By: Michael Campbell News Editor
VIRGINIA – With the state’s general election now only five months away, voters will play a key role in deciding who is on the ballot come November during next week’s primary, which features a battle on both sides of the aisle for the region’s 64th District
On June 13, the state will host Republican and Democratic primaries that will set the ballot for the November 7 election, including who will challenge for the governor’s mansion as current Governor Terry McAuliffe finishes his final term in office.
For voters living in Sussex and Surry counties, placed comfortably within the 64th District, the June 13 dual primaries will help shape what candidates will square off on the Republican and Democratic tickets in the November 7 election later this year as both parties field a roster of candidates all vying for the support of area registered voters following the announcement that Republican Delegate Rick Morris would not seek re-election.
Morris has been in the midst of a legal battle following allegations he abused two family members and, in a statement, Morris said even though he is “supremely confident that these false allegations will be dismissed, … to seek re-election to this office will take dedicated time away from my children that I am not willing to further sacrifice.”
64th House of Delegates District Republican Primary
On the Republican side, Suffolk business owner and longtime Western Tidewater resident Emily Brewer challenges Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors Chairman and third-generation farmer Rex Alphin.
For Brewer, her campaign message hinges on “preserving the principles and values” residents of the 64th District hold close, “keeping them intact for future generations.”
When it comes to her position on key issues affecting the community, such as taxes, Brewer said she is committed to keeping taxes low while working toward “meaningful and effective tax reform” in the state.
“Virginia has an outdated tax code that has caused us to continual fail those that invest their hard earned dollars in our economy,” she said. “Recently, a business in the district closed after over 100 years in business. We cannot ignore how burdensome excessive taxation has injured the small business climate.”
Brewer, like her opponent, is pro-life and the Republican candidate said she is committed to working to address “real-life issues with common sense solutions.”
“Emily will work on reforming the adoption and foster care system by streamlining the process and making it easier for families to provide children with a loving home,” her campaign said, with adoption taking on a personal meaning as she was adopted at a young age, adding that adoption and foster care will be a top priority.
Brewer and her campaign also promised to “work to create the best possible environment for agri-business by cutting unnecessary regulations that are hurting small farms” in an effort to allow them to compete in today’s economy, with much of the district comprising of the ruralist portions of southeastern Virginia, where agriculture remains a key part of the local economy.
In terms of jobs and growth, which always remains a point of concern for residents on a local and national level, Brewer said, if elected, she will “will work to reign government overreach by cutting red tape and getting government out of the way.”
“Understanding the challenges and opportunities facing real people not just industry standards is the first step, not only to grow existing small businesses but to also create jobs for the hard-working folks in our region,” she remarked. “Unrestrained tax policies and unnecessary regulations are like death by a thousand paper cuts for even the most successful businesses.”
Brewer has also stated her commitment to working to make more vocational, trade, and career and technical education opportunities more available for the region and state’s public school students.
“Not everyone is meant to go to college and that’s okay, but we need to make sure students know there are other high-paying, well-respected opportunities for them after K-12,” she said.
For her opponent, Isle of Wight Supervisor Rex Alphin hopes to use his knowledge gained while serving his community as a representative and his knowledge of the region to leverage more opportunities for those living and working in the 64th District.
“I have long believed that to represent a people well, one must know those people; and to know a people, one must live amongst them; and to live amongst them is to love them,” he said.
Similar to his opponent, Alphin believes reducing the government’s role in the economy is key to sparking economic growth for those in the district and surrounding it.
“By restraining itself within specific borders, it unleashes the market in such manner as to reward those who strive for excellence,” he remarked. “Unnecessary regulations and taxation, both in daily lives and the marketplace, are counterintuitive to such efforts and dampen the efforts of those economic engines that create good jobs, elevate the quality of life and inspire innovation. Given the freedom to do so, history has shown the amazing ability of Americans to energize the workplace.”
As a third-generation farmer, Alphin’s background in farming is fueling is agricultural agenda, explaining that he’s committed to “protect the land and [a] way of lifestyle (sic) that is an integral part of our families, our communities, and our rural culture.”
As Virginia’s economy continues to diversify, Alphin said he would work to ensure that all students and educators are represented, be it if they are in public, private or home-schooled, and that access to vocational and technical opportunities are made available.
“As the student matures, additional tracks should be made available towards vocational training and higher learning,” he said. “An excellent education is the foundation for the future of the Commonwealth and sets students on a trajectory towards a rich, full and meaningful life.”
Speaking further on the Commonwealth’s economy, particularly its bottom line, Alphin stated his opposition to tax increases in an effort to help protect Virginians.
