Del. Charles Poindexter and Stephanie Cook, his challenger in Virginia’s 9th District race, faced off at a candidate forum Oct. 11, sharing their views on health care, sanctuary cities and the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Hosted by the Smith Mountain Lake Association and Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, the forum at Trinity Ecumenical Parish in Moneta provided candidates for elected offices in Franklin, Bedford and Pittsylvania counties an opportunity to meet with voters.
Cook, a substitute teacher for Franklin County Public Schools, said she joined the race when she saw families in the community struggling to make ends meet. Raising the minimum wage and expanding Medicaid were two ways she said she would like to help people in Virginia.
“We have some of the hardest working and kindest people, but we are just falling further and further behind,” Cook said.
Poindexter touted his years of experience in the Virginia House of Delegates. He also discussed his position on several committees, including the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees any bill that requires funding.
“I think this job is about impact and effect,” Poindexter said. It is not only about what can be accomplished, he said, but being in the position to vote against what he called “bad things” that sometimes go through the legislature.
When Cook was asked about immigration concerns, including sanctuary cities for illegal immigrants, in Virginia, she said current laws should be enforced, although illegal immigrants should be treated with humanity. When asked about local gang activity that may be linked to illegal immigrants, she called for increased support from law enforcement and education programs that can help prevent crime.
“We know for a fact that when we have better education for our children that they are much less likely to end up incarcerated,” Cook said.
Poindexter said he has problems with individuals who enter the country illegally and take advantage of resources. He introduced a bill earlier this year to prohibit localities from creating sanctuary cities (it was later vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe).
When asked about expanding opportunities for affordable health care in Virginia, Poindexter said the implementation of the Affordable Care Act has created many of the current problems with health care in Virginia and elsewhere.
“It has caused total chaos in our health care system,” Poindexter said.
Until changes are made to health care by the federal government, Poindexter said there was little that could be done in Virginia. Once changes are made at the federal level, he said the state would make changes accordingly.
Virginia should expand Medicaid, Cook said. Wages currently are too low for many people and expanding the program would be a stop-gap measure for those who are unable to afford health care.
“I believe that we work on expanding Medicaid, and then we look at single payer options,” Cook said.
The two candidates also had differing opinions when asked about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline that could run through Franklin County. In the past, Poindexter said businesses have decided against moving to Franklin County because of the lack of natural gas. He said the pipeline could provide the county with the opportunity to provide natural gas at the Summit View business park currently under construction.
“I’ll be straight with you,” Poindexter said. “I think that pipeline will bring economic development to Franklin County.”
Cook opposed the pipeline. She was concerned that any leaks could impact drinking water for anyone on a well system and harm Smith Mountain Lake and its businesses.
“I do not think the case has been made that this would be a boon for our community,” Cook said. “In fact, I think it could be quite the opposite.”
The pipeline and Summit View business park were major topics at the forum for many of the candidates running for seats on the Franklin County Board of Supervisors.
Mike Carter, candidate for the Rocky Mount District, said not enough “due diligence” was done when purchasing the land for the business park.
The county is wasting money on the park, Carter said, and no businesses have announced they were setting up shop there.
“It’s time for a change on our board of supervisors,” Carter said. “I don’t like the direction our county is taking.”
Current Rocky Mount District Supervisor Charles Wagner said the business park was put in place to prepare for the future and will provide businesses who consider moving to Franklin County with a place to go.
“If we don’t have some place to offer jobs, how are we going to get them?” Wagner asked.
Snow Creek District Supervisor Leland Mitchell, who is running unopposed, said the county’s current industrial park is running out of space and Summit View is necessary for expansion.
Carter also opposed the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Wagner said he and the current board of supervisors are neutral on the pipeline, adding it’s up to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to decide if the pipeline would come through the county.
Boone District candidate Ian Reilly, who is running against Ronnie Thompson, who was not present at the forum, also is opposed to the pipeline as its proposed path would run through his farm. Reilly said he was concerned about how the pipeline could impact groundwater as well as Smith Mountain Lake. He also expressed concerned with how the federal government could use eminent domain to take away his property for the project.
Also attending the Oct. 11 forum were candidates Brian O’Connor, Fred Sylvester and Edgar Tuck running for the District 2 seat on the Bedford County Board of Supervisors. The seat is being vacated by Currie Martin, who is retiring Dec. 31.
O’Connor, who was asked by Martin to run, said, if elected, he would work to provide the necessary training and equipment for public safety, including law enforcement.
O’Connor also indicated he would focus on listening to parents and teachers to find ways to improve schools. If supervisors had had that dialogue, he said, Body Camp Elementary School may not have closed, adding he planned to revisit the decision to close the school if elected.
Sylvester said he was concerned with the direction that Bedford County is heading. The community should come together to find innovative ways to raise revenue in the county that could be used to invest in schools, businesses and infrastructure without raising taxes, he said.
Investments in broadband internet and tourism should be considered as well as taking advantage of available grant money from groups such as the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission, Sylvester said. “For years, District 2 continually gets the short end of the stick when these funds are distributed.”
Tuck said schools in Moneta and Huddleston were some of the oldest in the county and more should be done to ensure students have the resources they need to get a quality education.
Meanwhile, Barbara Hancock was the only candidate running for Pittsylvania County’s Callands-Gretna District who attended the forum. She is challenging Ben Farmer.
As a member of the board of supervisors, Hancock said she will advocate for Smith Mountain Lake. “I am going to do everything I can to prevent Pittsylvania County from doing anything that would be harmful to the lake.”