In two days, Republicans in Western Virginia who want to run for a seat in the General Assembly will find out if they will appear on the November ballot.
All 140 seats in the legislature are up for election in November, and Republicans are fighting to maintain control of their slim majorities in the House of Delegates and Senate. Candidates will face challengers from their own party in about three dozen contests across Virginia on Tuesday that will determine what names will appear on the fall ballot.
The primary elections are open to all voters. To find out where you vote, visit the Department of Elections website at www.elections.virginia.gov/citizen-portal.
Here’s a look at some of the nomination contests in Western Virginia:
23rd House District
In a three-way race, Republican candidates have been promoting their conservative bona fides to convince voters they are best-suited to succeed Del. Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg.
The candidates are:
• Ron Berman, 48, the owner of a language services business that works with international clients for translation, transcription and editing.
• Turner Perrow, 44, a member of Lynchburg City Council and an engineer for a clean water infrastructure and environmental consulting firm.
• Wendell Walker, 66, a longtime political activist and employee at the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry.
The winner will face Democrat David Zilles. The district is made up of parts of Lynchburg and some of Amherst and Bedford counties.
Garrett had been coming under fire from conservative activists for his decision last year to vote for expanding Medicaid to 400,000 low-income Virginians.
“He forgot to listen to his constituents, and the Medicaid expansion vote is where he messed up,” Perrow said.
All of the candidates are opposed to abortion rights. Berman said he would sponsor a bill calling for a complete ban on abortions in Virginia, with no exceptions.
Walker welcomed the legislation being passed in other states — including Georgia, Alabama and Ohio — that would aggressively restrict access to abortion, and said there is “still hope for Virginia.”
“It can happen here in Virginia,” Walker said. “But it cannot happen unless we have the majority party in Virginia working together as a team on these issues. We can defeat abortion here in Virginia.”
Perrow touts his experience in government. He describes himself as an “unapologetic capitalist and pragmatic conservative.”
Walker emphasizes his Christian values and political experience.
“We’re in a moral battle out here for the heart and soul of our nation and for Virginia and for the values that we stand for,” Walker said.
Berman described himself as the outsider in Republican Party politics because he leans far to the right. For that reason, he said people can rely on him to hold the line on conservative values.
“There are too many people in our party who are vaguely pro-life, vaguely anti-tax, vaguely for our values,” Berman said. “Don’t allow for equivocators. Don’t allow for compromisers. Don’t send people who want to compromise. We have a lot of those in Richmond.”
4th House District
A member of the Russell County Board of Supervisors and a lawyer with a well-known name in Virginia politics are seeking the Republican nomination in the district that includes Dickenson County and portions of Russell, Washington and Wise counties.
David Eaton and Will Wampler are competing to succeed Del. Todd Pillion, R-Washington, who is running for state Senate.
Wampler, 28, is the son of a former state senator, and his grandfather served in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Eaton, 56, is a farmer, owner of a cable company and former coal miner. He said he’s developed problem-solving skills from his years of public service on the Russell County board as well as the Honaker Town Council.
He cited his involvement in creating a program that makes college available, tuition-free, to Russell County high school graduates for up to two years at Southwest Virginia Community College. He helped start a faith-based group to raise awareness for the need of foster families in the county.
“I’m invested here,” Eaton said. “I know the struggles of this region, and I know how to bring people together, which is crucial in solving the problems in Southwest Virginia.”
Wampler, lives in Abingdon and has his own law practice. With his deep roots in the area, he said, he understands the needs of the region and how to fight for them in Richmond.
“We need to make Southwest Virginia a priority in Richmond,” Wampler said. “People in Southwest Virginia feel forgotten by the rest of the state. As a legislator, I want to tell a story that makes people want to live here and companies come to Southwest Virginia.”
He said a primary issue for residents is high-paying jobs. He wants to focus his efforts on improving infrastructure and other areas that keep employers from coming.
“There are a lot of public issues that divide people, but if we can have a collective vision for Southwest Virginia, that’s what I’m interested in doing,” he said.
The winner of the primary will face Democrat Starla Kiser.
5th House District
Sometimes taking a position on an issue can be a gamble. Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Washington, rolled the dice on casinos in Virginia and won for himself a primary challenger.
Michael Osborne, the owner of two stores that primarily sell religious books, entered the race because he is opposed to the proposed casino in Bristol and took issue with O’Quinn sponsoring casino legislation.
“People have concerns about a casino coming to Bristol,” Osborne, 61, said. “I have concerns about the state promoting an industry or a behavior that is addictive and is destructive.”
This past General Assembly, O’Quinn, along with Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, introduced legislation to allow a casino in Bristol and other cities as long as residents approved it in a local referendum. O’Quinn’s bill was left in a committee. Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation to begin developing gaming regulations and to pay for a study to help lead to a decision next year. No referendum may be held until the bill passes through the legislature again next year and the study’s findings are published, with the deadline for any vote Jan. 1, 2021.
The proposal has divided residents in Bristol , where jobs are needed. Opponents worry about jobs coming at the expense of moral and social decay. Osborne said he would not vote for any legislation allowing casinos in Virginia.
As the debate over casinos in Virginia continues, O’Quinn said he will continue to support legislation that will allow residents to have a say on whether a casino will open in their locality. Legislation passed last year allowing slots-style betting machines at gambling parlors didn’t require referendums in order to operate.
“I understand someone saying they would vote no on the casino bill we dealt with this session,” O’Quinn said. “If that’s what you do, you just vote, you’ve abdicated any ability for local say.”
O’Quinn, 39, has been an advocate of the public education system and has backed legislation aimed at helping the economically struggling region. A bill from him recently signed into law allows Virginia’s two largest electric utilities to provide broadband infrastructure. As a result, Grayson County is poised to go from one of the least-connected localities in Virginia to one of the most.
“It’s going to be incredible what will be at their fingertips and the opportunities that will open up to them,” O’Quinn said.
Osborne criticized that legislation because he’s worried about electric rates increasing. Officials who worked on the bill said it’s possible ratepayers could end up saving money.
The 5th House District consists of Bristol and Galax, Grayson County and parts of Smyth and Washington counties.
Osborne ran against O’Quinn as an independent in 2011, when O’Quinn was first elected. Osborne gained 30% of the vote.