to work with our partners, especially in the private telecommunications area. Working on that project really showed me some of the hurdles that come with trying to expand broadband, especially across some of the rural areas. But if we’re going to make sure that all of Virginia is connected, we need to keep in mind that what was considered broadband maybe 20 years ago isn’t broadband now; and so looking at what the current definitions of broadband are, going back and looking at some of that data from RU Online VA? and then hopefully working with the current Administration and Governor Youngkin to continue to expand broadband access across the Commonwealth.
Can you talk a little bit about your small business ownership?
I have a cyber security consulting firm and what we do is provide cyber security solutions to states, territories, and federal partners. One of the things we’re working on is providing cyber security education and risk assessments. We actually just finished working on a project with the Department of Defense to help protect HVAC systems that are taking care of satellite dishes.
I had a couple of fun questions for you. Do you have any pets?
I do not, no. I’m a big dog lover. My baby Asher passed away when I was actually overseas in Guam, and so since returning back to Virginia I have not gotten another dog but I hope to get one as soon as the campaign is over with. I’ve always known that dogs love me, but being out there on the campaign trail taught me that I should keep doggy snacks with me, and it’s been a great way to talk with voters as we’re we’ve been getting out there. We definitely love to meet our furry friends out there.
The other fun question is what are your favorite TV shows?
So I’m a big nerd, so it’s basically anything that comes on Disney Plus, and Star Wars and some Mandalorian; and then watching DC and Marvel animated movies. I’m still an active collector of comics; I have a closet filled with comic books, and I actually go to the same Comic Kings it’s actually in my district, it’s one of the comic book stores I’ve been to since I was a child, so it’s great to still be going to the same area, on the same comic store that you collected comic books as a kid.
If Northern Virginia Democrats want to take a trip to knock doors for you, where should they stay and what should they eat?
Of course we want them to stay in district, so we want them to stay down in town center. It’s an incredible collection of arts, hotels, and places to eat. And we want them to actually visit some of our local bakeries and shops—while it isn’t technically in district, one of my favorite places to eat is called Glory’s Bakery it’s where I get my lumpia, my poncit and my pizza bread from all the time. I love it so much I actually used it to cater my Air Force retirement ceremony.
What’s one really interesting thing in your district that everyone should see?
Aww come on, I’ve already been there!
Not everyone has seen the greatness of Mount Trashmore! We love Mount Trashmore, we have our events there. As a child that went there and played on the Kids Cove, and to now have our campaign events there and have it part of our district is special.
Is there anything else that you want to make sure people know about you or about the district or about the race?
The most important thing we want individuals to know is that this race is going to be one of the deciding races that’s going to help decide the House of Delegates. It’s not only a flippable district, it’s something that President Biden won; when we look at the numbers, Congresswoman Elaine Luria, even though unfortunately she wasn’t able to win, she won our district. So we know we have a pathway to victory. And if we want to make sure that we protect reproductive rights in the Commonwealth, the pathway to flipping the House of Delegates runs through Virginia Beach.
We’re seeing the energy, not only within the Commonwealth, but across the country. It’s showing the importance of our race and all the races this year, because we know that when we hold the Senate this year, when we flip the House of Delegates, that is going to send a strong signal on to 2024 that the energy is on the Democratic side, that we’re going to re-elect President Biden, and then we’re going to take that same energy into 2025 to winning the governor’s mansion back, and then also supporting Senator Kaine as well.
No pressure or anything!
We’ve heard that a lot, that it’s a lot. But I think if you look at my background, and look at the training that I’ve had, not only just in the military, but just as a candidate over the years, and my experiences working, starting from some of my first experiences assisting candidates to help flip races, going back to Cheryl Turpin—I helped create her first website and do her first photo shoot back in 2017—and working at the local Dems and Young Democrats, and going to conventions and getting the training as a candidate, and getting a better understanding of the Commonwealth through the Sorensen political leadership program, I really feel confident that all those life experiences have made me ready to serve here and to represent the city I love, which is Virginia Beach.