Candidate Profiles for Districts 20 and 24

Oct 30, 2017

Clockwise from top left: Incumbent Ben Cline (24th, R), John Winfrey (24th, Independent), Will Hammer (20th, Libertarian), Michele Edwards (20th, D), Incumbent Dickie Bell (20th, R)

All 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for grabs in this election. Will voters in the predominately rural 20th and 24th House Districts double down on Trumpism or reject his policies?  WMRA's Jessie Knadler takes a look at what’s happening in the House races there.

The top issues playing out across predominantly rural 20th and 24th Districts? Redistricting, education, pipeline and healthcare.

It’s that last one that compelled John Winfrey of Lexington to face off against longtime Republican incumbent Ben Cline. The retired economics professor says he felt called to act after Republican majority lawmakers turned down Medicaid expansion in Virginia as part of the Affordable Care Act.

JOHN WINFREY: These families are making their way out of poverty and we turned it down. I have to make a protest not because I think I’m going to win this race. I hope I will but the odds are very low since it’s so gerrymandered, but I believe I feel a movement away from this sort of reasoning that would do something this inhumane to families that are eligible.

Like most Districts in southwest Virginia, the 24th, which consists of Rockbridge, Bath, parts of Augusta and Amherst, is predominantly Republican. So Winfrey, a  life long Democrat running as an Independent, is hoping to persuade some voters turned off by Trump.

WINFREY: Every morning, people ask me, how is your campaign going? And I say, every morning I wake up, the Republicans have given me gift after gift after gift.

Delegate Cline has held the seat since 2002. He supports President Trump’s executive order that encourages the purchase of health insurance across state lines through the development of “association” plans. It’s very similar to legislation Cline himself introduced in the 2017 General Assembly.

DELEGATE BEN CLINE: The more competition we can put into our healthcare system, the lower prices will go and the more people we can get covered.

Such plans have been criticized for mirroring insurance markets pre-Obamacare by benefiting the young and healthy over the old and sick. But despite the anti-Trump fervor in the media, Cline points out that the 24th was one of the top ten Trump districts in Virginia.

DELEGATE CLINE: Trump is popular here‑still is popular here. This part of Virginia wants to see immigration enforcement, repeal and replace of Obamacare. So that’s what I’ve been fighting for in Richmond. Hopefully we’ll continue to push on those issues during the next General Assembly session.

Over in the 20th District around Staunton, education is the common thread between Republican incumbent Dickie Bell and political newcomer Michele Edwards. Both are educators but philosophically at odds. Here’s Delegate Bell:

DELEGATE DICKIE BELL: I’m always passionate about education, and about our young people, particularly those with disabilities and special needs.

Delegate Bell thinks children, including those trapped in low performing rural schools, should have greater school choice, whether to attend charter schools, home or online schools, or receive publicly funded vouchers to transfer elsewhere.

DELEGATE BELL: Education takes a big chunk of taxpayer dollars and I think we can do more things to get more bang for the buck.  I want to be a voice for rural Virginia. I don’t think we’re heard sometimes. It’s like our needs out here are not as great as some of those in urban Virginia.

He has co-sponsored various bills that would allow for greater educational flexibility. Three were vetoed by Governor McAuliffe last year. Democrat Michele Edwards supports greater school choice but doesn’t think it should divert funds from the public system.

MICHELE EDWARDS: I just fundamentally disagree with that premise that education should be privatized. I believe that it is foundational to our democracy.  Public schools represent the heartbeat of our communities.

Even though she’s a Democrat stumping across Trump country, Edwards says she feels like she’s connecting with rural voters.

EDWARDS: Yesterday I met this woman and she was like, you know, I voted for Donald Trump and look at what he’s done for us now. Look what he's done to us now.  We’re in a mess. And she said, I’m voting for you and I’m going to tell everybody I know, and I was like, well, good! And I’ve heard that from many, many people.

Then there’s the wild card, Libertarian Will Hammer, a Bitcoin investor who ran against Delegate Bell in 2015 and got 24 percent of the vote. 

WILL HAMMER: That shows people are tired of incumbents, tired of business as usual, maybe tired of the two parties.

He supports legalized marijuana and opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

HAMMER: Property rights is the foundation of Libertarianism. So I don’t believe that private companies such as Dominion should be able to use the eminent domain to take away people’s property for private profit.

Voters in these two districts will have their say November 7.