Interview: Veteran Jen Kiggans Runs for 7th State Senate District

Today we have an interview with State Senate candidate Jen Kiggans. Kiggans, a former Navy helicopter pilot and currently a Nurse Practitioner, is running for the 7th District seat that was held by State Senator Frank Wagner before his resignation in May. We talked with Mrs. Kiggans over the weekend about issues facing her district and her campaign.

1. Jen, thanks so much for sitting down with us today. I ask this of all my candidates, what is the central issue of your campaign for State Senate?

Jen Kiggans: Although I spend a lot of time talking about healthcare, I feel like the central theme of my campaign has been about a “return to normalcy.” We write the words “civility” and “competence” on my literature because people are frustrated with the status quo of politics and the political class and are looking for change. I’m a regular, everyday citizen and mom who was tired of yelling at the news myself and feel like we need more people to step up and offer a new, fresh perspective to politics as usual. I’m not a politician and have never held public office, but my life has been about service and I am excited to step up and serve the people of Virginia Beach and Norfolk.

2. If we could build a Republican candidate for State Senate who is running in Virginia Beach in a laboratory, I’m fairly sure the best and brightest in the GOP couldn’t craft a better bio than yours. Talk to us about how being a helicopter pilot prepares you for being an elected official? What do you want to do to help your fellow veterans in Virginia?

JK: You’re too kind! We have many active duty and retired veterans who live in the Hampton Roads area. As a naval officer, navy spouse, and mother of military children, I understand the issues that are important to our military families from a unique perspective. It is essential that we have someone in the state legislature that can advocate for our veterans and their families. As a helicopter pilot and naval officer, my life was about dedication, working hard, and getting the mission done. I bring a military work ethic, a respect for integrity, and a love of country to the table as an essential part of who I am. I would love to see our retired military not have to pay state income taxes. I would also like to assist with correcting base housing deficiencies, protecting civilian jobs on base, and promoting job growth for military spouses. As a side note, there are currently no female veterans (not republicans nor democrats) who sit in the General Assembly. I feel like women veterans are underrepresented on the state level and I am excited to step up to be an advocate for them.

3. I have worked with a lot of female candidates over the years and they seem to be, and I don’t want to word this the wrong way, but more eager to do the hard work of a campaign. The female candidates that I have worked with tend to be more willing to knock more doors, make more calls, attend more events. Can you speak to that?

JK: I can’t speak for other women, but personally, I love hard work and staying busy. I have always lived my life with the mindset of “what is the goal, where do I start, and what work needs to be done to accomplish the goal”. I entered the political arena with the same mindset. In the primary, I knew that each voter had one vote and the more voters I could reach, explain what I stood for, and ask for their vote, the easier it would be to win. The phone calls were hard in the beginning because it was a lot of me calling people introducing who I was as a political outsider and then asking for their support. Phone calls have definitely gotten a lot easier since I won the primary in June!

4. Okay, that question was hard. Apparently, you like to run. Are you a marathon runner? Talk to us about what your ideal run is?

JK: Running is my mental health therapy! I can solve most of my problems in the course of a good run. Even the things I can’t solve don’t seem as bad after a sweaty four to five miles. My ideal run is a half marathon, I wake up knowing that I get to spend the next two or so hours running by myself, listening to some good music, enjoying the comraderie of other runners, and celebrating being healthy enough to accomplish that distance. Once the adrenaline starts flowing and I get in the groove, it goes by fast and I’m happy as a clam to be out there.

5. You are a nurse practitioner, which is such a rewarding career. Tell us, what are some common sense solutions about healthcare in Virginia you would advance as a State Senator?

JK: I give healthcare to people on a daily basis, from primary care to long term care. I am an adult-geriatric primary care nurse practitioner by certification. Geriatrics is my specialty and caring for patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia is my passion. I see many of my patients struggle with affording medications, getting to their appointments, affording regular preventative care, and complying with healthcare plans and goals. I would like to see better use of telehealth in our state as well as improved cost transparency and more use of non-physician providers such as nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide affordable and quality preventative and primary care.

We talk about mental health frequently these days and improving the availability and accessibility of mental healthcare. We also need to advocate for our mental health providers, focus on providing transitional care for mental health patients, and providing better in home support for their families and caregivers.

6. One of the issues stances on your website states you want to work with doctors to fight the opioid crisis. As a medical professional, what would you do to change the current laws about prescribing opioids?

JK: I have seen much progress in responsible opiod prescribing practices over the years but there is still a long way to go. I would like to see better insurance coverage for alternative pain treatments such as physical therapies, chiropractors, and homeopathic treatments. Rather than writing a script for a pill, there needs to be a culture shift to offer other alternative treatments first and narcotics as a last resort.

7. One of your policy stances on your website states you will work to fight discriminatory policies and support equality? Specifically, what kind of proposals would you fight for to fight discrimination throughout the Commonwealth?

