Virginia House and Senate Candidates Spar at CBES Forum


By Linda Cicoira — Candidates seeking Virginia’s 100th District in the House of Delegates and 6th District in the Senate participated in a forum Wednesday night hosted by Citizens For a Better Eastern Shore (CBES).
Sen. Lynwood Lewis, a Democrat who practices law in Accomac, represents Accomack, Northampton, and Mathews counties and parts of the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach. He is being opposed in the November general election by Republican Elizabeth Lankford, who owns Blue Crab Bay Co. in Melfa.
After describing a lewd package and message she received, Lankford said she would not be intimidated.
Del. Rob Bloxom, a Republican and the owner of Bloxom Auto Supply in Mappsville, Shore Tire and Auto in Onley, and an oyster growing business, represents the counties of Accomack and Northampton and parts of the cities of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
His challenger is Democrat Phil Hernandez, a civil rights attorney from Norfolk, who quit his job so he would have more time to go door to door and talk to voters.
The candidates were allowed opening and closing statements and were given three questions in advance so they could ready their answers. More questions were submitted by the audience and selected by CBES just before the event began.
Lewis stood on his love for his native Eastern Shore, his ability to work “across the aisle,” and his seniority, as he serves on several important committees. “I am of this place. It is a part of me. I’ve been pleased to work to make life better for us,” he added, noting his efforts to help the aeronautics industry at Wallops, to bring broadband to the area, and his support of the community college. “I think the Shore has been well represented. … The greatest honor of my life is representing some of the greatest people in Virginia,” he said. Before becoming a senator, he was a delegate.
Lankford wants to bring in more jobs. It is “most important to have someone to work for the business person,” she said. Lankford attacked Lewis for favoring late-term abortions and tax increases. “I want to fight for middle-class jobs,” help people with caring for ailing parents, and solve problems with public schools.
“Any day you can help somebody is a good day, and in this job you can help a lot of people,” Bloxom said, repeating the wise words of his father who was a delegate before him. “The sense of gratitude is indescribable,” the son said. Like Lewis, he also holds seats on important committees.
Bloxom criticized Hernandez for contributions that were made to his campaign from out of state and for his quitting his job. “I wish I could stop working in February and knock on doors. I don’t think Bank of America would appreciate me taking off for a part-time job for $17,000. …  If you look at the donors, do they really care about the Eastern Shore?” he asked rhetorically. “What they care about is power and control. … For the Eastern Shore, I am the only choice. Born and raised (here) and work in the community. I’ve raised my family here.”
Hernandez emphasized his support of a good public education, teacher’s salaries, and schools that are not falling down. He was the first in his family to go to college.
“I didn’t have to quit my job,” said Hernandez. “I didn’t make that decision lightly. I did this because I care. I want this area to have the best schools. One in three kids grows up in poverty. I want (the Shore) to be a center of excellence for sea rise resiliency. Not just the best for business but for working families.”
Hernandez also said he will vote to make Virginia the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. “We can do that next year. That’s part of what this race is about.
What is your position about the fairness of the composite index, which determines a school division’s ability to pay education costs to meet the state’s Standards of Quality? It is comprised of 50% real estate value, 40% adjusted gross income, and 10% taxable retail sales.
Hernandez said, “In general Virginia gets an ‘F’ in terms of its fairness in education. We don’t get our fair share.” He said it is time to talk about revamping.
“If you open that index up,” Bloxom said, “Northern Virginia has more delegates than we do. More votes. We will lose.” He said teachers’ pay was raised 5% last year. “We froze college tuition this year. The other thing that we understand, the lottery funds have now been returned at 40% unrestricted funds. We are trying to resolve the SOL burden.”
Lewis agreed about Northern Virginia. But “there are some things we can do” like adjusting the real estate and income portions. It costs more money to educate students with extreme poverty, he said. “We need to figure out a way to take a look at it.”
“Obviously a bureaucrat from Richmond wrote it,” said Lankford. “The best way to go after school funding is to increase business so we have more money to put towards our schools.”
Should the Virginia Marine Resources Commission manage the menhaden fishery?