“Believing that the people themselves are best suited to decide such things and believing that citizens should benefit from their own enterprises, I will strive to oppose any tax increase and fervently look for ways to reduce the burden now imposed on our citizenry,” he remarked.
64th House of Delegates District Democratic Primary
While it is a two-person race on the Republican side, a trio of Democratic candidates is hoping to turn Morris’ seat blue and place it into the hands of the Democrats come this November as Rebecca Colaw, Jerry Cantrell, and John Wandling all face-off in the June 13 primary.
Lawyer and retired military officer Colaw explained her rationale for running in this year’s election, expressing concerns about “freedoms being eroded” from the American people, hoping to be the “the ordinary American to make a difference.”
“I am running because I love this country and Commonwealth,” she said. “I also want to represent the people of my district and not big businesses or large donors. Every human being has worth. People need to be involved in government and politics because if we aren’t, government controls us and loses sight of the fact that it works for us. Freedom is then lost.”
Tapping into experiences gained through her time in the military, Colaw stresses that she “knows how to discuss and fix problems and work with others to achieve progress.”
“I attended law school at night, and since my retirement from the military, I have defended the constitution and represented many people in the most trying situations their lives have faced,” she remarked. “I know how to listen to and help the people of the district.”
For Colaw, she, like her opponents on both sides of the aisle, points to economic development, education, and tax reforms as key issues that she wishes to tackle if elected in November.
Speaking specifically to economic development, Colaw said she would “work with state and federal agencies, and businesses to develop specifically targeted centers built in rural areas that could address issues” in rural communities, such as access to grocery stores, internet, jobs and medical care while also looking to provide “tax incentives for the businesses to build the centers and staff the commercial aspects of the center and then work with state and federal agencies to staff the medical care and veterans’ centers.”
“Other states have done this and I would review and incorporate parts of their model into one that would work for the 64th,” Colaw said.
On the subject of education, Colaw pointed to the need to encourage training and education for “able-bodied Americans” to be able to better support themselves and provide opportunities for them to get off of “safety net” government aid programs.
“Education is the only thing you can give yourself that can’t be taken away,” she said. “If you teach someone a skill or educate them, you can open doors to opportunity that will allow them to get off aid programs so that they can provide for themselves.”
In addition, Colaw proposed working with area prisons to allow inmates to work off some of their time by reducing their incarceration by seeking education.
“This allows them to have additional prospects upon release to find work and reduces the tax burden on citizens to keep them incarcerated as it takes $25,000 a year to keep one inmate in a state prison,” she remarked.
She went on to say, “We are killing our people and businesses with taxes” and committed to working toward “eliminate the employer share of taxes for businesses with 20 employees and less and eliminate the personal property tax on equipment and create a fixed fee business license that is not tied to gross revenue.”
Along with Colaw, Jerry Cantrell hopes to earn the Democratic nomination to face off against a Republican challenger in the November election.
Currently serving as the Coordinator of Student Services for Central Texas College’s Atlantic Division office, Cantrell said there were a number of reasons for him running for office.
“First, I decided to run because it was the right thing to do,” he shared.” My elders taught me that adults take responsibility for their actions and they provide and protect members of their families. Additionally, they taught me a man or woman should take an active role in the improvement of their community. Duty and service to others is simply a part of my worldview.”
Cantrell added, “A number of local residents told me the previous state delegate had ignored the real needs and voices of people in our district’s communities,” and he feels he is “capable of dealing with the issues and problems that confront our local residents.”
“That is to say, I am the only candidate who has actually had extensive state government administrative and legislative assistant experience,” he said. “More precisely, I have had almost four years of experience as a state government environmental planner and over 25 years of college and university teaching experience. All of which involves the theoretical foundations of local, state, and federal government operations.”
In terms of his platform, Cantrell hopes to expand the 64th Districts economic base through a number of ways, including proposing legislation to provide a “five-year, complete state tax exemption for any new start-up business,” “Providing livable wage economic grants for companies that employ no more than 25 employees, and “Promote the creation and development of employee-owned businesses,” among others.
The 62-year-old also proposes the creation and expansion of the “21st Century Virginia State Educational System,” while also increasing the salaries of all teachers and bus drivers and the establishment of a Western Tidewater State University, which Cantrell said would elevate Franklin’s Paul D. Camp Community College to “the status of state university” and allow for “creation of various satellite campuses throughout the rest of the 64th District,” adding that the school would be “21st-century, state-of-the-art nanotechnology-focused educational institution.”
In his education proposals, he also calls for an expansion of pre-school and after-school educational program for the commonwealth’s schools.
