At first glance, Zach Brown’s schedule might appear to be similar to that of most other first-year students at the University of Richmond T.C. Williams School of Law. He wakes up before sunrise, finishes reading over the cases his professors assigned him to study, then heads to campus for a long day of classes.
Contrary to other students’ daily routines, however, Brown’s is peppered with a particular kind of extracurricular activity that often leaves him with little or no time to catch a break between class periods. When one class ends, he is busy making fundraising calls or canvassing neighborhoods — because when he is not studying to become a lawyer, the 23-year-old runs to be a legislator in the state government.
“Law school was a full-time job before the campaign started,” Brown said. “Campaigning is three full-time jobs.”
Since mid-February, Brown has campaigned to represent Virginia’s 10th Senate District, which includes UR as well as part of the city of Richmond, part of Chesterfield County and the entirety of Powhatan County.
The impetus of his campaign can be traced to a single night in his apartment, Brown said, when he and a handful of other law students huddled together to discuss the Virginia Senate race and concluded that it would benefit from an extra candidate. It was there and then that Brown decided he would run.
“We knew it was going to be hard,” Brown said of himself and his campaign staff, most of whom are also UR law students. “None of us knew what we were doing. A few of us had dabbled in campaigns before, but nothing at the level that we were dealing with now. But we collectively made the decision to do this.”
Since then, Brown’s campaign has not only collected more than the 250 signatures required for him to be on the ballot, but also raised over $20,000 in a single month and attracted national media attention.
Brown holds at least one community event a day in which he talks to supporters and potential voters, said Kelley Losier, the campaign’s communications director.
“His big focus now is talking with people in the community like he did tonight, asking people what they’re interested in,” Losier said. “And that feeds his soul, I think. That’s by far what he cares the most about.”
One such event was held in the Tyler Haynes Commons on Wednesday, April 3, and was attended by a small number of undergraduate and law students.
The event, sponsored by the Black Student Alliance, the College Democrats, SCOPE, Generation Action and UR Debate Council, was advertised as a meet and greet with Brown. After Brown gave a short speech about his campaign and summarized his policy positions, he opened the floor to questions.
During his talk, Brown expressed support for policies typically considered more liberal, such as raising the minimum wage, prioritizing the mitigation of climate change and reforming gun control.
“Our agenda in this campaign is bold, ambitious and it’s probably the most progressive agenda put forth in virtually any Senate campaign in Virginia,” Brown said.
Brown, who is openly gay, also expressed solidarity with LGBTQ+ people in Virginia who have been discriminated against in the workplace.
Riley Place, president of the University of Richmond College Democrats and an undergraduate first-year student, said he had decided to help organize the event because it would be good to give students an opportunity to meet someone who wants to represent them in the General Assembly.
“I think an in-person conversation can influence someone’s decision more than a poster or an ad or an internet platform,” Place said. “I want to reduce political apathy and give people this opportunity to meet one of their candidates, especially because he’s literally right down the road from them every day.”
One of the event’s attendees was Henry Herz, an undergraduate first-year student, who said that he had eagerly supported Brown’s campaign because they had shared nearly identical views on the issues and because he had found Brown to be a friendly candidate who was always eager to discuss political topics with voters.
“Personality has never been the biggest thing for me when choosing which candidate to support,” Herz said, “but Zach is just a fun guy to hang out with and talk to, so I have no problem supporting him.”
The campaign plans to host many more events around the Senate district before the primaries, Losier said, and is currently trying to set up debates between Brown and the other candidates.
Throughout his talk and when answering questions, Brown told audience members that they live in a moment in history in which young people are beginning to exert more influence on state and national politics.
“Something really inspiring that’s happening in state and local races and on the national level is you see young people reclaiming agency over a system that has largely stalled on a lot of the issues that we care about,” Brown said. “We have a lot of challenges that we’re facing, but the good news is that we have an opportunity to actually do something about it.”
Students registered to vote on UR’s campus are eligible to vote in both the Virginia Senate Democratic primary on June 11 and in the general election on November 5. Brown’s opponents in the Democratic primary race are Richmond attorney Eileen Bedell and college professor Ghazala Hashmi. The 10th District’s incumbent is Sen. Glen Sturtevant, a Republican, who has represented it since 2015.
Contact news contributor Hunter Moyler at firstname.lastname@example.org.