A slate of GOP election hopefuls gathered in Berryville, Virginia on Thursday evening to meet voters and make the case for why their positions on the issues will advance them to leadership roles in the November elections.
Incumbent Virginia state senator Jill Holtzman, a nationally recognized attorney and native Virginian, kicked off the evening with a short presentation outlining her campaign positions to about 50 local voters.
The forum was sponsored by the Clarke County Young Republicans, a political activist group made up of students from the areas home-schooling community.
“We wanted to get the Republican candidates together to answer questions for local citizens” said club president Josiah Alway.
When asked about the state of public education funding in Virginia, Vogel said the coming Virginia General Assembly session will focus on K-12 issues.
“Education issues really matter to me” Vogel said. “Jobs and the economy are the number one issue right now but you can’t talk about jobs without also talking about higher education. We have some of the best college and universities in the country here in Virginia but our students coming out of high school aren’t attending them. That’s got to change.”
Vogel said that she would like to see the coming General Assembly session focus on the core issues that are hurting local education in places like Clarke County.
“A couple of years ago I voted against a budget because of under funding for education” Vogel said. “I won’t walk away from the hard work that is going to be needed to fix our education system.”
One area need of change, according to Vogel, is the Virginia Retirement System.
“VRS is a major issue and it needs to be overhauled” Vogel said. “Teachers need to feel confident that their retirement will still be there when they are ready to use it. We also have to figure out how to create better incentives so that the best young people to go into teaching. When someone comes out of college and has the chance to be an engineer or a scientist we need them to also want to consider teaching.”
Vogel believes that the local composite index (LCI), an education funding redistribution system used in Virginia, also needs to be revised.
“The LCI puts counties like Clarke at a big disadvantage and I want to see the General Assembly reach a consensus on addressing the LCI.”
Vogel said that she would like to see a change in how taxpayers view education costs even when an individual no longer has children in the school system. Vogel believes that the nation’s overall economic health is tied to producing graduates that are able to compete in an increasingly global workplace.
“The importance of education needs to be recognized by every single, solitary person in Clarke County” Vogel said. “We have to make sure that when kids come out of high school they can go on to study at Virginia’s colleges. Not being competent in math or English is just not an option.”
Last night three candidates also campaigned for Virginia’s newly formed 10th House of Delegates seat. Randy Minchew and John Whitbeck, both Leesburg lawyers, are vying for the seat as well as healthcare system advocate Cara Townsend. Each of the three hopes to gain the Republican nomination for the new district which includes Loudoun, Frederick and Clarke Counties.
Randy Minchew said that if elected he will focus on keeping the tax burden on citizens at the current level or lower. Minchew said that the solution to issues like stagnant teacher salaries isn’t tied to raising taxes.
“We need to learn how to live within our means and find greater equity and make sure that revenue positive places like Clarke County get back their fair share of education funding” Minchew said. One solution, Minchew said, is to reform the local composite index used by Richmond to allocate education funding.
“The LCI is antiquated and always short changes places like Clarke County” Minchew said.
Minchew also said that he believes that additional funding can be squeezed from the Virginia Department of Education.
“Last year Governor McDonnell overhauled the Virginia Department of Transportation” Minchew observed. “When a closer look was taken at how VDOT was using its resources suddenly a lot of extra funding appeared. We need to look at VDOE just like VDOT.”
According to Minchew’s campaign website, Minchew settled in Leesburg after serving as law clerk to Virginia Supreme Court justice.
Minchew also said that he would like to see the General Assembly provide voluntary operating guidelines to help local school districts make decisions about the ratio between teachers and administrators.
“I’d like to see a carrot approach so that school districts implement a higher proportion of employees in teaching positions rather than using teachers in middle management” Minchew said. “The state shouldn’t issue mandates but I would like see some guidelines in place.
Candidate John Whitbeck said that he sees balancing development pressure whiles at the same time maintaining a small town and rural atmosphere as important issues for Clarke County.
“It’s tough to do because at the same time you still have to provide a way to still do business” Whitbeck said.