Bloxom said there were a lot of misconceptions in the long question CBES asked about the issue. He said Omega Protein, a processing plant in Reedville, Va., has a quota that was “never been agreed upon” and “there is no overfishing occurring.” He is against the VMRC managing it because its members are appointed by the governor. “This is a direct assault on the commercial waterman.”
“The VMRC has nonpartisan professional staff” and Lewis wants them to have the job. They are going to need a whole lot more money. … We let the professionals tell us.”
Lankford and Hernandez also favored the VMRC.
What can be done to build a technical workforce?
“Workforce is an issue everywhere in Virginia,” said Lewis. A boost in certified workers in trades is needed. “Government doesn’t create jobs, it provides the atmosphere where jobs can be created.” He said the broadband infrastructure is a help.
Lankford said, “The most important thing is to have a strong educational system. Not just K-12 and college. We need trade schools …  mechanics. Making sure they can have the proper training to work on the rockets. ESCC is a great resource.”
“Public education is where it begins,” said Hernandez. “These kids have such bright futures in their imaginations, we just have to set them up.”
Bloxom said it is happening. He talked about opportunities at the Accomack Airport for handling the backlog from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle facility at NASA. The county airport needs one or two hangers to do the job. In Cape Charles, a firm bought the concrete plant. “We have a demand for people who will show up. There’s a lack of that on the Shore. … We’re talking about a central sewer line. Things are really looking good for the Eastern Shore.”
What do you think about the governor’s initiative to become fossil-free by 2050?
“I ship products nationwide,” said Lankford. “That would be a major problem for me.”
“I think we need to embrace this challenge,” said Hernandez. Some of the fastest-growing jobs are in wind and solar. We need to take a hard look at statutes that keep the private sector from doing it.
Bloxom said if Virginia were to go this route and North Carolina and Georgia didn’t, “the jobs are going to run downhill. … This is something that cannot be forced. We need to encourage it.”
“Worldwide it needs to be done,” said Lewis. For “sea level rise the ramifications are incredible. We’re going to have to figure out how to be resilient. The governor has set a goal. It’s a challenge. It’s something we need to pursue.”
What is your plan for addressing gun safety and gun violence?
“I believe in the Second Amendment and I am a Democrat,” said Hernandez. “And I’ve read it.” Hernandez supports universal background checks and red flag laws. He wants to temporarily suspend weapons for someone who is a threat to themselves or others. He complained about the General Assembly gun session called by the governor that came to a quick end earlier this year.
Bloxom argued that Gov. Ralph Northam is known for acting too quickly. Bloxom said it was right to send the gun proposals to committees instead of having discussions “in the heat of the moment” after the Virginia Beach shootings. Bloxom said person-to-person sales are the only place there aren’t background checks. “If you are going to make a law, it has to be able to put in effect. Must be careful unless due process is followed regarding red flag.”
Lewis said he was a co-patron of the red flag. “We’ve got a list of folks that we’ve all agreed should not have access to firearms. Why not make sure they don’t have access? There is a huge mental health component with this. … You can see it is a situation where people have been failed.”
Lankford said she is pro-Second Amendment. Mental health is a huge part of the problem. She doesn’t want to see “Red flag false claims.”
What is your position on education and childcare for birth to five years old?
“It would be great for the state to provide” but too costly, said Bloxom.
“Every other industrialized country has quality pre-K,” said Lewis. “We compete on a worldwide stage. … We need to really reignite that discussion.”
“I would take a look at it,” said Lankford. “Maybe we can take on parts of it.”
“We should be championing that,” said Hernandez. “Birth to age 5 is a critical stage of development.” Early schooling “makes students less likely to repeat a grade.”
Lankford said farming, aquaculture, and tech jobs are what should be capitalized on in the next decade. There is a high quality of life. We should increase our broadband system (her CEO can only work from home at night at low tide).
Hernandez said public education, coastal resiliency, and working families. You hear about teachers going into Maryland” for higher wages. “Wouldn’t it be great if Maryland teachers were coming here?”
Bloxom said, “You need to expand on the things we have and our sewage problem.
New regulations “are actually putting poor people out of their homes. I’m going to ask for a study to see if the new engineering system (for septic) is actually better.”
Lewis also said septic is a top challenge. “As far as the quality of life … it’s going to be a struggle. We need to preserve it.”

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