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Candidates distinguish differences at Chamber forum

Candidates distinguish differences at Chamber forum

By Jeff Poole

Editor

On Nov. 2, Orange County voters will choose their representatives for three seats on the board of supervisors and two seats on the school board. Only the District 3 Supervisor seat (in a special election) and the District 4 School Board seat are contested.

Last week, candidates for those two seats, as well as the 30th District House of Delegates’ seat, had an opportunity to articulate their vision, answer voter questions and make their pitches for election during the Orange County Chamber of Commerce candidate forum.

The forum was held before dozens of citizens at Lafayette Station on Route 20 in Rhoadesville and broadcast on Facebook Live to voters viewing remotely.

Current chamber president Donna Waugh-Robinson and president-elect Judi Cooper, joined moderator William Torrico, a Locust Grove attorney, in screening and compiling the questions for the seven participating candidates: challengers Donald Brooks and Ellen Pitera, and incumbent Keith Marshall for District 3 Supervisor; challenger Chelsea Quintern and incumbent Bette Winter for District 4 School Board; and challenger Annette Hyde and incumbent Nick Freitas for 30th District Delegate.

Those running unopposed—for District 1 Supervisor, incumbent Mark Johnson, District 4 Supervisor, incumbent Jim Crozier, and District 1 School Board candidate, Melissa Anderson—also were invited to participate, but did not attend. Crozier sent a brief statement thanking the chamber and the voters of District 4.

It was the second candidate forum in less than two weeks for the county candidates, who participated in the election season’s first community campaign forum—a virtual event hosted by the Orange Branch NAACP 10 days earlier. While that event offered the candidates an opportunity to respond to pre-submitted questions and introduce themselves to voters, Thursday’s forum helped further distinguish the candidates from one another through voter-submitted questions.

Among the District 3 Supervisor candidates, common themes included partisan politics, solar farms and economic growth, coronavirus vaccinations and mandates and a county career and technical education center, among other topics.

School board candidates discussed busing challenges—particularly those at the opening of the new school year—masks and vaccines, radical agendas in school curriculum, school board meeting times and high school overcrowding.

At the state level, the candidates tackled topics ranging from marijuana use and legalization, to bi-partisan legislative efforts, to COVID-related health and safety measures, to gun safety and critical race theory.

District 3 Board of Supervisors

Three candidates are running in a special election for the District 3 Supervisor seat following the 2020 death of four-term supervisor Teel Goodwin. In January, the board solicited applications for an interim supervisor until the Nov. 2 election could be held. Five applications were submitted, with the board choosing Unionville dairy farmer Keith Marshall. Two other applicants, Orange County Planning Commission Chair Donald Brooks and Orange Elementary School teacher Ellen Pitera, later declared their candidacy to fill the balance of Goodwin’s term (expiring in 2023), as did Marshall.

Each candidate was offered an opportunity to introduce themselves and their campaigns to the voters.

Brooks cited a legacy of community involvement—from years working in Orange County Public Schools, to 25 years as a sheriff’s deputy and currently on the Orange County Planning Commission.

“If you know anything about Orange County, you’ve almost got to know Donald Brooks,” he said. “I’m a man of integrity and character. Mr. Goodwin appointed me to represent District 3 on the planning commission and I’m in my second term as chair. The planning commission is the vetting seat for the things that hit the board.”

He then attempted to get ahead of a couple of questions that would come up later.

“This is not a national or state election. It goes to the local policies, ordinances and procedures that we follow. Let’s not tie in the election at the local level to national elections,” he said. “I got accused of being liberal. Check my votes from the last 12 years on the planning commission. Tell me which vote that was. I don’t think it’s there. We don’t go that way in local elections. You can’t just take up words that sound good to a political party and place them on a local election. They don’t belong there. Orange County is not there, it’s better than that.”

Marshall noted his family has been in the county three generations and he’s been in business for more than 40 years.

He said he is running to give back to the community.

“Orange has been good to my family and myself. The board of supervisors and Mr. Goodwin, have done a great job of putting a good foundation under this board and this county and put it on the right track. I want to help maintain that foundation and the track record they’ve set. I’ve been here all my life. I went to school here and my kids went to school here. This is an opportunity to give back to the community.”