Whitbeck is the founder of his Leesburg law firm, a small business with offices in Loudoun County and Clarke County. He practices family law, criminal law, mental health law, and other litigation.
Whitbeck said that transportation issues are important part of his campaign platform and if elected he will support on improving road systems that serve Loudoun, Clarke and Frederick counties.
“The commute to Loudoun County along Route 7 is a big deal for people here in Clarke County” Whitbeck said. “Route 7 backs up in several places, especially around Leesburg. I believe that before we spend any more money on mass transit we need to fix our roads. I think that our policy needs to support roads before rails.”
Whitbeck also said that the government needs to continue to hold the line against tax increases.
“People are tired of tax policies where they have seen both Democrats and Republicans raise taxes” Whitbeck remarked. Whitbeck said that he believes that the recent budget cuts tied to extending the federal debt ceiling didn’t go far enough.
“I’m not a Tea Party member but I have to say that their efforts have helped to hold the conservatives in Washington accountable” Whitbeck said. “The US doesn’t have a revenue problem, it has a spending problem.”
Whitbeck acknowledged that teacher salaries are a key component for delivering a quality education to students but also said that he didn’t believe that increased taxes were the solution to the issue.
“It’s possible that there may not be enough money to address teacher salaries next year” Whitbeck said. “I could only see a raise for teachers if the money is reallocated from somewhere else.”
Cara Townsend said that her campaign is focused on healthcare issues, energy, public safety and decreasing the amount of money that government spends. Townsend sees entitlement programs as big part of the country’s budget problems.
“We have to overhaul our entitlement programs, especially Medicaid” Townsend said. “The cost of Medicaid has increased at four times the rate of inflation. We just can’t keep spending at those levels.”
A small business owner, Cara Townsend is currently co-founding the International Care Advocacy Foundation, a non-profit that specializes in patients, families, and civilian/military caregivers in crisis. Townsend’s campaign goals are influenced, in part, by her father who spent 40 years as a Virginia State Trooper and her mother who spent an equal amount of time as a nurse.
“One issue that I’m concerned about is a coming nursing shortage” Townsend said. “The average age of nurses in this country is 57 years old. The University of Virginia has a tiny nursing program because there aren’t enough nurses to be professors.
Townsend is also concerned about the difficulty that patients have navigating the country’s medical care system and said that she supports assigning a “care advocate” to help ensure that patients receive the proper care during hospital stays.
“The quality of care in our hospital system is not what it needs to be” Townsend said. “Every person who enters a hospital should be accompanied by a care advocate, paid for by insurance companies, to help them navigate the healthcare system and ensure that they receive the proper care.”
Townsend described taking a hard line on crime. “I’d like to see Virginia implement a Castle Doctrine” she said.
Known as a Castle Law or a Defense of Habitation Law, the doctrine designates one’s place of residence as a place in which one enjoys protection from illegal trespassing and violent attack. It provides the legal right to use deadly force to defend that place (the “castle”), and any other innocent persons legally inside it, from violent attack or an intrusion which may lead to violent attack. From a legal context the Castle Doctrine allows the use of deadly force which results in death to be defended as justifiable homicide.
“44 states have a Castle Doctrine” Townsend said. “It would protect a homeowner from paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal defense for just trying to protect themselves in their own home.”
Townsend said that she supports increased reliance on coal and natural gas to address the nation’s energy needs.
“We have a hundred year’s worth of coal and 200 years natural gas in this country” Townsend said. “I support offshore drilling along the East coast to produce both energy and jobs.”
Local Republican Party chairperson Kay Gunter said that she was very pleased with the overall slate of hopeful GOP candidates.
“The citizens of the 10th district have a lot of choice which is good” Gunter said on Thursday. “I haven’t favored or endorsed any one candidate and I won’t. But once the nominee is selected I plan to work very, very hard to help them get elected.”
C DN Editor: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to the race for the “10th congressional district”. The republican candidates mentioned in this article are running for the Virginia 10th District House of Delegates seat. We apologize for the oversight.