Mary Barthelson to challenge longtime incumbent Del. Ken Plum

For the first time in over two decades, Del. Ken Plum, the state delegate for district 36, has a primary challenger.

Mary Barthelson, 27, is set to challenge incumbent Plum, 79, in the Democratic primary election. Plum, who has been in this office since 1982 and also held the seat from 1978-80, has run unopposed for the seat since 2011 when he faced Republican Hugh Cannon in the general election. The primary winner of the Barthelson-Plum race will face Republican Matthew Lang in the general election.

Barthelson officially announced her candidacy today.

Previously a data analyst, the Northern Virginia native currently works as a security engineer. Barthelson aims to use her engineering background to meet “a growing challenge” that is being presented by emerging technologies.

She grew up in Fairfax before attending Battlefield High School in Prince William County. She also earned a master’s degree from George Mason University in systems engineering.

“I think that my background makes me uniquely qualified to address the challenges that we’re currently facing, many of which are time sensitive both in technology and also with poverty that has risen as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

Technology and addressing poverty are her two primary focuses as she runs for office. She will also focus on green energy standards, creating green energy jobs and focusing on ending the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

She believes that having an engineer’s eye will help to navigate challenges such as electric car standards and communicating them to legislators and the public to avoid similar issues.

“I think it lends itself to a new perspective in problem solving because people can get very fixated on the first solution that is proposed or the one that’s been proposed by someone they like instead of looking at all the information available from a wide range of sources to really come up with creative ideas to solve problems,” Barthelson said.

“That’s exactly what my background is in. Systems engineering is really the engineering of problem solving.”

Her agenda also includes reviewing and working on challenges presented with intellectual freedoms, doxxing, cyber flashing and data concerns.

Barthelson also vows to focus on removing barriers of entry into the workforce to help people from low-income backgrounds get jobs.

“I think technology is going to be a big challenge because a lot of these conversations are newer and we’re still navigating them and figuring out the best way to resolve problems and address them,” Barthelson said.

“Some of them are very complicated, so obviously it can take time to really work through that and figure out the best policies to solve the problem.”

Another technology aspect she wants to implement is making sure disinformation curriculum is provided to schools “so that the next generation has the tools it needs to engage in appropriate social media behaviors and use critical thinking when assessing information that they consume online.”

Barthelson said she decided to run because of the “time sensitive” issues she sees in poverty and challenges technology is now bringing. Among those issues is communicating with and ensuring money is properly distributed to small businesses that have closed as a result of the pandemic.

As the owner of PPE 4 NOVA, which she established to help Virginians access masks during the pandemic, she said many people with small businesses she spoke to were unaware of where to access resources available to them.

“I think we really need new ideas and we need the next generation to start getting civically engaged as well,” Barthelson said. “And with the pandemic and all the challenges that we’re facing right now, it’s really a time sensitive issue. So it’s something that we need to address now and not later.”

Photo courtesy Mary Barthelson

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