Candidates speak their minds at NAACP’s community forum

Moderator Ronald Mack explains the procedure for the Candidates Community Forum held Oct. 19 by the Powhatan branch of the NAACP. The candidates are shown in the first three rows.

POWHATAN – Twenty men and women vying for the votes of residents shared a little about themselves and their views at a Candidates Community Forum held by the Powhatan County Branch of the NAACP.

In an event that lasted a little more than three hours on Saturday, Oct. 19, candidates running for state and local positions talked about their views on a variety of issues. The event was held at the War Memorial and Cultural Arts Center.

Rather than a debate, each candidate was given the chance to both tell a little about themselves and why people should vote for them and answer some specific questions from moderators Ronald Mack and Vernell Straughter.

Local NAACP president Gail Hairston said she was pleased with the forum, which was the second that the local chapter has hosted. The first candidate event was held in 2015, and she said the group had learned a great deal from that experience.

Hairston also appreciated the turnout at the forum regarding both candidate participation and the number of people who came to listen. In all, 18 of the 24 official candidates listed on the ballot attended the event as well as two people running write-in campaigns for the school board’s District 1 seat. Every candidate responded to the invitation, but some were unable to attend.

Hairston added she hopes people who came to the event walked away feeling better informed.

“Everybody got to see what they were about and they will form their own opinions,” she said.

Andrew Snead Sr., local NAACP vice president, ended the event by reminding the audience that voting is a privilege they all have as American citizens,

“Let your vote be your voice. If you don’t vote, you remain very silent,” he said.

Each candidate was given the opportunity to start their time by telling about themselves and end by reiterating why Powhatan residents should vote for them. In between, each office had a specific set of questions they were asked.

State candidates

With the candidates for state offices, they were all asked to explain their stances on Medicaid Expansion and gun control.

Virginia Senate District 10 candidate Ghazala F. Hashmi, democrat, spoke about her 30 years of experience as an educator in Virginia and her belief in how high quality education improves lives. She explained her support of Medicaid Expansion, saying she believes healthcare is a right, not “a privilege for just a wealthy few.” She said she was delighted when the General Assembly passed Medicaid Expansion to cover 400,000 previously uninsured Virginias and discussed keeping the cost of prescription medications down and capping the cost of necessary medications such as insulin. On gun control, Hashmi advocated for universal background checks, a ban on assault rifles, and red flag laws.

Virginia House of Delegates District 65 candidate R. Lee Ware Jr., the republican incumbent, said he strives to represent all people conscientiously, regardless of who they are or what they believe. He pointed out that Medicaid Expansion is now law, but he did not support it becoming so because he believes Virginia could not afford it. Medicaid Expansion is being paid for by about $300 million from a hospital tax in Virginia and $3.3 billion from the federal government, he said. In the face of a $22.8 trillion national debt, he said it was not a fiscally responsible decision and it squeezes out other important needs. Ware said the matter of gun control needs to be taken up thoughtfully instead of as an immediate reaction to a tragedy. He supports hearing recommendations from the Crime Commission “for a thorough and thoughtful review.”

Opponent Michael P. “Mike” Asip, democrat, talked about his career as an educator, special education director, and advocate at the state and national levels for people with special needs. He said he was a strong advocate for Medicaid Expansion and would seek to both protect and expand it if elected “because we have to address prescription drug costs that have skyrocketed.” A budget is a set of values with a dollar signs attached, but public health is a right, not a luxury, he said. He is a strong proponent of the 2nd Amendment but said work needs to be done to look for common ground on reasonable gun violence prevention methods. He said he supports universal background checks and red flag laws.

Local offices

The race for Monacan Soil and Water Conservation District directors has two positions open but John Kochensparger is the only certified candidate for the race. The positions are important to manage the money allocated by the General Assembly and to help local farmers apply for grants that would help them modernize some of their farming practices. He talked about the importance of local boards doing this kind of work instead of waiting for the federal government to tell localities what to do. He was asked about the potential landfill in Cumberland County and said while the board was not asked to take a position, he is against it.

Both candidates for sheriff were asked about their views on diversity in the office and implementing it and proactive initiatives to help prevent hate crimes and mass shootings.

Incumbent Brad Nunnally talked about how he had followed through on his promises from his last campaign, especially increasing patrol deputy numbers. He pointed to figures showing he has increased representation in his office of minorities and women and says he emphasizes the core beliefs of doing what is right, enforcing the law equitably, and becoming part of the community to his employees. Regarding hate crimes, he discussed teaching people what to do in case of an active shooter and recognizing their potential characteristics.

Vince Whittaker talked about being a dedicated worker bee who has worked in a variety of roles in law enforcement that made him capable of handling the office. He emphasized hiring in Powhatan to attract people who love the county and have roots here. He also spoke about more of a presence at the high school, educating pastors on how to increase security and having a citizen review board.

Board of supervisors

Each of the supervisors was asked to identify their top priorities, asked about their stance on the Farm Bureau’s Ag Vision, discuss how they would ensure a harmonious working relationship with the school board.

