WINCHESTER — Fourteen candidates in the Nov. 2 election, ranging from the Virginia House of Delegates to local governing bodies and school boards, got a chance to tell area business leaders what their campaigns are all about at the Small Business Freedom Alliance’s first candidates forum, held Wednesday morning at West Oaks Farm Market near Winchester.
Many local business leaders in attendance said they were impacted by COVID-19-related mandates and that candidate stances on those mandates would impact how they vote.
Each candidate had six minutes to address the crowd.
The Small Business Freedom Alliance said it reached out to every candidate it could find a phone number or email for, but not everyone agreed to participate in the forum.
Incumbent state Del. Bill Wiley, R-Winchester, whose opponent in the Nov. 2 election is Democrat Delmara “Deetzie” Bayliss, told local business leaders that he’s fighting for them.
“I think that what’s going on (in Richmond and Washington, D.C.) is not the way we want to be operating on a business front, much less our daily lives,” he said.
Wiley, while endorsing Virginia gubernatorial hopeful Glenn Younkin, said he believes a change is needed throughout the commonwealth. He said he supports “government standing aside” and letting communities “live their lives.”
Josh Ludwig, a Republican candidate for the Shawnee District seat on the Frederick County Board of Supervisors who is going up against Democrat Richard Kennedy and independent candidate and Frederick County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Warren Gosnell, said he agrees and that he is a “lifelong believer in individual rights in the Constitution.” He said he believes that federal and state governments shouldn’t be able to decide which businesses are “essential” or force the shutdown of any business.
Ludwig said he believes it is the Board of Supervisors’ job to “stand up” against politicians in Richmond and Washington, D.C., for the rights of business owners.
Wiley said he wants to work with businesses on staffing issues and help fight a criticism from some that folks are “getting paid to stay home.”
“We need to get them back to work,” he said. “We need to get them back to helping you for all that you do.”
Wiley also spoke out against unions, saying that unions present a “clear and present danger in our state.”
Republican Nick Clemente, a former Leesburg Planning Commission member who is challenging incumbent Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, for the 10th District seat in the House of Delegates, agreed with Wiley and said he also supports the right to work and the right to choose whether to join a union.
If elected, Clemente said he plans to work on creating a workforce development program that focuses on trades.
“College is great, but it’s not for everyone,” he said. “One of the things we’ve routinely run up against, particularly in Loudoun County, is that school counselors didn’t want to work with us and didn’t want to educate students on the value of going into the trades.”
Gosnell said he agreed with those comments, adding, “I did a lot of my growing up” while working for a drilling company in Texas. He said he considers himself a “member of the working class” and encouraged others to support small businesses in the area.
Clemente, who works for the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors specializing in workforce development, said he wants the program to be geared toward middle school students because he said he believes most high school students have their post-high school plans figured out.
“It blows my mind that when I was in middle school we had wood shop class, and now it’s not even around,” Clemente said. “We need to provide opportunities for other people to enter the trades.”
Shontya’ Washington, a current member of the Frederick County School Board who is running as an independent against incumbent Republican Blaine Dunn for the Redbud District seat on the county Board of Supervisors, praised current programs in Frederick County Public Schools that are working to reach middle school-aged students to introduce the idea of trade-based jobs.
Tim Stowe, who is running against Ellen White for the Redbud District seat on the Frederick County School Board, said many students can look for jobs in up-and-coming fields such as drone technology or alternative energy.
Winchester City Council hopeful Jorge Gonzalez, who is running against incumbent Democrat Richard Bell in a special election for the Ward 1 seat, said he has been told by local business owners that they have concerns about increases in their bills, such as water and trash bills. If elected, he plans to work to lower taxes.
“Part of the reason (the city is) going around raising revenues is because people have left the city and some businesses have threatened to leave the city because of cost,” he said.
Gonzalez, an information technology director, said he thinks the city should consider consolidating some services with Frederick County.
Theo Theologis, the founder and president of Slones Real Estate and an independent challenging Republican incumbent Judith McCann-Slaughter for the Stonewall District seat on the Board of Supervisors, said he believes it is important to attract a wide range of businesses to the county because tax revenue generated by businesses will provide more funding for the county’s backlog of needs, and it will lessen the tax burden on county residents.
John Lamanna, who previously served on the Frederick County School Board in the Stonewall District, said he was a big proponent of previous programs the board instituted that allowed for apprenticeships.
Linda Martin, who is running against Lamanna and Diana Hackney for the Stonewall District seat on the school board, said area schools should be raising studentsto understand that they can be entrepreneurs.
Hackney said an educated community leads to a better community, which includes the business world. She also said that having options in the business world can lead to more employees finding a job that they enjoy.
Shawnee District School Board candidate Miles Adkins, who is running against David Stegmaier, Eric Reifinger and Rachel Hamman, praised local businesses and said “if we ran our schools like you run your small businesses, we’d be doing a lot better around here.”
Many candidates encouraged folks to vote early. Early voting for the Nov. 2 election began in Virginia on Sept. 17 and will continue through Oct. 30. Early votes can be cast at local election offices.