He also hopes to continue work to preserve the environmental quality and aesthetic beauty of the district by “presenting legislation for the purpose of expanding the Chesapeake Bay Clean-up program,” and “supporting the expansion of environmental grants for economically distressed family farms,” among others.
“This campaign is part of the American dream and the belief that any person can make a difference for good in this world,” Cantrell remarked. “I am indeed a strong believer in individual freedom. Yet I am not a strident conservative nor a strict liberal. Instead, I believe that modern ideologies are outdated for the world that we live in.”
The final Democratic challenger, John Wandling, said he was motivated to run for the 64th District seat following the outcome of the most recent presidential election.
“As I thought about that election, and way that big money, the gerrymander, and the people’s general disgust with government, I decided that I had to do more than vote,” Wandling remarked. “I am not disgusted with government, and I don’t believe the President is anything more than a symptom of a political system that has lost its way. For the sake of our country and for the sake of our children, I want to pull it back toward the center. I think a number of issues that face us can be worked out in the legislature, so I chose to run for that.”
Wandling, who has served as Isle of Wight Democratic Committee Treasurer and the Hampton Roads Chapter of the American Red Cross, has lived in Tidewater for over 50 years and within the 64th District for the past 15 years, remarking that he is “quite familiar with the district and its issues.”
“It is a district with diverse economic interests, agriculture, service, manufacturing and small business enterprises and franchised operations,” he remarked. “The district also has seven major cities and counties, and a large number of towns, both incorporated and unincorporated, that all have interests vital to those major jurisdictions yet maintain a distinct characteristic.”
Wandling’s campaign seeks to work toward raising the commonwealth’s minimum wage “to one that a worker could actually live on.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Virginia’s minimum wage currently rests at $7.25 per hour.
“I have read studies indicating the one needs about $12.50 an hour to sustain a basic life in rural Virginia, so I would work toward that as a minimum,” he said. “This can be adjusted for a particular part of the state, and should be indexed to cost of living increases.”
Echoing his opponents, education reforms are part of Wandling’s campaign narrative, committing to working toward making job training and education more affordable to Virginians.
I believe our community colleges should be tuition free, and that we should be more flexible with respect to teaching licenses for [STEM] teachers with experience and advanced degrees in their fields, and for master craftsmen and highly experienced tradesmen, chefs, and other skilled people to teach in our job training programs,” he said.
He added, “I believe in basic core curricula [should] include art, science, social studies, and math, but should also include personal finance and should address the impact of some of our previous failings as a society such as slavery, dislocating the indigenous population, and a very inconsistent approach to immigration.”
Wandling also stated his desire to work toward ending the practice of gerrymandering, or the practice of drawing district boundaries in an effort to favor one party over the other, while supporting “equal time for candidates on public media” and shorting campaigns to “seven weeks or so prior to an election.”
“As Democrats, we share basic core values,” he said. “We stand up for individuals in the face of unfair corporate practices, billionaire manipulators, and big government that too often seems to favor capital over people. We stand for the right to a living wage for workers, a right for people to realize their potential via affordable education and job training, and the need for a safety net for individuals who for various reasons cannot make it on their own,” saying Democrats in the commonwealth have been “steadily losing ground.”
“We usually win the statewide elections, proving that the majority of Virginians agree on our values, but because Republicans have succeeded in their partisan redistricting efforts, Republicans now hold both houses [of] the legislature,” Wandling continued. “Statewide races are close; many voters are so fed up with both parties that they decline to vote for anyone. Moving forward from here is a difficult challenge.”
Sussex and Surry voters heading to the polls are reminding to bring their photo ID with them to vote in this month’s dual primaries, with polls opening at 6 a.m. on Tuesday and closing at 7 p.m., and those in line at 7 p.m. will be allowed to cast their ballot.
Additionally, with both the Republican and Democratic primaries taking place on the same day, registrars also remind voters to let poll workers know which primary you would like to vote in, with only one vote being allowed to be cast that day, meaning a voter cannot vote in both the Democratic and Republican primary on the same day.
In terms of voter turnout, traffic is expected to be light during the upcoming primary, even though the ticket for the Republican and Democratic race for the governor’s office will be set during the upcoming primary.
According to Virginia voter data, this is the first Democratic primary for the House of Delegates seat in the 64th District since 1991, where William Barlow won 58 percent of the vote. Records dating back to 1947 show no Republican primaries have been held in the 64th District until this year.
To find out where your polling place is or to learn more about the upcoming primary, visit the Department of Elections website at http://elections.virginia.gov or contact your local registrar’s office.