Pitera said she’s a third-generation Orange County resident raising the fourth generation to love and cherish Orange as she has. She teaches art at Orange Elementary School and, with her husband, operates Rounton Farm in Orange.

“I’m also ready to give back to my community and what I hear our community saying is they’re ready for a new leader to take on this position—somebody with fresh ideas,” she said. “My three goals, if elected: education, mainly the CTE program and getting a state-of-the-art facility; preserving the rural character of our county and small town living we all enjoy; and communication, engaging our citizens in a way that’s relevant for them.”

The first question, and several others shared a similar theme regarding running a clean campaign and, later, partisan politics.

Torrico asked: “Are you willing to promise to run a clean and honest campaign, not make false accusations or call your opponents names?”

Brooks

“Absolutely. There’s no room for that in Orange County or anywhere. Let’s talk facts.”

Pitera

“I agree. Orange County is way too small to be mudslinging or throwing people under the bus. We’re a small community with small town values. The most important thing we’re doing is working together to find solutions to common goals.”

Marshall

“I agree, but I would not confuse name calling with philosophical differences on our views and track records and how we view the course of Orange County. That will put a burden on how you decide to vote based on their views and how that transitions to the course of action for Orange County.”

That question was followed by this one: What are your thoughts on the time-honored position of keeping the board of supervisors non-partisan?

Pitera

“The tradition of the board of supervisors is it’s a non-partisan position. The person in that position needs to be representing everyone’s interests and the best interests of Orange County. I am that person. I am a wonderful communicator and who can listen to what your issues are and what you care about. I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican, Independent or Libertarian; I’m here to listen and work for you to make Orange County a better place.”

Marshall

“In my current position with the board of supervisors, it’s not partisan, so I don’t see that being a problem.”

Brooks

“We don’t need bickering along party lines. We need to work for the people of Orange County.”

Later, another question circled back to the topic and was specifically address to Marshall. Torrico, who noted he was combining a couple of questions, asked, “An earlier question tonight dealt with the board of supervisors remaining nonpartisan. If that’s also your position, are you currently running a nonpartisan campaign? If so, why is your name on the sample Republican ballot, and why are there Facebook posts where you call your opponents liberals?”

Marshall

“First, I am not on the Republican ballot. I have not pursued the Republican Party. Second, having liberal views and being called a liberal is not quite the same. I have conservative views. I’m a rural, mainstream conservative.”

Brooks and Pitera were also given a chance to respond.

Brooks

“I’m very conservative, also, but let’s talk about what conservative is. Look at most of the decisions I’ve made on the planning commission That’s where you can really figure it out. I’m conservative. I’m a Christian. I have family values. I have a wife and grandchildren, those are conservative issues. And there’s nothing liberal in Orange County to vote for. If so, let me know. I don’t know anything liberal. I am a conservative person.”

Pitera

“What Orange County needs is somebody who can represent everybody, I’ve said this again and again. And what I’ve heard from the hundreds of people who I’ve been talking to over the last seven months, is they want somebody they can talk to no matter what the issue is. When I look at a crowd like this, or when I think about what I’m teaching, or when I’m doing my wedding events and camps and things like that, and I’m talking to adults, I don’t see red Republicans, I don’t see blue Democrats, I see Orange County.”

What is your position on solar factories and solar farms?

Marshall

“We voted on one recently and I voted against it because they’re not going to provide any land use tax revenue. If you’re not going to increase the tax base in Orange County, you’re not going to get to first base. In large scale farms, there are a lot of challenges and I don’t think we’ve fully looked at them to see if they’re a merit to this county. If you’re not going to come in here, pay your taxes and add to the comprehensive plan, with value added to our tax base, I’m pretty much not going to consider it to start with.”

Pitera

“The Clean Energy Act says by 2045 we are supposed to have100% clean energy and we need to take that seriously even in Orange County by finding a balanced approach to creating clean energy. I would not like to see thousands of acres of Orange County farmland turned into solar farms or plants, but I would like to see Orange County being a leader in creating solar industrial sites where we’d like to have them—on top of capped landfills? On top of school buildings? The schools have done an incredible job with solar. I’d like our farmers to have a choice. It is a good stream of income, but we need some ordinances and a plan so when a person with a lot of land comes with a special use permit for a solar farm, we need some guidance and here’s what we want from you so it ties in with rural character of Orange County. We need solar, but we need to keep it under our control.”

