Who Will Replace Bob Goodlatte?

May 30, 2018

Four Democratic challengers seeking the nomination for the Sixth Congressional District agree that the key to beating Republican nominee Delegate Ben Cline in this predominantly conservative region is connecting with Independents and moderate Republicans. WMRA’s Jessie Knadler reports.

[fade up Democratic Forum]

It’s not a coincidence that the Democratic Forum last week was held at the Virginia Horse Center in Rockbridge County. It’s part of a larger effort by local Democrats to bridge the county/city political divide.

The four candidates, Sergio Coppola, Jennifer Lewis, Charlotte Moore and Peter Volosin answered questions from a moderator before a standing room only crowd. On everyone’s mind: how to beat long time Republican Delegate Ben Cline in November.

The previous weekend, after months of infighting, a GOP convention nominated Cline to run for the open congressional seat being vacated by Republican Bob Goodlatte.

JENNIFER LEWIS: So the things I’m going to do is run on my platform that I think [there] are some things Independents, Libertarians and Republicans can get behind.

Jennifer Lewis is a mental health professional from Waynesboro who supports the legalization of hemp and marijuana and opposes the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

LEWIS: I’m not just fighting for the environment but fighting for private property rights, which historically is a Republican or Libertarian issue as it is.

The candidates agreed that the path to victory hinges on appealing to

moderate and on-the-fence voters, and on driving voter turnout.  At one point, Lewis questioned whether the district is even as Republican as people think.

LEWIS: How can we say that this is a two to one district? When about 80 percent of people don’t show up and vote?

The #MeToo movement was also part of the conversation.

When former Roanoke County supervisor Charlotte Moore responded to a question about equality policies she’d propose in Congress, she recalled an incident from her 20s that illustrated how sexual harassment can thwart one’s career path.

CHARLOTTE MOORE: The supervisor who was with me in the car said, you really want that job, don’t you? I said, yeah, I’d really like to have that job. Well, let me tell you what you need to do to get it. And he proceeded to tell me what I needed to do to get the job. Well, needless to say I didn’t want the job anymore. I didn’t apply for it.

Like the others, Moore supports equal pay for equal work. She talked a lot about how there’s been an erosion of dignity and respect in politics.

Guns were another big topic.

Republican Ben Cline didn’t respond in time to a request for an interview before this story aired.  But he touts an A plus rating from the NRA and strongly opposes new gun control laws.

All four Democratic candidates support “common sense” gun safety measures. Peter Volosin is an urban planner from Roanoke.

PETER VOLOSIN:  If I go up to a gun owner’s home, they’re going to say I want to take away their guns. And we know that’s not true as Democrats. The problem is that we’re not talking with those gun owners. And who is? The NRA.

Volosin says he supports the government’s recent curtailing of the Dickey Amendment. It prohibited the Centers for Disease Control from conducting research on gun violence.

VOLOSIN: The problem is that the government has technically repealed it but they’re not putting any funding toward that research. And I want to make sure that if I go to Congress we’re going to fund that research. Because that’s how we can make smarter gun legislation is by having actual evidence about gun violence.

Student debt and lack of high paying jobs were reasons candidates gave for the so-called “brain drain” of the region—young people who leave to find jobs elsewhere.

Moore and Volosin pointed out access to broadband is still a big problem in rural areas. Sergio Coppola from Bridgewater said well paying blue collar jobs are already here, but a skilled workforce isn’t being trained to take them.

SERGIO COPPOLA: You go to a job fair. There are jobs that are there. They are looking for a work force. But we’re not educating the people we need for those blue-collar jobs in our area.

He advocates for free community college and vocational education.

Voters will choose the Democratic nominee in the Sixth District in primary elections on June 12.