I enjoy turning a phrase. Being a wordsmith has its privileges.
Nov. 5 is right around the corner, and Chesterfield voters could have a big say in which party controls the state Legislature for the next two years.
Since the Republicans only have a tenuous one-seat advantage in both the state House and Senate, each seat that could represent a tight margin will be closely watched.
Virginia’s off-year election cycle usually doesn’t result in as many voters as even-numbered years – such as 2020 when President Trump will face off with former Sen. and Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren or candidate X – but this year’s results will be interesting.
Incumbent Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase – a maverick not afraid to buck her own party, including county sheriff Karl Leonard and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment Jr. of Williamsburg– will square off with Democrat Amanda Pohl in a race that could be billed as, “Chase to the Pohls” or the “Battle of the Amandas.”
An atypical Republican in some respects, Chase fought for a coal ash solution statewide, including at Dominion Energy’s Chesterfield power station, and also is a member of the “transparency caucus,” a bipartisan group that calls for more open government, including video coverage of committee meetings.
However, she had been criticized by others for a parking squabble downtown with a capitol police officer and for other things, such as a campaign ad that said she was “not afraid to shoot down gun groups.” Some groups on the left side of the political spectrum took offense at the ad, although I wouldn’t exactly refer to gun control advocates as “gun groups.” Nonetheless, Chase attributed to the wording to a mix up with an ad agency.
There has been a fairly large hue and cry amongst the media and Democrats about Chase, but I would guess that what’s more important is whether you agree with her positions or not.
Senate District 11 represents most of Chesterfield, along with Colonial Heights and Amelia County. Trump won the district in 2016 by 11 points, but Sen. Tim Kaine won it by 1 point in 2018.
In Senate District 16 – which includes a swath of eastern Chesterfield – Democrat “Fightin’ Joe” Morrissey faces his former employee, independent Waylin K. Ross, who gained notoriety earlier this year by allegedly smoking a marijuana blunt during a campaign photo shoot. Ross has raised only $3,413 as of Aug. 31, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, compared to $120,645 for Morrissey. I don’t normally pay much attention to campaign finance reports, but that disparity is glaring.
Ross will undoubtedly get some support from those who do not like Morrissey, and although he’s apparently got more than a few in that category, Morrissey recently held a fundraiser with former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Sen. Minority Leader Dick Saslaw. Not sure what to make of it other than Morrissey said he will caucus with the Democrats. If Morrissey isn’t treated with respect, the independent-minded disbarred former lawyer could become the “elephant” in the room, so to speak. Like Chase, he’s not afraid to buck the party establishment, calls himself pro-life and has voted for some abortion restrictions, supports charter schools, and can be frequently heard criticizing party officials, some of which he recently called “jackasses.” Morrissey says he’s not a sheep, but is really a “black sheep” of the state’s Democratic Party.
Who will be caucusing with whom is a question of no small importance if the Senate and House deadlock at 20-20 and 50-50. A power-sharing agreement would be needed in those cases, although certain moderates and mavericks of either party could possibly be persuaded to support the opposition party’s leader if plum committee assignments or promises to vote on specific legislation are offered, for example.
First-term Republican state Sen. Glen Sturtevant of Senate District 10 – which includes the northern fringe of the Dale District – defeated Democrat Dan Gecker by 2.7 percentage points in 2015, despite being outspent $2.9 million to $2 million. Sturtevant faces Democrat Ghazala Hashmi, an Indian immigrant who would be the first Muslim woman to serve in the state Senate. As of Aug. 31, Sturtevant has outraised Hashmi, $759,000 to $607,000, according to VPAP. Possibly recognizing his swing district, earlier this year Sturtevant was the lone Republican to vote in committee for a “red flag” gun control bill that died on a 7-7 vote.
A couple of Chester-area House races are up for grabs, including the redrawn District 66 of Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights. Cox – who plays up his party’s support of tax cuts and teacher pay raises, for example – has a race on his hands with Sheila Bynum-Coleman, a Democrat who nearly knocked off Del. Riley Ingram two years ago.
The new District 66 includes a little more than half of the old one, but adds southern Matoaca and narrows as it heads north to Midlothian Turnpike (Route 60). Hillary Clinton won the area encompassing the new district by 4 percentage points in 2016, so Cox has his work cut out for him. He has outraised Bynum-Coleman, $1.17 million to $470,308. Linnard K. Harris Sr., an independent, has raised $10,179.
In House District 62, Chesterfield school board member Carrie Coyner, a Republican, faces Democrat Lindsey Dougherty, a newcomer and county budget analyst. Coyner has raised $464,600 to $83,534 for Dougherty, who narrowly defeated Tavorise Marks in the primary. Dougherty is the underdog in the district that went for Trump by 5 points in 2016.
In Chesterfield County races, Commonwealth’s Attorney Scott Miles has had nary a year to implement some criminal justice reforms following his surprising, close victory over John Childrey to finish the term of longtime former CA Billy Davenport. It seems that race will come down to whether the public agrees with Miles’ reforms. Police chief Jeffery S. Katz and sheriff Karl Leonard haven’t criticized Miles so much for his policy changes as the way in which he went about them. According to reports, the men have said they would have preferred collaboration with Miles instead of being put into a situation in which they were essentially left reacting to the changes.
A Republican, Leonard has his first challenger since being appointed to replace Dennis Proffitt in February 2014. Independent Rahn Kersey is running a low-budget campaign against Leonard, who implemented the Heroin Addiction Recovery Program and others, and who has had a public spat with Chase that started when she posted a photo on Facebook with some law enforcement officers. Chase subsequently posted a photo of Kersey’s endorsement of her and was then kicked out of the Chesterfield Republican Committee (she is still the state party’s nominee). Chase criticized Leonard for not cooperating enough with the federal bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Leonard – who has not been willing to honor detainer requests from ICE for inmates for up to 48 hours after their release dates – has based that on his desire not to get sued and cost the county taxpayers money.
According to ICE.gov, “many jurisdictions across the country cooperate with ICE’s detainers … in some cases, state or local laws, ordinances, or policies restrict or prohibit cooperation between local law enforcement and ICE … Unfortunately, a number of aliens who have been released under these circumstances have gone on to commit additional crimes, including violent felonies. ICE maintains that most of these crimes could have been prevented if ICE had been able to assume custody of these aliens and remove them from the country in accordance with federal immigration laws.”
Leonard said he’s followed legal opinions from county attorney Jeffrey L. Mincks and state attorney general Mark Herring. Leonard said the county’s current policy has been in effect since Nov. 1, 2014.