WINCHESTER — All but one of the eight people campaigning to represent the Northern Shenandoah Valley in Virginia’s General Assembly participated in a candidates’ forum Saturday morning at Handley Library in Winchester.
Moderator Adrienne Bloss of Shenandoah University told a small gathering of spectators in the library’s Robinson Auditorium that each candidate would have three minutes to introduce themselves to the audience and another 10 minutes to discuss their campaign platforms.
“Ten minutes is not nearly long enough,” joked Del. Wendy Gooditis, a Democrat seeking her second two-year term representing the state’s 10th House of Delegates District that includes portions of Clarke, Frederick and Loudoun counties.
Next to Gooditis was the man she unseated in the 2017 House of Delegates election, Republican Randy Minchew, who is hoping to reclaim the 10th District position he held for six years.
“There’s much more we need to do,” Minchew said.
Del. Dave LaRock of the 33rd House District, which covers parts of Frederick, Clarke and Loudoun counties, was the only candidate who didn’t attend the forum co-sponsored by the Winchester branch of American Association of University Women and Friends of Handley Regional Library. Instead, he sent legislative assistant Daniel Davies to speak on his behalf.
“At this time of year, he has to prioritize knocking on doors,” Davies said, explaining that LaRock declined his invitation to do door-to-door campaigning.
LaRock’s challenger, Democrat Mavis Taintor, used her time at the podium to list her legislative priorities, which include the increased availability of broadband internet service in rural areas and Virginia’s endorsement of the long-gestating Equal Rights Amendment.
“I am very much in favor of getting that passed when I’m in the state legislature,” Taintor said.
Republican Del. Chris Collins is seeking his third two-year term representing the 29th District, which includes Winchester and parts of Frederick and Clarke counties.
“Workforce development is something I’m very passionate about,” Collins said. “We have programs at Lord Fairfax [Community College], we have scholarships, we have grants.”
He is being challenged by Democrat Irina Khanin, who immigrated from the Soviet Union 30 years ago.
“I know what it’s like to live in a place where the government doesn’t care for its citizens,” Khanin said.
Rounding out the list of forum participants were the candidates for Virginia’s 27th Senate District seat, Republican Sen. Jill Vogel and Democratic challenger Ronnie Ross.
“I’ve worked really hard to make an impact on this district,” said Vogel, who is seeking her fourth four-year term representing the region that includes Winchester and Frederick, Clarke and Fauquier counties, as well as parts of Loudoun, Culpeper and Stafford counties.
“Something that Senator Vogel and I agree on is that a lot still needs to get done,” Ross said. “Well, let’s get it done.”
Education, health care and transportation were the three most popular topics discussed Saturday by the forum participants.
“We still pay our teachers less than North Carolina,” Minchew said. “We need to fix that.”
“So many people in our community and our state don’t have access to the health care they need,” Khanin said.
“Interstate 81 has been neglected for decades,” Gooditis said. “It’s dangerous.”
The forum participants remained cordial throughout the two-hour event, touting their own records and goals more often than criticizing those of their opponents. The closest thing to a political attack was when Khanin criticized House Republicans for blocking Virginia’s expansion of Medicaid for four years until it finally was approved in January.
“These guys turned down free money to save lives,” Khanin said, referring to federal subsidies to help expand the Medicaid program.
Gooditis elicited mumbles from the audience by saying the legislature should strengthen Virginia’s gun laws.
“Doesn’t it make sense to protect our children from all sides?” she asked.
Those mumbles constituted the day’s only break in decorum. Spectators were otherwise attentive and respectful, adhering to the caution that Bloss provided at the start of the forum.
“This is not a time to be expressing your personal points of view,” she told the audience.
Virginia’s 2019 general election will be held on Nov. 5.