From trick or treat to the polls

On Halloween, citizens will open their doors to children and their parents in search of candy and merriment. They will crowd into church parking lots and fairgrounds for trunk and treat events.

Five days later, another occasion important to Americans will arrive on the calendar: Election Day. But will people welcome it with the same enthusiasm they bring to Halloween?

In recent elections, voter participation has been on the rise. Sixty-four percent of Louisa’s registered voters cast ballots in the 2018 midterm election. By contrast, 53 percent took part in the 2017 election, and just 46 percent in the 2014 midterms. As of Tuesday, 748 Louisa voters had requested or returned absentee ballots, with four days left to do so, according to Cris Watkins, Louisa County registrar. In 2015, only 497 people requested or cast absentee ballots by Election Day.

Pundits and politicians alike say this election will be a critical one. The Democratic Party hopes this will be the year they take control of the General Assembly, giving them control over the 2021 redistricting process for state and federal legislative boundaries. Republicans want to maintain control for the same reason. 

However, a proposed constitutional amendment that passed the General Assembly in 2019 would make redistricting a bipartisan process. The amendment establishes a commission with citizens and legislators chosen by both parties. Before it can go into effect, the bill must pass again in 2020, then voters have to approve it in the 2020 general election.

This fall’s election campaign has seen the usual flurry of fliers landing in people’s mailboxes promoting candidates and attacking opponents. Some candidates have taken to social media to make their case, and a few community groups have organized forums for candidates to speak to their members. The only forum for the general public to attend, the Louisa Tea Party event on Oct. 24, was lightly advertised and just as lightly attended.

Here is a summary of the contested races on the Nov. 5 ballot. Additional details can be found at thecentralvirginian.com/election_news, including the candidates' written responses to the CV's questions and audio interviews with some candidates.

56th district, Virginia House of Delegates

Juanita Jo Matkins, a Democrat from Louisa County, is challenging incumbent Republican John McGuire. The 56th district includes all of Louisa and portions of Goochland, Henrico and Spotsylvania counties. Forty percent of the voters are in Louisa and 37 percent in Henrico.

Education and health care rank as the biggest issues in this campaign, along with broadband internet.

Matkins, a former teacher and college professor, has made what she calls “full funding” of public education a priority. McGuire pledges to raise teacher pay to the national average, building on a five percent increase the General Assembly passed last winter. Two percent of that increase was paid for by Louisa County.

For Matkins, full funding means restoring the amount the state spends on education to the level it was at prior to the Great Recession in 2008. Louisa County received 42 percent of its school operations funding from the state in 2008, according to The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis in Richmond. By 2016, that figure had dropped to 39 percent, with the county making up most of the lost revenue (the federal government’s share of school funding also increased slightly).

Matkins and McGuire differ significantly in their approach to giving citizens better access to health care. 

McGuire voted against Medicaid expansion in 2018; he said it makes more sense to give residents the option of buying short-term insurance plans that are affordable. Matkins says those plans won’t cover pre-existing conditions and make those who buy them vulnerable to being without coverage when they need it. She said she’ll protect the expansion, which made insurance available to some 400,000 Virginians. 

On broadband, McGuire and Matkins both would prioritize partnerships with electric cooperatives to build fiber-optic internet networks to people’s homes. Matkins also wants Dominion Energy to help provide broadband in its service area. She said she will seek to give Louisa County the right to raise taxes on cigarettes and alcohol to pay for increased local broadband funding.

17th district, Virginia Senate

In an Oct. 29 debate at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Democratic challenger Amy Laufer and two-term incumbent Republican Bryce Reeves made plain the differences between them. (See a report about the debate in the Oct. 31 print edition and on the CV's website on Nov. 1.)

22nd district, Virginia Senate

Republican Mark Peake is seeking election to his first full term in the 22nd district, which includes the eastern end of Louisa County. Dakota Claytor, an Amherst resident, is the challenger on the Democratic side. He says he entered the race after Peake voted against Medicaid expansion. Peake says he will continue working to enable utility companies to provide internet service to consumers.

65th district, Virginia House of Delegates

Lee Ware, the Republican incumbent, is running against Democrat Mike Asip. About 100 voters in Louisa County are now in this district as a result of a boundary change arranged this summer between Louisa and Goochland counties. Asip says he supports a cap on price increases for generic drugs and has criticized Ware for opposing Medicaid expansion.

Jackson district supervisor

Toni Williams, the current board chairman, seeks to retain his seat against Bernie Hill, a Louisa County Broadband Authority member. 

Williams supports fiber-optic lines as the only viable solution to the county’s high-speed internet challenge and has dismissed the $1.1 million the authority has spent on wireless towers as a poor use of government funds. 

The authority has built four towers and has a fifth in the works. Some of the $1.1 million has been spent to locate wireless equipment on three towers to be built by other parties.

Hill backs a balanced approach of wireless and fiber and says that the Jackson district will never achieve broadband service on his opponent’s watch.

Commissioner of the revenue

Stacey Fletcher, the acting commissioner, is running against Dan Braswell and Charles Rosson. Fletcher says her 24 years working in the commissioner’s office make her the best choice. Braswell cites his master’s degree in business and years of experience as a manager in the U.S. Navy. Rosson points to his years as mayor of the town of Louisa and as the county’s agricultural extension agent.

Sheriff

Major Donald Lowe, who has managed day-to-day operations under Sheriff Ashland Fortune for the past 20 years, is running against Troy Painting, who served in the Marine Corps and works as a contractor. Painting says the sheriff’s office is long overdue to become accredited to ensure it meets today’s standards in evidence storage, salaries and other areas.

Thomas Jefferson Soil and Water Conservation District board members

Steve Lucas, who was appointed to finish the term of Mistie Goodman, Grosvenor Merle-Smith and Pat Willis are candidates for two open Louisa seats on the board.

Mineral town council

Ed Kube and Michelle Covert are the choices for a single open seat. Lewis Keller is leaving council after he was appointed earlier this year to finish Jessie Shupe’s term.

Voters will also see the names of a number of unopposed candidates on their ballots. They include Eric Purcell and Willie Gentry, running for supervisor in the Louisa and Cuckoo districts, respectively; Billy Seay, Steve Harris and Frances Goodman for school board in the Louisa, Cuckoo and Jackson districts; Henry Wash for treasurer and Rusty McGuire for Commonwealth’s attorney.