Candidate Forum

David Phelps with Trinity Ecumenical Parish speaks to a packed crowd at the sanctuary before the start of the candidate forum Oct. 7. More than a dozen candidates seated waited for their turn to speak.

Franklin County residents heard from more than a dozen candidates running for seats in Virginia’s Senate and House of Delegates, as well as elected offices in Franklin County, at a forum Oct. 7.

Candidates were given time to discuss their campaign platform and answer questions from the audience at the event sponsored by Smith Mountain Lake Association and the SML Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Franklin County Board of Supervisors

One of the night’s biggest discussion topics was the county’s Summit View Business Park currently under construction. The Franklin County Board of Supervisors’ Gills Creek District candidates, Lorie Smith and Rick Smithers, both expressed concerns with the project.

Republican candidate Smith and Smithers, an independent, are running for the Gills Creek District seat being vacated by Bob Camicia.

Smith said future tax increases by as much as 11 cents may be needed over the next few years to help pay for the business park. “That’s a big deal,” she said.

To be more efficient with taxpayer money, Smith said she will look closely at future plans for the business park. Millions of dollars of taxpayer money are currently planned for park amenities such as athletic fields and a water park that will not produce revenue for the county.

Smithers called the business park “ridiculous.” He said the money used to build the park could be spent improving roads and expanding broadband internet in the county.

Union Hall District candidate John Hinkell also expressed concern with the business park. Hinkell is challenging incumbent Tommy Cundiff who did not attend the Oct. 7 forum.

The county, Hinkell said, has taken on debt to construct the business park. “They are fully committed to this business park, and I can’t find one voter in the Union Hall District that is for it. How is that possible?” he asked.

More focus should be on workforce development, Hinkell said, by improving and incentivizing existing businesses. He said the county shouldn’t “put all their eggs in one basket” with the business park.

While the candidates agreed on that topic, their opinions differed when it came to construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Smith said the pipeline is a federal project, and supervisors have no say on if it is constructed, but they should be an advocate for county residents who are negatively impacted by the pipeline. She also said, at this point, the project should be completed.

“I think the environmentally appropriate thing to do at this stage is to finish it,” Smith said.

Due to delays in the pipeline’s construction, many of those pipes have been left out in the elements for more than a year, Smith said. She questioned if the pipes would be able to perform at holding the gas coming through if the pipeline is not completed soon.

Smithers said his opposition to the pipeline is the reason he is running for the Gills Creek District seat. The pipeline runs near the church where he serves as pastor, as well as near the homes of his church’s members.

The pipes have already been exposed to the elements for too long and could likely burst if they are used, Smithers said. Leaks in the underground pipeline could contaminate groundwater for years before they are discovered.

“Protect your water and protect your environment. Say no to this pipeline,” Smithers said.

Hinkell said he also is against the pipeline. He questioned why the board of supervisors has not officially stated its position on the project. “You are either for it or against it,” he said.

While opposed to the pipeline, Hinkell said the issue is now up to the courts due to pending litigation. “I don’t think it is a done deal,” he said.

Franklin County Sheriff

Illegal immigration was one of the questions for Franklin County Sheriff Bill Overton and candidate Riley Hodges. They were asked how they would work with federal authorities to address illegal immigrants in the county.

Hodges said illegal immigrants often do not pay taxes and can be a burden on systems such as health care. He said he would work with federal authorities to apprehend them.

Overton said he currently works with federal authorities such as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but said the department does not have the personnel to take on the responsibility of making sure each person is in the country legally. “Anyone that is wanted, we will detain them and make sure they are properly turned over to the federal authorities for deportation or a deportation hearing,” he said.

Hodges and Overton were in agreement when asked about their support of the second amendment, and if residents should have the right to carry a concealed weapon. Hodges also went a step further by stating his support for a program that would educate teachers interested in carrying firearms in an effort to prevent school shootings.

Overton said it is the the job of the sheriff’s office to assure that everyone who applies for a concealed carry permit is abiding by the law. He said the sheriff’s office also holds multiple classes throughout the year to assure that people are being responsible when using a firearm.

Virginia Senate and House of Delegates

Flo Ketner, Democratic candidate for the Virginia Senate’s 19th District, said she is running to help families who often have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. She also said more needs to be done to support first responders who often work with out-of-date equipment and to ensure that small businesses in the area are taken care of.

Virginia Senate’s 19th District incumbent David Suetterlein (R-Roanoke County) touted his recent efforts in Richmond, including a tax refund check from Virginia due to a tax increase that was not legislated. He said Gov. Ralph Northam was against the tax refund.

Suetterlein also questioned Northam’s association with electric companies that he said have helped to fund his campaigns. He said he has not taken any money from electric companies and would fight for fair electric rates.

Dustin Evans, Libertarian candidate for the Virginia House of Delegate’s 16th District, said his campaign is focused on three main issues: to remove regulations on hemp farming to help area farmers, improve health care in the region and increase funding for schools.

“I feel if we can do these three things, we can turn the tide for this area,” Evans said.

Jennifer Woofter, Democratic candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates 22nd District, said she is running to help residents who are often one medical emergency away from financial ruin. She is running to make sure that the government works better for its citizens.

Woofter is running against incumbent Kathy Byron (R-Lynchburg). Byron did not attend the forum.

Del. Charles Poindexter (R-Franklin County) discussed plans for his next term during the forum. He is running unopposed in the Virginia House of Delegates 9th District.

“I will continue to stand for our rural, small town values,” Poindexter said.