District 1 candidate Sandra E. Brindley talked about building an effective relationship with other county leaders, growing wisely, the need to improve the county’s infrastructure (roads specifically), having a viable relationship with the school board, and making sure every measure put before the board is thought out with fiscally responsible solutions. She talked about the need to define Powhatan’s definition of rural and being accessible to the community. She spoke about how being a former educator would help work with the school board.

District 2 candidate Laurence J. Nordvig, who is running unopposed, said his priorities are keeping Powhatan from becoming Chesterfield, Powhatan-friendly commercial growth, broadband, promoting agribusiness, and working on traffic issues. He supports the Ag Vision and growing niche farming and agribusiness. He emphasized the importance of working well with the school board.

District 4 candidate William L. Cox’s priorities were to rewrite the comprehensive plan, better manage the county’s debt capacity with a 10-year capital improvement plan, find a better long-term water solution for the county, use economic development to drive business growth with a clear direction, and to become more sophisticated on handing the business of the county. He talked about being an organic farmer and how he fully supports the Ag Vision. The two boards need to improve communication and have supervisors championing the schools to make sure they work well together in harder times, he said.

Opponent Eddie H. Whitt said his priorities are advocating for Powhatan’s roads, going after grants and funds for broadband implementation, having continuous communication with the school board, having housing for younger generations of existing Powhatan families, and creating a strategic plan that goes beyond the comprehensive plan. He is a small farmer with a strong history in agriculture and said the Ag Vision can go even further.

District 5 candidate Karin Carmack said her top priorities are to find a sustainable water source, increasing broadband, having an updated thoroughfare plan, and updating the county’s proffer guidelines. She is in favor of the AgVision and talked about supporting it through better zoning, education through programs, and setting up a foundation to accept funds to preserve open space and help parks and recreation. She said the supervisors and school board need to have more open dialogue and meet more often. She is currently a planning commissioner.

Opponent Germando L. Harris’s top priorities are broadband, supporting quality education, improving public safety through better funding fire and rescue and the sheriff’s office, leadership, and diversifying housing. He suggested supporting the Ag Vision through methods such as zoning, conservation easements, and agribusiness. He talked about how his time as a school board member gives him insight and said the boards need to meet regularly.

School board

All school board members were asked about strategies to increase the number of African American, people of color and male teachers in Powhatan County Public Schools. They were also asked about increasing representation for black and brown students in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Advanced College Academy and dual enrollment programs.

District 1 write-in candidate David Cole talked about using current staff who are minorities to help recruit, interacting with juniors at historically black colleges, and encourage current students to consider teaching. For the programs, he talked about starting education about them earlier than eighth grade and having more individual conversations with target audiences. He is a current board member and an educator and former principal and said his knowledge, experience and commitment to children would serve the citizens well again.

Opponent Vicki Hurt talked about approaching historically black colleges, starting early teacher clubs at the high school, and recruiting military retirees. For the programs, she said that sort of education needs to start at an early age, through programs such as Head Start and teaching robotics, and educating parents. She is an educator of more than 35 years, is currently a robotics coach, and has coached many academic teams.

District 2 candidate James L. Kunka emphasized the need for more minority teachers to help students as they prepare to enter the wide, diverse world. He wants more diversity fairs and to continue to work on employee pay. He talked about having more role models enticing students into the programs. He is a current board member who works well with members of both boards, he said.

Opponent Susan E. Smith also talked about sending out current representatives of male and minority teachers to attract more and mentioned enticing middle age people with good experience to switch careers. With the programs, she said a layering process needs to start early to challenge students’ critical thinking skills. She has taught in Powhatan for 26 years and emphasized stepping back to re-evaluate the district’s path, being mindful of all, intentionally teaching key life skills, and working together.

District 3 candidate Valarie C. Ayers talked about using the talented male employees to recruit for the district, encouraging male minorities to consider teaching, and recruiting at colleges using current staff. For the programs, she emphasized personalized counseling to work with minority families to enter the program. She also talked about recruiting successful black mentors for the students to admire and emulate. She has been on the school board 24 years and has dedicated her life to the education of children, she said.

Opponent David J. Mack said the schools need to talk with parents about putting more value on the education system and also using parental advocacy to convince students to enroll in programs that will challenge them but have great rewards. He is a lifelong learner and is involved with the schools through his two children and supporting their schools, he said.

Candidates Joseph W. “Joe” Walters, District 4, and Kim M. Drew Hymel, District 5, are both incumbents running unopposed. In the interest of time, they simply talked about themselves. Walters has a background in law enforcement and believes that education is something that can’t be taken from people. Hymel has 21 years of teaching experience and said she has more things to accomplish as a school board member.

Candidates not present at the event were Glen H. Sturtevant Jr. (Virginia Senate 10th District); David T. Williams (board of supervisors District 1); Michael W. Byerly (board of supervisors District 3); Richard K. “Dickie” Cox (commonwealth’s attorney); Faye G. Barton (treasurer), and James B. Timberlake II (commissioner of revenue).

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