Less than a year after joining the General Assembly, two Republican legislators from the region are running for reelection.
Dels. Joe McNamara, R-Roanoke County, and Ronnie Campbell, R-Rockbridge, who won seats last year in special elections, are facing Democrats next month to earn their first full term in the House of Delegates. McNamara is opposed by Darlene Lewis, and Campbell has a rematch with Christian Worth on Nov. 5.
8th House District
The race for the 8th House District offers a candidate with extensive government experience against a political newcomer.
McNamara took the seat over after Greg Habeeb departed midterm to oversee a new Richmond office of Roanoke-based legal firm Gentry Locke.
McNamara, 56, emphasizes his governing knowledge, having served for nearly two decades on the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors. Being the owner of two ice cream shops and a certified public accountant gives him an edge on how to make wise financial decisions with the state budget, he said.
“My overall philosophy is lighter, leaner, more efficient government,” McNamara said.
Lewis, 66, said by newly entering politics, she offers constituents a blank slate for their influence, rather than an ideologically hidebound representative.
“We go to Richmond with our own agendas, and lately the agendas to me have been about toeing party lines and holding onto a seat,” Lewis said.
The House of Delegates’ 8th District consists of Salem, Craig County and parts of Roanoke and Montgomery counties. The district hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since 1981, when the state did away with multiple delegates representing a district.
McNamara has raised $34,720 this year and had $35,161 on hand at the end of September, according to campaign finance reports aggregated by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Lewis raised $13,321, and had $8,001 in the bank at the end of last month.
McNamara said he wants to return to the General Assembly to pursue what he’s always done as a fiscal conservative. He said there is plenty of work ahead to improve tax policy, and he brings a keen eye for identifying waste, fraud and abuse.
“I don’t like taxing citizens,” McNamara said. “I have a history of never increasing taxes and actually decreasing quite a few taxes.”
This year, McNamara voted against the transportation package to fund improvements to Interstate 81. Among the sources of revenue was an increase in the fuel tax in Western Virginia.
McNamara said he would have preferred to handle funding fixes to I-81 through line items in the state budget.
As the legislature’s only certified public accountant, McNamara had an opportunity to participate in important tax policy discussions . McNamara introduced a bill to compensate state taxpayers who paid higher taxes this year as an unintended consequence of federal tax changes. While lawmakers went with another version, McNamara advocated what resulted in one-time refunds of $110 for individual taxpayers and $220 for married couples.
“The General Assembly is very hierarchical-based and seniority is very significant,” McNamara said. “Tax policy was big this legislative session, and so I had perhaps a bit more influence.”
He doesn’t support the state -imposed mandates without proper funding to fulfill requirements, and said he didn’t vote for legislation this year that would have had that result.
Lewis, of Roanoke County, is seeking her first elected office. She co-founded The Hope Center, a small Roanoke nonprofit, a few years ago with her son. It served as a place for youth to hang out and has offered resources to impoverished people. She said the experience has provided her perspective on issues such as child care, education, mental health and gun violence.
Lewis wants to improve family planning and reproductive health services for low-income women. She wants to expand early childhood education. McNamara also said he’s interested in how the state can invest in early childhood education.
The Hope Center was located in an area with a gun violence problem, and Lewis’ son survived a shooting. She wants to improve the background check system for firearm transactions.
Lewis said she’s skilled at working together with people of various backgrounds, which is important in the deeply divided legislature.
“We’re fighting constantly,” she said. “I’m willing to sit at the table and figure out what’s best for the district.”
24th House District
It’s déjà vu in this fall’s Rockbridge area House of Delegates race.
Campbell and Worth faced one another in a special election last December to fill the seat vacated by Republican Ben Cline, who had been elected to Congress. Independent Billy Fishpaw also will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.
Campbell won 6,617 votes to Worth’s 4,482 in the special election. Despite the loss, Worth said she was encouraged by a relatively big increase in Democratic votes in the deep red district, and hopes to built on that momentum for the Nov. 5 general election.
On election night last year, she told her supporters to hold onto their signs. She’s been running since then.
“The results of the special election showed what we could do in four weeks,” Worth said. “We didn’t just move the needle, we changed the landscape for a rural Democrat running in the area.”
The 24th District represents the cities of Buena Vista and Lexington as well as Bath and Rockbridge counties and parts of Amherst and Augusta counties. In the past 20 years, the poorest district performance by a Republican in state and national general elections has been 56 percent of the vote.
Campbell, 65, served as a Rockbridge County supervisor for six years before joining the legislature. He served 10 years on the Rockbridge County School Board, and for 25 years, he was a Virginia State Police trooper.
He said he’d like to return to Richmond to work on creating a more seamless path to accessing technical training so people are equipped with the skills needed for the workforce.
He’s opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes, but he said that, having watched his first wife die from cancer, he’d be open to considering legalizing medical marijuana.
Campbell was among of a handful of Republican legislators along the I-81 corridor to vote for the interstate transportation package. His vote marked a backpedal on previous statements that he wouldn’t vote for any tolls or taxes to fund the highway.
“It was the best deal we’ll ever get,” Campbell said.
Campbell said he’d like to see more troopers patrolling the interstate, but he said a staffing shortage and low pay has reduced the capacity for more . He said he’d like to figure out how to address this problem.
Campbell has raised $52,831 this year and had $36,601 on hand at the end of September, according campaign finance reports aggregated by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Worth raised $92,540, and had $28,106 in the bank at the end of last month.
Worth, a lawyer, is running on the same rural issues-based platform she touted in last year’s special election. Her “rural blueprint” prioritizes broadband expansion, access to affordable health care, well-funded school systems, workforce development and clean energy.
“We’re focused on voice, values and vision,” Worth, 50, said. “These issues have been neglected here, and as a lawyer, I have a strong voice to advocate for what people deserve.”
Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, she attended Washington and Lee University and returned to Kentucky to attend law school. She worked there as a lawyer, specializing in family law, for two decades before returning to Lexington a few years ago after her husband got a job at Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge.
Worth said there’s a shortage of mental health care providers in the area, especially for children. She supported Medicaid expansion and said she’ll oppose any efforts to roll back the program.
She wants to boost state funding for schools that was cut during the Great Recession, and provide economic incentives that will attract business investments so the region is competitive with the rest of Virginia.
“I’ve really focused on these issues because that really is what the people care about and where they want to see some meaningful movement in Richmond,” Worth said.