Labor Day Goes Local

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Campbell Slams State Democrats

All politics was local in Buena Vista on Monday.

The Labor Day celebration, traditionally the statewide kickoff to the fall political season, was more of an opening for local candidates who wanted to get their message out early to Rockbridge area voters.

Fourteen candidates and office holders lined the stage to deliver stump speeches at Glen Maury Park following the Labor Day parade. Speakers ranged from Congressman Ben Cline, whose office is not on the ballot this year, to candidates for the Rockbridge County Board of Supervisors, Buena Vista City Council and commonwealth’s attorney.

The occasion offered, from a local perspective, an early glimpse into the looming battle for control of the General Assembly, in which all 140 seats are up for grabs this year. Among those speaking were the three candidates for the 24th District in the House of Delegates – Republican incumbent Ronnie Campbell, Democratic opponent Christian Worth and independent challenger Eli Fishpaw.

Campbell offered an uncharacteristically combative defense of the party that holds narrow majorities in both the House of Delegates and state Senate. The Republican delegate launched into an attack on the state’s three top office holders, all Democrats, who have been plagued by scandals this year.

Without mentioning their names, Campbell alluded to the governor’s medical school yearbook page that contained a racist photo, to admissions that the governor and attorney general each once appeared in blackface and to sexual assault allegations made by two women against the lieutenant governor. Campbell said “politics” prevented the women from testifying at the state capitol and that the lieutenant governor “should have stepped aside.”

Campbell criticized a Democrat-sponsored bill that would have loosened restrictions on third-trimester abortions. He characterized the failed legislation as being “aimed at killing little babies.” To groans of objection from some in the audience, he responded, “I’m telling you to read it [the language in the bill] if you don’t believe me.”

Campbell then turned his attention to “the good things [that happened]” during this year’s session. He lauded the planned improvements to Interstate 81, 5 percent pay raises for teachers, a freeze on college tuition and the return of $1 billion to taxpayers in the form of rebate checks this fall.

Worth acknowledged the partisan divisions that exist in the electorate today but urged those present to try to move beyond them. “Right now we sit here divided but we must not let what divides us define us,” she said. “We can get past our political differences. I know we can see through the fog.”

Worth vowed to stand up against corporate interests in Richmond. She decried tax breaks approved for Amazon to establish a headquarters in Northern Virginia. “We’re providing corporate welfare to a billion-dollar company,” she asserted. Legislators, she said, deserve a “failing grade” for not fully funding standards of quality in education and for not addressing “crumbling schools” in some parts of the state.

“We won’t stand for budgetary scraps,” she insisted. “Too many families are struggling to pay for health care.” She bemoaned the absence of any medical facilities in the 24th District in which babies can be delivered.

“Our values are not what’s trending on Twitter,” declared Worth. “We favor agriculture over Amazon.” She vowed to “work for the hard-working people [of this district] over party loyalty every single time. There are values that unite us together. This is the true Virginia spirit.”

Fishpaw spoke in favor of removing barriers to voting and against partisan gerrymandering. Division of Motor Vehicles voter registration is beneficial, and high school students should be automatically registered to vote upon turning 18, he said. He’s encouraged, he said, by legislation passed this session that could lead to the adoption of a state constitutional amendment taking redistricting out of the hands of the majority party.

Fishpaw used most of his allotted time to talk about climate change. “We have only one atmosphere,” he said. “All of us want to protect it but there’s strong disagreement on how to do it. Greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, are warming the temperatures.” Climate change, he continued, is a huge problem. I’m pro-life [on the environment]. We are under attack in our time and must respond accordingly.”

He called for achieving net zero emissions by the year 2050. In order for this to happen, he said, the problem needs to be recognized by everyone so we can have a “World War II-type mobilization. So far, I’m not seeing it. [In 1941] we didn’t recognize the dangers we were facing until Pearl Harbor.”

Democratic State Sen. Creigh Deeds of the 25th District, whose independent opponent, Elliott Harding, was not present, touted expansion of Medicaid in Virginia, a Democratic initiative achieved after years of Republican opposition. He said more than 300,000 Virginians gained access to health care. He said he’s focused now on “working to have the best public mental health system.” Of planned improvements to Interstate 81, he said, “We decided enough was enough.” He said the state is investing in rural broadband and must do better in providing funding for education.

Cline, in his first year in Congress after serving 16 years in the House of Delegates, advocated in favor of the state’s right-to-work laws and against “forced unionism.” He spoke approvingly of the state’s Dillon rule, which he said means “we don’t have to put up with regulations at the local level.”

Urging support for Campbell’s campaign, Cline said it’s important for Republicans to retain their majorities in the state legislature. “I’ve seen what can happen if Democrats take charge,” he said. “Under Nancy Pelosi, the House of Representatives is the most dysfunctional legislature in the entire world.”

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Leslie Ayers, Democratic candidate for the Buffalo District seat on the Board of Supervisors, said she supports quality education, expanding economic development opportunities, transparency in government and conservation. “A woman’s perspective in county government is needed,” she remarked, alluding to the absence of a woman supervisor for nearly two decades.

Charles Kostelni, Republican candidate for Buffalo supervisor, said he would view taxpayers money as “other people’s money” and therefore scrutinize carefully all expenditures. He said Virginia “has a proud heritage – we’re independent, self-reliant people – not looking for a handout.” He said he follows Republican principles and Christian values.

Jonathan Tarris, candidate for Buffalo supervisor, said he has a problem with “identity politics. ... Big political parties don’t own us. … We can take care of ourselves. … We need to be brave, generous, kind, self-reliant.” He promised to address the “ballooning jail population.”

Andrew Ryan, candidate for Natural Bridge supervisor, spoke of his experience in serving on Glasgow Town Council. He promised to be “a good steward of taxpayers’ money” and to support “transparency in government.”

The two candidates for Buena Vista commonwealth’s attorney were among the speakers. Interim incumbent Josh Elrod, who took office July 1 after Chris Russell became a general district court judge, pointed to his 20 years of experience practicing criminal law before courts at all levels. He said Buena Vista is one of the safest communities in Virginia “and I aim to keep it that way.”

The other contender for this office, Daniel Mowry, defined himself as a “conservative.” He said there are three issues he’d like to address – crimes affecting children, drugs in the community and domestic violence. He promised to put drug distributors behind bars. “It’s time to clean the community up,” he declared. For minor offenses, he said he would favor community service.

Jared Moon, Rockbridge County and Lexington commonwealth’s attorney who is unopposed, described himself as a “career prosecutor” who has “prosecuted thousands upon thousands of cases.” He said society is not to blame for those who break the law. “People make their own choices,” he said. “I believe in personal accountability.”

Steve Baldridge, seeking re-election to Buena Vista City Council, said rising costs at the regional jail have caused Council to cut the budget in other areas. “We haven’t balanced the budget the last couple of years – we’re eating away our reserves,” he acknowledged. The city does have opportunities, he added, pointing to the new Columbia Gas facility being built in the industrial park, rising enrollment at Southern Virginia University and the opening of several new businesses.

Stanley Coffey, also seeking to retain his seat on Buena Vista City Council, said the city “is moving in the right direction.” He pointed to two recent accomplishments – “We’ve fixed up the caboose. We’re getting a dog park that’s costing the city nothing.” He said he strives to be responsive to constituents: “My door is always open and my phone is always on. I only have one vote but I do have a mouth.”

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