Brooks

“I voted for the solar farm proposed, but we changed a lot of the proposal applicant gave us. We got more buffering. We got more bang for our buck. Solar farms do not make a lot of money for Orange County. You’ve got to remember property rights. That farmer owned that land. He asked for them to come in. I’m not for solar all over the county, but things are coming. What I’ll work toward is a framework, an ordinance, a template. Solar got here before Orange County was ready. We have to move a little faster. If you don’t have all the info and criteria and regulations, you end up getting something you don’t want. Before I voted for it, I talked to the Farm Bureau. I talked with the citizens in the neighborhood. I didn’t get a ‘nay” and that’s why I voted for it.”

Building on that question, the candidates were asked how they’d encourage economic growth in all of Orange County?

Brooks cited the importance of broadband access for Orange County schools and businesses.

“That’s going to be our biggest economic growth model. Businesses don’t come to your locality without internet. We have the Greater Wilderness Area Plan (GWAP) to pull folks into Orange County. We’ve got to have rooftops for those businesses to come. They’ve got to know there’s a workforce before they come. What do they need? Internet. Fast internet. We also need proper planning and zoning.”

Pitera agreed and said the county needed broadband access for everyone. She also cited continued county support of the economic development authority as well as cultivating mentorship programs to support and grow new businesses.

Marshall said the key to bringing good jobs to the county was not rooftops, but qualified workers with the skillsets businesses are looking for. He said the county needs to build up its career and technical education program to provide qualified workers for prospective businesses.

A later question asked the candidates if they’d support a bond referendum to construct a new career and technical education (CTE) center?

Marshall

“Absolutely. I think we’re in great need of this. I don’t think there’s anything better that we can do for Orange County, than providing this type of vocational education. Not all these kids are destined to go to college, but we can put them on a great career path. We can give them good jobs, we can encourage and foster businesses to come to Orange if we can implement this type of institution. It’s time. It’s time to get it done. We’ve been talking about this for 40 years. It’s time we do it.”

Pitera

“I agree. I’m happy to go along with a bond so we can have a cutting edge CTE facility in Orange County. We already have amazing teachers, teaching a variety of courses that are cutting edge and these kids are getting an incredible education. They just need a facility to go along with it. We are training these students, and putting them out in community with these skills, that that’s just going to attract businesses to our communities. So yes.”

Brooks

Brooks agreed, and noted his daughter currently teaches in the schools’ CTE program and his children participated in the DECA program at Orange County High School, which prepares future leaders and entrepreneurs. He said he fully supported the county CTE program and would be the first one to vote for bonds for a new CTE facility.

The candidates were then asked if they supported Orange County as a Second Amendment sanctuary?

Marshall

“Absolutely.”

Pitera

“I have a unique perspective on guns. On our farm, we use guns for protection, recreation, as well as our business. We have people come to take hunting classes or go on different hunts. I’m also a school teacher. I’m professionally trained to protect children if one of these guns gets in the wrong hands. I can speak to both sides. Do we need to be a Second Amendment sanctuary? That’s a conversation that needs to happen. Owning your gun and protecting your gun is something that is sacred and protecting children from that is also sacred, so there’s got to be common ground.”

Brooks

“The quick answer is yes, but… public safety in Orange County is okay. I have 22 guns. My wife says I have too many. I’m all about guns. But to come up and make a sanctuary, because it’s politically advantageous, let’s go beyond that and look at what we can do to make things safer. What does it mean? What are we going to do to protect the rights? How far does it go? It’s easy to say things. It’s harder to do things.”

Torrico and the moderators received a number of questions dealing with vaccine mandates which they consolidated into whether or not it’s ever appropriate for the government to require health care mandates for citizens to have access to services or venues?

Pitera

“I’ll start with vaccinations on a school level and mask wearing. These mandates are coming down from the state. So at a local level, we just have to listen and go along with it. I’m mandated to wear a mask in front of my students and I’m actually happy to do it, particularly if wearing a mask helps even one of my students. I have 570 that I teach. I’m happy to do the same thing in the community. I do think the government is getting into slippery waters when they’re requiring vaccinations. And they’re not giving people an option of other things in terms of testing. So I think it’s something that offers a conversation on how to handle it in individual circumstances. I think in terms of a local level, Orange County is best when we’re helping each other. That’s just what we do.”

