Aneesh Chopra has big ideas — and he's been fortunate to have held positions over the past decade to see some of them realized.
Chopra, a 40-year-old Harvard grad, has made his living at the intersection of health care and technology. In 2006, he became Virginia's Secretary of Technology under then-Gov. Tim Kaine. And in 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him this country's first chief technology officer.
"My whole premise is that we can run the commonwealth better, faster and fairer," he told Patch in his office in Arlington's Ballston neighborhood.
Chopra and Democratic state Sen. Ralph Northam are vying for their party's nomination for Virginia's lieutenant governor. The two will face off next week in a Democratic primary.
Both men look back at Republican legislation from the past two years with disgust.
- For more on Chopra's opponent, Ralph Northam, see:
Chopra calls laws that curtail women's access to healthcare and so-called voter suppression laws "terrible" and says he would work to repeal them.
He also believes the state is not investing enough money in education, creating a renewable energy economy or access to affordable health care. He said the state's refusal to expand Medicaid as prescribed by the Affordable Care Act represents "the worst" of government and called it a "critical failure" to create an economy that works for everybody.
"It turns out today's Republican Party is turning their back on Reagan, where they're pushing forward an ideological agenda where there's no demonstrated problem that they're trying to solve," Chopra said. "And this is a very bad omen for the business leaders of Virginia. Because if a government can impose their ideological will without any evaluation of cost and benefit, what's to say a government can't do that on matters that are relevant to their business?"
Chopra said he believes it's an "important role" of the lieutenant governor to actively recruit and support candidates who share his party's core beliefs. His endorsements include U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and the mayors of Richmond and Hampton.
The son of Indian immigrants who grew up in blue-collar Trenton, N.J., today enjoys something of a rock star's welcome at entrepreneurial events in Northern Virginia. It's not uncommon to see him fluttering around a room of young entrepreneurs, sharing nuggets of information — try a website here, or contact a startup over there.
He doesn't just see the big picture. He sees a picture with untold opportunities, every bit of information a potential seed for an idea that someone can turn into the Next Big Thing.
He talks, for instance, about a program he helped launch under Kaine called PluggedInVA, which trains adults for high-demand, high-paying jobs. He highlights a McLean startup that has developed technology to give patients better access to their own electronic medical records.
Repeating his theme of, "better, faster and fairer," he cites reports first published by the state that track the median wages made by students who attend high school and college in Virginia in their first job upon graduation.
The data shows, for example, that the median income of someone with a four-year general communications degree from Marymount University makes a little more than $35,000 in this state, compared to a near-$74,000 median salary for MBA grads from the same school.
Data helps people make decisions, he said.
"Equipping people with that information makes their lives a little bit better," Chopra said. "Even better is someone else will create an app, a service, that we haven't even conceived of — off the government's balance sheet, using the government's data…."
Chopra also mentions a recent report by the New York Times that indicates only about one-third of poor students who earn top test scores even bother to apply the country's best colleges. He said part of his focus as lieutenant governor would be to target those students to help them get a leg up.
Chopra credits his grandmother, a woman with no more than an eighth-grade education who couldn't speak English, with shaping his views. She would assign him math homework beyond what his school had given him to do, pushing him to learn more. Eventually, as his parents were able to send him to better schools, that helped him excel.
"It affirmed everything I believe that education is the key to economic opportunity," he said.
Keep up with Kingstowne news and events by signing up for our newsletter. Learn more here!