JK: We live in American where our Constitution guarantees equality for all of us. There should be no exceptions to this right. I will always fight for and support policies that ensure all men and women are treated equally.

8. What is your favorite part of your district?

JK: My favorite parts of my district are some of the older neighborhoods where there is a large component of retirees and families. I love walking around a neighborhood feeling like I’m living in the 1960s or 1970s where people are friendly, kids are out playing in the streets, and everyone says “hello” to each other. These places still exist here in Virginia Beach and Norfolk!

9. The person who told me I had to interview you was Delegate Glenn Davis, who is a mutual friend of ours and was one of your earliest supporters. What would you do to emulate the strong leaders Virginia Beach already has in their General Assembly delegation like Glenn?

JK: Glenn is a good friend and a great role model. He was instrumental in helping me get on the ballot and explaining the campaign process to a newcomer like me. I would not be here today if it had not been for his help. I now know enough to know what I don’t know (does that make sense?!). My leadership style is to walk into an organization, watch and learn for a bit, then form a strategy and plan to implement change. I would be honored to work with any of our conservative incumbent delegates or senators and will absolutely use them as resources as the new kid on the block.

10. So what do we not know about Jen Kiggans?

JK: There is nothing more important to me than my family. My four children and my husband are my priority at all times. Raising good American citizens who are patient, kind, and hard working has been a priority for me. My husband is my number one fan who sacrifices daily to ensure our family is clothed and fed while supporting my political ambitions and career aspirations. Another fun fact is that my second language is Japanese and I have lived in Japan on and off about five years teaching English there and living there as a navy spouse. Japan is my second home. I’d love to be the Ambassador to Japan one day! Oh – and I love chocolate cake – and milk – they are my kryptonite!

11. You talk about mental health impacts on Virginians. What can we do to increase the access of mental healthcare in Virginia?

JK: We need to provide better transitional care to mental health patients who have had acute mental health hospitalizations. This includes inmates who are released from prison. Mental health treatment is frequently initiated but follow-up is hard. There are not enough providers out there as well. What can we do to make their regulatory burden easier and help them maintain their certification. We need better home health psychotherapy as well and much more family and caregiver support in the home (perhaps telehealth).

12. We talk about faith in politics a lot. How does your faith shape you as a healthcare provider and how will it shape you as a legislator?

JK: As a life long Catholic, my faith defines who I am. I attend church weekly as spiritual replenishment. Church relaxes me and keeps me centered. I want people to go to church or their place of worship because I want everyone to have the opportunity for the same peace that I find every Sunday. I don’t care what religion or where you go, just go somewhere and find your prayerful place. I feel so privileged as a candidate that I have been able to visit so many churches and places of worship from a wide variety of religions in Virginia Beach and Norfolk. No mater where I go, people there are good and are trying to make their lives and this world a better place, Visiting so many houses of worship has really renewed my faith in mankind.

13. What are your ideas on making Virginia Beach more of a tourist destination while keeping parts of your district with a small town feel?

JK: I am originally from Orlando, Florida, tourism capital of the world! I worked at Disney World when I was in high school and am amazed when I go home how Orlando has continued to grow but still maintains its small-town feel. Virginia Beach has so much to offer with our beaches, festivals, parks, and small businesses. We need to protect our environment and water here while continuing to attract small businesses to our area. Virginia was recently rated the #1 place to do business in the country, We need to keep it that way and continue to expand and grow our tourism industry.

14. I see that your call sign on your helicopter was “Blossom.” Can you tell us the story about how you got that name?

JK: My roommate in flight school and I went on a bit of a “girl power” kick one day and bought old bathtub non-skid flower stickers from the store, cut out that flower shape in reflective tape from our squadron and stuck those reflective flowers on our helmets. There is very little room for making a navy flight suit more feminine but on cruise we were able to be a little more creative and came to love those girly flowers on our helmets. Although the helicopter community doesn’t use call signs as much as some of the fixed wing squadrons, the “Blossom” stuck and was painted on the side of a CH-46 for part of my first cruise. Made for a great photo and story!

15. Lastly, it’s the weekend before Election Day. What is your closing argument for your election?

JK: We are all sick of the negative television ads and mailers that have become the trademark of this election. Every single voter at the door has had enough. I have tried to run a straightforward campaign educating the voters on who I am and what I bring to the table. Despite the negative attacks from my opponent, I have tried to stay in my lane and share my message with people.

This election is about electing a leader who will serve and represent the good people of Virginia Beach and Norfolk. These are the people I have met at the doors and the civic leagues and who deserve someone who respects their values and ideals and who will advocate for them in Richmond. What you see is what you get with me. I only know one way to be and I have been that since I first got on the ballot back in March. This election is about more than politics. It is about our families and the future of Virginia. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share some things important to me and my campaign. Get out there and vote November 5th because Virginians Deserve Better.