Only a handful of candidates have announced challenges to General Assembly incumbents in Western Virginia so far.
Democrats and a Libertarian are seeking to unseat incumbent Republicans in the House of Delegates and state Senate. The candidates are running for seats in districts that are firmly Republican.
All 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for election this year. Republicans hold slim majorities in both the House of Delegates and Senate, and Democrats are making a push to change that in both chambers.
The general election is Nov. 5.
Flourette “Flo” Ketner is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 19th Senate District race. Ketner, 36, is a stay-at-home mom who lives in Montgomery County with her husband and three children.
“I don’t think we’re getting proper representation in this district,” Ketner said. “I’d like there to be a focus less on hot-button issues and more on kitchen table issues.”
Ketner would like to see the state budget address issues in rural Virginia, like infrastructure and broadband.
Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, will run for a second term to represent Floyd County and Salem as well as parts of Bedford, Carroll, Franklin, Montgomery, Roanoke and Wythe counties.
She criticized Suetterlein for his effort to increase the reckless driving threshold from 80 to 85 mph. Suetterlein’s bill to do that failed this year. Ketner said Interstate 81 is dangerous enough with crashes, and she believed keeping the current threshold will deter people from driving faster.
Ketner ran unsuccessfully against Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, in 2017.
Rush, who has served in the House — where he is the majority whip — since 2012, will get another Democratic challenger this year. The 7th House District is made up of Floyd County and part of Montgomery and Pulaski counties.
“I have enjoyed my time as delegate for the 7th District and I am proud of my record of promoting efficient government, economic development and conservative values,” Rush said.
“I look forward to a clean and spirited campaign as I continue my efforts to make the New River Valley the best place to live, work, raise a family and retire.”
Todd Fearer, 45, is the coordinator of the Appalachian Mountains Joint Venture, a regional partnership of state and federal agencies, organizations and universities focused on conservation in the Appalachian region. The partnership is located on Virginia Tech’s campus within the university’s Conservation Management Institute.
Fearer wants more investments in rural broadband and public schools. He said a steady supply of clean water is crucial to the success of the agriculture industry. He wants to help get Amtrak connected to the New River Valley.
“A big part of my platform is investing in the district and working with constituents in a collaborative way,” Fearer said. “There are a lot of ways to think about how the 7th District is going to change and how to grow it smartly.”
In the 24th House of Delegates District, the election is shaping up as round two between Del. Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge, and Democratic activist Christian Worth.
Campbell won a special election in November to succeed now-U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-Rockbridge. He defeated Worth, an attorney, who announced shortly after her loss that she would run again for the seat, which represents the cities of Buena Vista and Lexington as well as Bath and Rockbridge counties and parts of Amherst and Augusta counties.
Libertarian Dean Davison wants to unseat Del. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt, who is seeking a third term to represent Covington, Alleghany County and parts of Bedford and Botetourt counties.
Davison wants the recreational use of marijuana to be legalized, and said there should be more done to bolster hemp production across the commonwealth. He wants alternative funding mechanisms for fire and rescue agencies so they can improve their services.
Davison was critical of Austin’s vote in favor of raising the legal age from 18 to 21 to purchase smoking materials, saying it takes away a “personal liberty” of an adult.
Austin said he struggled with that decision, but ultimately, the concern over the rise in vaping signaled a need to address a problem.
Austin has been involved in efforts to fix Interstate 81. While 2019 bills before Gov. Ralph Northam don’t include a funding stream to make improvements, Austin said he will continue to work on the issue. For instance, he’s been working with a paper mill in his district to transport its product to the port via train rather than trucks, which would reduce tractor-trailer traffic on the highway.
In addition to getting Amtrak’s passenger rail service connected to Christiansburg and the New River Valley, he wants to obtain a stop in Bedford.
Also, Austin has been working on behind the scenes to develop an educational program for high school students interested in medical studies . He’s been meeting with public school divisions, hospitals, community colleges and other stakeholders about this idea, which he said would address a shortage around Virginia in qualified applicants to fill medical-field jobs .
Democrats and Republicans are still looking for candidates to compete in districts that have had contested races in the past few years.
In the 17th House District, which includes part of Roanoke city and parts of Botetourt and Roanoke counties, a Democrat has challenged Del. Chris Head, R-Botetourt, during three out of the last four elections. Head is running again, but no Democrats have announced .
Del. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, who won a special election in November against a Democrat to succeed former Del. Greg Habeeb, is running again. No Democrats have announced they will run.
The 8th District is composed of Salem, Craig County and parts of Roanoke and Montgomery counties.
Meanwhile, no Republicans have announced a challenge to Del. Chris Hurst, D-Blacksburg, who upset Republican Del. Joseph Yost in 2017 in one of the state’s most expensive and contentious races.
The 12th District is made up of Radford, Giles County, and parts of Montgomery County and Pulaski County.
Similarly, no one has yet challenged Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, in the 11th House District.
Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, is running again, and no Republicans have emerged to challenge him. Republicans have run against Edwards three times since his election in 1995.
The 21st Senate district includes Roanoke, Giles County and parts of Montgomery and Roanoke counties.