Brooks

“This is a government state-mandated issue. It’s not a local issue, which I would never want the board of supervisors to make anyone do anything that they didn’t want to do. You have your choices; you make them. Now, if it comes to, well, it’s a requirement for this job to do this what are the supervisors going to do? You have two choices, you either do what the law says or you break the law. Stop bringing those federal and state things down to here. That’s all we can do.”

Marshall

“I personally understand the challenges that COVID has brought upon our society. I had COVID in the spring. I understand the issues, the dynamics have changed the way we live, work, our school systems. The bottom line is I feel personal health is personal choice. I’m not a big fan of mandates, or other people making decisions. I think we’re in better control of our livelihoods when we make that decision. And I would leave it up to the parents to make decisions for the kids., not somebody in Richmond.”

In combining another group of questions, the moderators asked the candidates what the most pressing issue was in Orange County, how they proposed to address it and how they planned to communicate with their constituents.

Marshall

“Having grown up in Orange, I think I have a pretty good idea of the values of Orange County, the people of Orange County, their needs and desires. And also where our future’s going to be. I am a firm believer in our comprehensive plan that we maintain as much rural character as possible and designate certain areas for growth. I feel that that growth has to be maintained, kept in balance. We don’t want exponential growth that is unmanaged. We have to guarantee our tax dollars are balanced out, not just with how many homes we can build but also the number of business we can bring in.”

He cited his priorities on the board, in order, as: public safety, efficient government that does not intrude on personal liberties, helping those in need in the community, and events that bring the community together.

“Broadband can be a big part of that. We need the CTE program to encourage our youth to find a better career path. I think sports is a big part of our community. And we need to do what we can grow our facilities in that area, anything that we can do to bring this community together, I think that’s hugely important. And I want to be a part of that as well.”

Pitera

“Our biggest pressing issue goes along with our greatest asset in the community, and that is our children. So what we’re doing in education and for our children, to me, will be the top of my list as I proceed as a supervisor.”

She cited two issues related to education—notably a cutting-edge CTE facility, as well as a mentorship program between local businesses and students in the CTE program to give them the skills that they need.

“In terms of communication, well, I’m communicating with District 3 constituents on Facebook, on Instagram, over email, on a website and I’m out there talking to people and knowing exactly what they care about.”

Brooks

Brooks said he was for public safety and for economic growth and referred to his record of community service.

“We’re unique in some ways, but we’re directly connected in other ways,” he said, noting the county needs strong broadband and education programs. “We talked about the CTE and a bond, but we can’t just talk about it, we need to be about it. We need collaboration between the citizens, public, private partnerships.”

In terms of communicating with constituents, Brooks said he’d introduce a program to appoint two citizen advisors (to one-year terms) from each district to help communicate constituent concerns to supervisors, noting that few citizens regularly participate in local meetings.

In their closing statements, Pitera said she’s consistently heard the same thing from a range of constituents—that they are ready for a new face on the board of supervisors. She said that wasn’t a criticism of the current board, but that the citizens are ready for “fresh leadership. I’m here to provide that. I’m here to listen to citizens on both sides of the aisle on all kinds of issues. And I’m ready to get down and work hard for solutions that are facing Orange County citizens.”

Marshall suggested he was the right person at the right time to be the District 3 Supervisor. “It’s one thing to sit here and tell you we want to do this, but to actually get it done, implement it, build it is a different thing. The CTE issue’s been talked about 40 years; it hasn’t happened. I believe I’m the right person at the right time to get this done. I know how to build things. I think I have the skill set to get this done with the members of the board and school board and community. I want to protect the rural character of this community.”

Brooks again cited his legacy of community involvement and service. “I didn’t just start helping Orange County. You have to be a person of your word. Check what I’ve done for Orange County. I’m all for suitable growth. I’m all for economic growth. I’m all for education.”

District 4 School Board

The two school board candidates were asked a mix of questions centering on hyper-local issues (first-day-of-school transportation problems, high school overcrowding) as well as larger community and educational issues (masks and vaccine mandates, critical race theory).

In her opening remarks, Quintern said she lives in Locust Grove and has two children in Orange County schools. She said she’s excited to use her skills and experience to contribute toward creating greater opportunities for the schools and said parents in her district can rely on her to stand up for them.

