Three Democratic candidates for the Virginia General Asembly were present and answered citizen questions on August 24 at the Asbury United Methodist Church in Christiansburg.
The candidates who participated in the discussion forum and running for office in 2023 were: Trish White-Boyd, State Senate for District 4, Lily Franklin, House of Delegates for District 41, and Robert Beckman, State Senate for District 5.
White-Boyd will be opposing David Suetterlein (R) for State Senate in the 4th district, Beckman will counter Travis Hackworth (R), and Franklin will compete against Chris Obenshain (R) in the 41st delegate race. Jason Ballard is currently running unopposed according to the www.ballotpedia.org.
Debbie Travis, President of the Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County branch of the NAACP, provided opening remarks. Gunin Kiran, President of the League of Women Voters for Montgomery County, was also present along with other members of the organization to aid in answering voters’ questions on how to register to vote and the redistricting of polling locations.
Peggy Lane, Chairperson of Voter Services, spoke to the audience prior to the candidate forum asking the audience, “How many of you know what district you are in?”
Voters at the forum were encouraged to visit www.Vote411.org, a website where citizens can register to vote, verify voter registration, and find out what’s on your ballot by entering your address. Candidates have also been encouraged to enter information regarding their campaigns and respond to voters’ questions on issues impacting their communities as well as Virginia.
There is also information on Montgomery County’s website at www.montva.com including important registration and voting dates. With the redrawing of polling districts, citizens should check their voting location as it could have changed.
Karen Jones, NAACP Political Action Environmental Justice Chair, served as moderator for the forum discussion. Audience participants could submit questions to the candidates by writing on index cards provided at the event. Questions were collected during the event and sorted by Beth Obenshain and Karen Larew.
Important issues were directed to each candidate, and they were given time to respond in front of a live audience. Some of these issues concerned bipartisan work, education, transportation, healthcare, housing, gun control, and climate change.
The candidates quickly touched on their key priorities that they wished to address if elected to office.
White-Boyd asked the audience, “How many of you would like to get rid of the car tax? Of course, you do. I think that is a great idea and reducing government spending.”
Additionally, White-Boyd said, “I would not hesitate to work across the aisles with any member of the Senate to get things done. I think that’s part of the problem right now, and I would not be a part of that problem.”
Boyd-White also spoke on transportation issues and necessary road repairs and maintenance.
“Our roads are paid for by the localities…often times the roads in the counties are paid by the city, and so we’re looking at making sure that we get the support that we need, get the funding that we need for localities,” White-Boyd said. “Having that experience in local government is going to be an asset in the Senate […] There are lives and there are residents west of Charlottesville.”
Beckman read a list of his top priorities he would address if elected to office.
“The first one is to protect reproductive rights, protect Medicaid, change the funding allocation for public schools, change the 529 rules to include private trade and licensing training organization, keep pushing broadband expansion; its underway but its not a done deal…and lastly, try to get public health and policies and programs that will combat obesity and diabetes,” he said.
Franklin, a former math teacher at Teach for America, who then became a staffer with Delegate Sam Rasoul, is now running in the newly drawn 41st District.
“I believe in Virginia we can thrive at all stages of life,” Franklin said. “We need to ensure that every student has access to a world-class education, no matter what your zip code is and that is definitely my top priority.”
As part of that education initiative, Franklin would like to see an equitable distribution of resources in the district.
“I think back to being a teacher. I had to fight for markers I needed on my whiteboard, and I was a math teacher, so I used the markers a lot,” Franklin said. “As the wealthiest nation in the world, we have the ability to ensure our students, our parents and our teachers thrive.”
Franklin also added the need for working families to have access to the tools they require to be successful.
“We are not talking about luxury; we’re just talking about life,” Franklin said.
The 41st district delegate candidate also wishes to increase at-home services and keep prescription medication costs and food bills in check for the aging population in our communities.
Another issue brought up during the forum was the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The program involves cooperating eastern states of the U.S. and is aimed at reducing and capping power section CO2 emissions, according to their website at www.rggi.org. All three candidates spoke in support of the program; however, the candidates were asked what other options they would consider in reducing greenhouse emissions if RGGI fails.
Beckman suggested a “broad base transition to renewables,” seeking options for expanding solar power.
“There are other options for expanding solar but even if those options are exploited, there is another level of infrastructure that needs to happen which is the way the utility, the electricity grid actually operates and how it is spread out,” Beckman said. “Then we would have hopefully more of an impact on climate change in general, that would have to happen nationally and globally of course, not just in Virginia.”
“If we can educate folks and help them understand that it is important for us to move in that direction…climate change is real,” Boyd-White said. “The wind farms, they are huge, and I know a lot of people don’t like the look of them, but when I was in Europe and I saw the big fields of them, I stopped to take pictures. I thought it was amazing. I thought these are really beautiful but I guess if it is in your backyard it may not be so beautiful.”
Franklin, speaking in full transparency, stated that she struggles with RGGI. Although, there has been good results shown from the program across areas of Virginia, she is concerned about the impact it would have on marginalized communities.
“I do struggle with paying for programs by polluting in marginalized and communities of color. I think we’re past that point in the urgency of the crisis and need to be thinking of what a cap looks like and not allowing people to continue to pollute because they are paid for it,” Franklin said. “The truth of the matter is, we have plenty of places where we can pull that money from. We have surplus here in Virginia. The electric utilities have been overcharging rate payers for the past five years, why don’t we start there and hold them accountable for their effects on Virginia.”
Citizens are encouraged to visit each candidates’ individual campaign website as well to read more about their priorities and initiatives.
The next discussion forum will happen on Aug. 31 at Asbury United Methodist Church located at 500 Stuart Street in Christiansburg beginning at 7 p.m. Chris Obenshain, Republican candidate for the 41st House of Delegates District, Jason Ballard running for the 42nd House of Delegates District, David Suetterlein for the 4th Senate district, and Travis Hackworth for the 5th Senate district seat have all been invited to the forum on the 31st.