Senate District 16 residents will likely decide their next senator in the June 11 Democratic primary, as no Republicans filed for the seat. The independent filing deadline is June 11.
Incumbent Democrat Rosalyn “Roz” Dance is being challenged by former Del. “Fighting Joe” Morrissey. Both are running as Democrats.
Although the candidates had not agreed to a formal debate by press time – having exchanged emails on the subject over the past few weeks that were copied to local media – they have spoken to various citizens groups over the past several months.
Dance, 71, is nearing completion of her second term. She was elected to a full term in 2015 after defeating Joseph Preston, 62 to 38 percent, in the Democratic primary. Morrissey had been running as an independent in the general election, but withdrew two months before the election due to a health problem. Dance was originally elected to the seat in November 2014 when she defeated independent Preston T. “Famous” Brown in a special election held to serve the remainder of the term of Sen. Henry Marsh, who retired in July 2014.
Dance previously served in the state House of Delegates for 10 years and as a councilwoman and mayor in Petersburg for 12 years. She is retired after working as a nurse’s aide, nurse and assistant director of residential services at Southside Virginia Training Center.
Morrissey, 61, previously worked as a private practice attorney and served in the state House for eight years as a Democrat and a little over two months as an independent, the latter in 2015 before he resigned to run against Dance.
Morrissey has also worked as a high school social studies teacher, taught law school in Ireland and Australia, and served as an assistant commonwealth’s attorney in Richmond.
On May 11, Dance and Morrissey spoke at Cedar Street Baptist Church in Richmond.
Dance said she believes in working across the aisle with Republicans. “I get 68 percent of my stuff done,” she said, presumably referring to the percentage of the bills that she sponsored that were approved.
Dance said a bill that she sponsored in regard to staffing ratios for school counselors was signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam March 25. Dance said she also fought for funds to replace Central State Mental Hospital in Dinwiddie County. Some $315 million for the project was approved earlier this year and will be funded through borrowing.
She sponsored a bill that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. It died 21-19 on a party line vote in the Senate.
Dance compared herself to the Biblical characters Job, Nehemiah and Daniel and said, “I’m in it to win it, and I got God on my side.”
Morrissey, who has described himself as a moderate-to-conservative Democrat on his radio show that emanates from Chester, said his top three priorities are schools, businesses and infrastructure.
Petersburg – which is in SD16 along with southern and eastern Chesterfield County, south Richmond, Hopewell, and portions of Dinwiddie and Prince George counties – has been bringing in 50 to 60 new teachers a year because of turnover, he said.
“Let’s incentivize teachers to stay there,” he said, promoting legislation to forgive student loans if teachers remain in certain rural or urban districts for five years.
In regard to attracting businesses, Morrissey said that the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created opportunity zones that are not being utilized. Petersburg lost 45 businesses in the last five years, he said, noting that 28 storefronts on Sycamore Street are vacant.
Morrissey said he would introduce legislation to require pre-kindergarten instruction throughout the state, which would have to be approved as a constitutional amendment.
“I think I can make Senate District 16 better,” he said, explaining why he is running.
Dance was endorsed by EMILY’s List, an organization that tries to put pro-abortion-choice women into office. Morrissey calls himself pro-life on the abortion issue.
Editor’s note: The following Chesterfield County precincts are in Senate District 16: Bellwood, Carver, Drewrys Bluff, Dutch Gap, Elizabeth Scott, Enon, Ettrick, Harrowgate and Matoaca.
Virginia does not register voters by party so party primaries are considered “open” to all voters.