Winter, seeking her third term on the board, said all three of her children had gone through the Orange County school system and during her time on the board, had hired two superintendents, supported salary increases for teachers and staff and voted to eliminate pay-to-play athletics within the schools.

Torrico’s first question to the candidates asked about the transportation challenges the schools faced at the beginning of the school year, and what the school board could do to alleviate the shortage of school bus drivers?

Winter

“I’ve lived through many first weeks of school and there are always growing pains. Sometimes, on the first day of school, students may have been an hour on the bus, with new bus drivers figuring out the routes. There are a lot of growing pains in the first week. The day before the first day of school, we had over 200 parents change the pick-up or drop-off for their children. I’m not sure parents really understand the ripple effect that has in transportation and throughout the school system. Then it was confusing and it was hot and everyone has to wear a bloody mask and you can’t sit next to each other, don’t breathe, don’t talk. Yeah, it was a bit of a nightmare and when I heard about it, I had a lot of feelings about it. People told this is the law, this is the mandate…It was a bit of a mess… I will admit it. What I would do about it? I’d ask parents to get the information about their children much earlier than that day. It doesn’t work. It clogs the system and just makes it harder… that’s probably all I’ll say about that.”

Quintern

I agree with Ms. Winter; it was a total disaster and just goes to show the reactive nature vs. proactivity. I don’t think it’s fair to blame the parents, but understand strict policies should be in place in terms of what can and can’t be done. It’s a big hurdle to covercome when kids are on the bus for two hours. With having multiple children lost, on top of poor communication, not allowing bus drivers an opportunity to practice their routes or having a solid roster of whose going to be on the buses also contributed to the difficulty experienced. I believe the administration needs to be better prepared. If it’s not safe, all these things contribute to a much larger issue. My recommendation is to have a bus tracker, so parents can track their children. Better communication, planning and resources.”

And as for the bus driver shortage?

Quintern

“It’s not just a huge issue in Orange County, but across Virginia and the nation. Bus drivers are undervalued, underpaid and that contributes to the feeling it’s not a worthwhile job. This job is so important because it helps our children get to school and alleviates the transportation issues of working parents.”

She said school transportation issues create another stressor on parents and the schools need to look at what they can do to recruit and retain bus drivers, while empowering them to have the school board hear their voices to help relieve the stress of not having enough bus drivers.

Winter

“There’s a shortage of applicants. Covid has blown everything up. Schools closed. Society closed. As we started opening back up, we’ve had some people apply, but they had to go to the DMV, get their CDL, train, it’s a very long process. The DMV said it was six months before they can get anyone in… We offer our bus drivers health insurance, which a lot don’t offer. We gave raises across the board, including bus drivers and, in a lot of counties, that’s not the case. We have made our bus driving system so they can work as much as they want. I’m always up for making salaries competitive. I feel our plan is pretty comparable. It’s just a tough time.”

The candidates were then asked how they feel about vaccines and mask mandates?

Quintern

“My stance on pretty much every matter is you have a personal decision. You have a personal decision of what goes into or onto your body. With respect to private businesses, they can decide who can and cannot go and I have the decision to enter into that business or not. With public education there’s a difference and forcing students and not having the ability to give options is a detriment to our children. As for vaccines, teachers should be able to keep their job and decide what’s best for them. We are not doctors or health professionals; we do not have the ability to mandate what’s best for you. Only parents can do that and decide what’s best for children.”

Winter

“As a parent, and if I was someone who still had children in school, I’d want a choice about what protocols my children would or wouldn’t adhere to. Personal choice is where I stand on this. I also support our superintendent and his decision about the way we’ve gone about things—the governor’s mandate that said whatever the CDC guidelines says. Our superintendent didn’t really have a choice. We will open schools, but everyone will wear a mask. He takes the position it’s better to have children in school under mandates, rather than have schools closed and I support him in that decision.”

Quintern was given a chance to respond.

“With the mandates the governor instituted, he didn’t fully understand what Senate Bill 1303 was saying. I provided that definition to the school board and most of the school didn’t listen to us or me with regard to what that mandate is. The current mandate from the CDC is a recommendation, but it’s not law or a requirement. A recommendation is something you may or may not follow. I intend to go in and establish with the governor that the constitution of Virginia provides school boards the ability to mandate what goes on in their schools, not the governor.”

