While Virginia overall favored Hillary Clinton by five points in last year’s election, voters in the 58th Virginia House District favored Donald Trump by almost 20 points. Republican Rob Bell is running for his ninth consecutive term in the district, which includes parts of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Rockingham, and Greene Counties. In most of his races, Bell’s won with comfortable majorities. In fact, most years, he’s run unopposed. But not this year. WMRA’s Jordy Yager has the next installment in our series of candidate profiles.
For the first time in eight years, Republican Delegate Rob Bell has a Democratic challenger. Kellen Squire is a 32-year old former assistant manager at Home Depot, who’s never before held political office.
KELLEN SQUIRE: A year ago, I would’ve been one of those armchair quarterbacks, those jerks that like to complain about the process, but don’t—it’s easy to complain, it’s really easy…
For the last six years, Squire’s worked as a nurse at the University of Virginia hospital. He says lawmakers in Richmond need to do a better job of preventing crises in people’s lives, so that the full weight of treatment doesn’t fall on emergency rooms, fire departments, and police.
SQUIRE: They’re asking us to sort of hold the line for them, so they don’t have to govern. Finally I just, I guess I reached a point where I was like, I could sit around and bellyache about it, or I could try and do something about it. Here I am.
Bell is a practicing attorney in Charlottesville and in 2013 lost to Mark Obenshain in a bid for state attorney general. For many years he’s served on the House Courts of Justice Committee, where he’s set to become chairman next year if re-elected. Bell pointed to his work on that panel as some of his proudest achievements. Last session, he helped discover that large amounts of court-ordered restitution has not been paid to crime victims.
DELEGATE ROB BELL: This is just for actual out of pocket costs like medical bills or if something was destroyed, paying to have it replaced. And what we found is that because no one takes ownership over this, year by year, restitution doesn’t get paid. And we had a shocking figure. We found that a grand total of $230 million had not been paid to crime victims over the years.
Bell introduced a bill to require probation for people convicted of crimes until they pay off their court-ordered restitution. The measure passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate, but was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who stated that the bill would be a move towards criminalizing poverty.
Squire says if he gets elected, he wants to focus on redrawing voting districts to be less gerrymandered.
SQUIRE: So I want to just go back to basics, if we fix that—it’s definitely going to mean, well people are like, that’ll mean some Democrats are going to lose seats too. And I’m like, yeah, probably. I mean, them’s the breaks. I’ve made a lot of friends and stuff like that running as a Democrat, but if it’s better for democracy then oh well.
Squire also says he wants to limit the influence that big corporations and ultra-wealthy donors have on political campaigns, and he’s got his sights set on several other economic issues as well.
SQUIRE: I’m sort of unique, I’ve had people call me a liberal-tarian, if that makes sense? The government needs to step in where necessary, but otherwise it needs to keep its hands off. So, like I said, we work with companies. We say, ‘what do you need to hire XYZ?’ Because like I said, we have hundreds of thousands of jobs that are open now that we can’t fill because we’re not trained, so we need to go to those employers and say, ‘Where are we not’—are we not providing a skill? Are we not giving people the support?
Bell too says he’s focused on creating more jobs in the district. He’s opposed to raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, but is keeping a close eye on how to use lower tax rates and other tools to incentivize companies to bring their business to Virginia.
BELL: We need to be very aware of these costs that we impose on employers that make us less competitive with nearby states. I think locally we need to do all we can to bring in these employers. Again, not everybody is going to go to college. Not everybody is going to have the skills that allow you to work at UVa in some advanced capacity. And we need to have those jobs available when someone graduates high school, they’ve maybe done an apprentice program, maybe they’ve got a GED, but we want them to have a job that allows them to advance, make more money as they succeed.
So far, Bell has out-raised Squire six-to-one, $515,000 to Squire’s $83,000. Election day is Tuesday, November 7th.