Why We Run: Cheryl Turpin

Cheryl Turpin is an Environmental Science teacher in Virginia who ran for the House of Delegates in a special election in January — and lost. Undaunted, she’s running again in the regular election, with a platform focussing on economic opportunities, the environment and, yes, education. She talks below about getting support from all 50 states, motivational sticky notes, and making magic.

Was there a particular moment that you decided you were ready to run?

I kind of got really involved in politics a while back working in different campaigns, but it really wasn’t until the attack on women’s healthcare. Because at the time I had a 21-year-old and an 18-year-old and I was appalled at the way legislation was going in regards to their choices. So that’s the long term. More recently, just the outcome of November. When I woke up after the election I was like, “Wow,” and then I saw this opportunity come up that Scott Taylor’s House of Delegates seat was going to open up and I thought, “Well, shoot, I can do this! I can make this run.” And it was a very surreal experience to wake up on a Monday morning and be a science teacher, and then at 5:00pm suddenly be a candidate for the House of Delegates.

I had 32 days to run that special election, and we did great stuff. I’m really proud of the campaign we put together.

How did your experience as a science teacher affect your campaigning?

It’s about being about to get along with people. As a teacher you put people together in situations and you work towards a common goal, and really my campaign came together from people from just everywhere. Some of them were Hillary supporters, some of them were Bernie supporters, but when the campaign team came together it’s all about learning to work together towards a common goal.

When we were knocking doors, it was great to be able to say, “Didn’t you have a favorite teacher?” Everybody in the world has a favorite teacher in their lives. So people kind of gravitated towards that. Many of my students go, “You know, Mrs. Turpin, you made such a difference in my high school experience.”

How has your experience surprised you, the first time and then what’s continued to surprise you as you’ve run again?

It was just a real experience the first time. The outpouring of support from across the nation — it was a little science teacher running in a house delegate race for the special and we were able to make about 50,000 phone calls in three and a half weeks. I mean people from all over the nation helped. It was humbling, I can’t think of a better word. To have the love and support of so many people was extraordinary. I kind of get the same feel as we move forward. This new campaign is moving ahead and again we’ve had the same generosity of people with their time, with their donations, just positive energy coming forward from them. People just care, it’s humbling when you talk to somebody and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I looked at your picture and I knew I could believe in you. I knew you were a science teacher, I knew you believed in the environment, I know that you know how to care for people.”

What was the best advice about campaigning that you got?

Hire good people. I thought, “I’ve worked a lot of campaigns I know a lot of stuff.” But I really didn’t and it wasn’t until my campaign manager came in and I realized I had no idea what campaigning was all about.

And people said, “Just be genuine.” Be a teacher, be genuine. My advice to other candidates is: You can’t do it on friends. You’ve gotta do it on people who know how to make — magic, we call it magic. Make magic happen. My campaign manager will pick me up from work and he goes, “all right, we’re going to go knock these doors and then we’re going to be back to the office by six. We’re going to start making phonecalls six to nine,” and that’s how my life was for three and a half weeks. And you just have to believe that these people that come into your life and form your campaign team have your best interests and they’re all alike and they all do.

What did you learn from the last campaign that you’re applying to this one?

This one is really different, because we have the gift of time. Where before, it was really four weeks of “here we go” and then it was over. This time we have the ability to really get out in the community, really get into Civic League meetings, getting out into the district. Whereas last time, it was a blur. I have the gift of support — I’m still seeing a lot of support from the same people who supported me in the special. I called them and thanked them for their support and, you know, they’re so thrilled that they gave you a little bit of money and you gave them a call and said, “Every little bit counts and I just can’t thank you enough for your support.”

What’s been the most gratifying part of campaigning? Because, obviously, you decided to do it a second time, so what has been the best part of it for you?

The best part is really knocking doors. I like knocking doors, I like talking to people. You meet the most amazing people. I knocked on the door of a mother of a student that I taught fourteen years ago, and she goes, “Oh my gosh, Mrs. Turpin I remember you! I remember your parent-teacher open house. Here’s so-and-so,” and there’s her son and his wife and their children. She was so excited and she goes, “Of course we’re all voting for you.” It’s those moments that make you go, “I made a difference fourteen years ago and now they’re so excited to be here to be supportive.” So it’s magic. I called it magic the whole time — if you are a candidate and can’t find the magic and the joy of running, then you gotta take a step back and take a deep breath and find the magic.

Some days you’re making phone calls and you’re like, “Wow this one is really bad,” and some days someone will go, “You know what? You’re fearless.” I had never thought of myself as being fearless before! So that goes on a sticky note on my wall, you know, this person called me fearless on this day. And I look at these little quotes that I write up on the board that people give me and I’m like, “This is still kind of cool. It’s fun!” And I hope all the candidates across the commonwealth are looking at this as fun, because if you don’t it’s going to be a long stretch to November.

What’s the thing you least expected?

Again, it was this little race that caught the attention of a nation, back in November going into December. It was this little race! And all of a sudden, I got donations from every state in the nation. That was a huge responsibility and it was humbling for me to have those expectations put on me, and then to have lost — ooh, that was really bad.

Let me just say that that Wednesday, I did have to lie on the floor with my feet propped up on the couch going, “Wow, this is amazing.” It wasn’t a bad experience. I enjoyed every moment of it and the next day when it was over I was like, “Of course I’m going to do this again.” And now I have a record — at the time, we were both public servants running for office. Now, I’m a public servant running against a delegate who has a voting record to argue against, so it’s a little bit of a different race this time.

What’s keeping you motivated while you run, day-to-day, hour-to-hour, when you’re getting off work and going to sort of your second job?

We just call it magic. It’s all about, truly, you send out positive energy, it comes back to you. You treat people with respect, it comes back to you, and I think it’s fun. I like talking to people, I guess it’s what teachers do, we talk to people. I just think it’s kind of magic. People who you don’t even know, who live all the way over in California go, “I followed your race til the very last moment and I was so disappointed when you lost.” And then they go, “But I’d be happy to support you again,” so those are the moments that keep you going: that complete strangers believe in you.

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A series of brief Q&As with young people who decided to run for government. Surprise! It turns out, they’re just like you and me.

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