The next question was directed toward Quintern, when Torrico read a voter-submitted questions that said a flyer mailed out by Quintern’s campaign including a reference to keeping radical agendas out of our schools. Please give an example of radical agenda you see in our schools?

Quintern

“I’ve done my own research about what the Virginia Department of Education has put out. One standard is social, emotional learning and that is required as part of education and a requirement of every aspect of your education. It belongs in math, it belongs in science, it belongs in history, in English… No, critical race theory isn’t in our schools, but social emotional learning is. And social emotional learning is sugar-coated CRT. So if you’re going into our schools and teaching someone who’s a minority that they’re not as good as someone of Caucasian descent, you’re not affording that child the same opportunity because you’re pushing them down and not allowing them to be the best they can be. We need to empower our students and take away this nonsense that you can’t be as good as this person because of the color of your skin. That is discrimination and that is not okay. Racism should not have any input on our school system and if we’re discriminating any of our kids based on the color of their skin that’s racism and it doesn’t have any point in our schools.”

Winter

“Our school board chair said she was at a state meeting today that has confirmed or made it clear that CRT is not being taught in Virginia public schools. I haven’t seen it and I’ve been in a lot of classrooms.”

Coming off a year of virtual school, there’s been a definite shift in the learning environment. What resources do you envision to help teachers support their students and how would you help maintain the mental health of our teachers?

Winter

“Ideally, we’d get back to normal and get back to school and teach. Let kids learn and let kids be kids and teachers be teachers. I’m not sure I quite understand the question. We’re trying to make the best of a bad situation. It does not surprise me that some people may find education is not the career for them. This has been a lifechanging event for all of us. Students, teachers, the administration, the parents. For us, as Americans, it’s been a nightmare. I’m not sure how to answer. I feel we’re doing the best we possibly can. The question is being asked in a way that assumes this environment is going to continue. I can’t answer that because it’s not always going to be. We know how to teach and let’s just get past the pandemic.”

Quintern

“The last year and a half has been extremely difficult for students, teachers and parents. I know the people in the decision making process have been thrown a lot of different mandates and what’s required, what’s not, what does the law mean? I’ve been looking into what the letter of the law allows and the freedoms and rights of the school board, and figuring out how to empower the teachers and create some sort of normalcy. If that’s a certain number of students who are virtual, have a virtual teacher so there’s not a back-and-forth, back-and forth, there’s a schedule, there’s a regiment. But parents who want their children in school should be able to have that and learn in a traditional manner should have that. We need to look at what are the needs of the school and teachers and think outside the box. There are a lot of opportunities for us to be creative.”

Overcrowding has been an issue at the high school for years? What’s your position on the construction of a new high school?

Quintern

“It’s no secret there’s overcrowding and it’s going to get worse. There’s a current plan the Wilderness Area Plan, that they’re looking at to bring in more houses and businesses but the income is coming. We need to be better prepared and understand what is it going to look like in 10 years? It’s not an overnight thing. It’s going to involve a lot of planning to provide the same level of education at both ends of the county. What’s the future going to look like, how many students do we prepare for and set aside funds? We need to be looking at that and start planning for it now. With the need of the CTE and a new school, we need these things.”

Winter

“Would I like to have a new high school at the eastern end of the county? Absolutely. Would I like it to be able to offer everything our current high school has and more? Absolutely. It’s not in the cards at this point in time. We’ve tried to improve what is offered at our current high school so students are exposed to all kinds of different experiences so they can consider what they’d like to pursue as they get older. Building a CTE center, if done right, will alleviate some of the overcrowding at OCHS. Personally, I feel a CTE is a greater priority than another high school. Some children on the other end of the county have a longer bus ride than we do. If we get a CTE up and going, that will help alleviate the overcrowding and provide greater experiences and certifications.”

In their closing remarks, Winter said she was looking forward to supporting the school administration, staff and community of Orange County in her third term on the school board.

Quintern said there was a lot of work in front of the board and changes that are needed. “We need to have people in there willing to fight and go against what’s being forced, including curriculum, budgets, mandates and laws. Where are our freedoms? We’re here to protect the freedoms for our parents. They set the foundation for their children. The school system is here to grow on what the parents have established. School doesn’t end at school. Children are constantly learning. We need to empower parents and give them the freedom of choice and give them back the power.”

