Tuesday, April 16, 2024

General Assembly Candidates Face off at Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce Forum

Moderator Mindy Carlin of Access Point poses a question to the candidates. (Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce)

WILLIAMSBURG — With early voting slated to begin Friday, The Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce held its 2023 Candidate Forum Monday at Colonial Heritage.

All 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot in November after redistricting. Of the area’s current delegation, Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, chose not to seek reelection to spend time with his family and return to teaching. Redistricting also saw him in the same district as Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover. Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, first elected to the House in 2015, also chose not to seek reelection to spend more time with family. Redistricting had left him in a Republican-friendly district.

Republicans held a 52-48 majority earlier this year in the House of Delegates, and Democrats a 22-18 majority in the Senate. With all seats up for grabs, Republicans have the opportunity to take full legislative control. Conversely, Democrats could keep the Senate and flip the House. Or the government could remain divided. Regardless, the outcome will have a marked effect on what Republican Gov. Glenn Younkin will be able to achieve in the months ahead.

Locally, in the Senate, the City of Williamsburg, James City and York Counties will be represented by two members, while three members of the House of Delegates will represent the area after the Nov. 7 election.

The candidates for Senate District 24 are incumbent Democrat Monty Mason, who formerly represented Senate District 1, and Republican Danny Diggs, who served as Sheriff of York County and the City of Poquoson for 23 years. In Senate District 26, McDougle, who formerly represented Senate District 4, is facing off against Democrat Pamela Gardner of Gloucester.

In House District 69, Republican Chad Green, a member of the York County Board of Supervisors, is running unopposed. House District 71 sees incumbent Republican Amanda Batten, who formerly represented the 96th District, challenged by Democrat and political newcomer Jessica Anderson. In House District 86, former 91st District representative A.C. Cordoza, a Republican, faces Democrat Jarris Taylor, the current director of Hampton University Online.

Left to right, Angela Bezik – Legislative Affairs Committee Chair and program sponsor: Principle Advantage Government Relations, Republican Candidate Chad Green, Democrat Challenger Pamela Garner, Democrat Senator Monty Mason, Democrat Challenger Jessica Anderson, Democratic challenger, Dr. Jarris Taylor, Mindy Carlin, Access point, Terry Banez – Chamber CEO, Republican Delegate A.C. Cordoza, Republican candidate Danny Diggs, Republican Delegate Amanda Batten, Republican Senator Ryan McDougle, Emily Reynolds – Access Point, Cassidy Taylor – Access point. (Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce)

The full slate of local House and Senate candidates took the stage for the forum, offering local business leaders an opportunity to hear from each on a wide variety of topics including business regulation, right-to-work, affordable housing, offshore wind, and transportation.

The forum was a largely civil affair and candidates respected the time limitations. The newcomers — Garner, Anderson and Taylor — used the forum to introduce themselves to the local business leaders, as did McDougle, who despite his long career in Richmond, found himself in front of a new crowd thanks to redistricting.

Many of the incumbents touted their ability to work across the aisle and their accomplishments — in particular, the recent compromise that ended a six-month stalemate over amendments to the two-year state budget. That compromise combined short-term tax reductions with investments in education, behavioral health and pollution reduction.

“I was very happy to go back and vote on a compromised budget. Last year, as you know, we provided about $3.8 billion in tax relief in the first year of the budget. This year, we’re focused on putting that money towards education, but in a compromise fashion,” Mason said. “We decided to have a tax rebate as well… but at the same time applying about $700 million towards K through 12, including a lot of flexible money to allow the school systems to focus on some of the learning loss we’ve seen. We also applied a lot of money — $189 million — in mental health, and then some college affordability and higher education money.”

The sharpest differences were between Mason and Diggs, in what pundits see as a very tight race that could help Republicans flip the Senate.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a stark contrast between me and my opponent, especially on the topics of taxes, public safety, education, and business,” Diggs said. “As your state senator, I will fight to lower our taxes. My opponent hasn’t found a tax he isn’t willing to hike. He has voted to double the gas tax, supported putting tolls on Interstate 64, and is actively fought Gov. Youngkin every step of the way of reducing other taxes.”

Mason pointed out that monies raised from taxes went back into the community, and that they were a big part of how the I-64 projects were getting done.

But, despite party ideological differences, the candidates often found themselves in agreement on priorities, and the need to represent the region with some degree of unity in Richmond.

“Some folks show up in Richmond because they have absolutely the very best idea that is going to revolutionize everything in Virginia, and they are there to make sure that that happens. And, maybe they do have the best idea. And some folks are there because they are very wed to your party ideology and there’s nothing wrong with that either. We all certainly represent our respective parties,” Batten explained. “But having worked as a legislative aide for legislators in this area for a number of years, I think I bring a different perspective to Richmond. I look at everyone in this room, the organizations that you represent and that you serve, and I carry those ideas with me to Richmond. I strive every day to listen very carefully to what the folks in our community really want. I recognize that we are unique in relation to all the other areas of the Commonwealth.”

Per the Virginia Department of Elections, the first day of in-person early voting at your local registrar’s office is Friday, Sept. 22. The deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration is Oct. 16. Voters may register after that date through Election Day, however, their ballot will be provisional. The deadline to apply to have a ballot mailed to you is Oct. 27. The request must be received by your local voter registration office by 5 p.m. Voter registration offices open for early voting on Saturday, Oct. 28. The last day of in-person early voting at your local voter registration office is Saturday, Nov. 4, at 5 p.m.

See who is on your ballot by viewing the candidate lists.

You can register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot online using the Citizen Portal.

Learn more about your district and redistricting at VPAP.org.

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