30th District House of Delegates

The two delegate candidates were the first ones to speak and in their opening statements cast different approaches to representing the 30th District, which includes all of Orange and Madison and part of Culpeper counties.

Freitas, who is seeking his fourth term in the House of Delegates, said he felt he’s achieved a number of worthwhile things during his six years of service in Richmond, including passing legislation to provide greater transparency, particularly in relation to government spending, work ith the veteran services board and reducing governmental regulations on small businesses.

“We’ve fought for second amendment rights, but unfortunately, due to the current makeup of the general assembly, that’s becoming a much more hostile issue,” he said. “I think we’re also still trying to fight right now to make sure people still have the opportunity to live their lives the way they want, to run their businesses, to raise their families and educate their children the way they want. Unfortunately, there are some very different philosophical discussions going on as to what that looks like. Personally, I don’t want to micromanage people’s lives. I want you to be free to make as many of the decisions you want as possible. I think government is there to protect your rights, property, ensure free markets. The more government intervenes in things it was never intended to do, not only does it strip away liberty from individuals, but also creates an environment where we don’t have as strong an economy or education system.”

Hyde, a volunteer activist and yoga teacher from Madison County, said she’s running because “it’s time we have a representative that works for rural Virginia’s best interest and, more importantly, believes in the government we are a part of. Rural Virginia matters, and our district needs someone who will fight for what it deserves.”

She’s a founding member of the Culpeper, Madison and Orange chapter of Moms Demand Action and volunteers with the Virginia Department of Health’s Medical Reserve Corps. She has served on the Virginia Career Works Piedmont Workforce Development Board and on the state rehabilitation council for the blind and visually impaired. She said her family has lived in Virginia for more than 30 years and moved to Madison County permanently in 2016.

What would you do to work across the aisle, are you willing to cooperate with the other party?

Hyde

“We’re not getting anything done being divided. Two years ago, I ran against one of the most powerful senators in Virginia, Emmett Hanger, because he hadn’t had a general election opponent in 12 years. I ran a campaign that was focused on the issues. And I now consider senator Hanger a friend. We’re not going to get anything done in the General Assembly unless we work across the aisle. I am fully ready and able and ready to go to work with my fellow Republican delegates in order to move this Commonwealth forward.”

Freitas

“I’ve had the opportunity to work with several of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. And the thing that I always go back to is I never asked one of my colleagues who disagrees with me to vote in a certain way that I think will violate their conscience. And I insist that they do the same, and show me the same respect,” he said citing instances where he’s worked with various Democratic delegates on a number of bills. “I think you can always find ways to work with people. If you stand by your word, you can work with anyone. You can disagree with them 99% of the time, but you can still work on the 1% if you stand by your word.”

Candidates were asked if its ever appropriate for government to require health measures in order for citizens to have access to services or venues?

Freitas

“I think that’s something we have to be incredibly careful about. I have a lot of concern right now with the federal mandates that are coming out, we’re Joe Biden essentially told up to 100 million workers that they could potentially lose their job if they don’t get a vaccine. I think that goes way outside of the purview of the federal government.”

He also said he’s “opposed to the idea of the government essentially telling somebody whether or not they’re going to be able to operate a business, restricting their choices with respect to education, not providing them alternatives, but then demanding that they subject their children to something they might not be comfortable with. So, the question is, where should the power lay and I side with putting the power in the hands of individuals to make their own healthcare decisions as opposed to government compelling you to do so or punishing you if you refuse or putting you in an economically untenable situation to where essentially you have to choose between your job and what the government is mandating. I just put far more faith in people than I do in a government bureaucracy to make the right decision in those places.”

Hyde

“There are laws on the books that require our schools and large employers to follow CDC guidelines. I want us to take every precaution to keep our community safe from this pandemic. We’re seeing reports every day that hospitals are at the breaking point of their capacity. As a community, we can work together to ensure hospitals are able to serve everyone, and are not hindered by large influxes of COVID patients. I think that vaccines are great, and everyone who is eligible should get them. As far as the federal mandate when a business is engaged in interstate commerce that falls under federal regulations for Virginia businesses, I think they should follow CDC guidelines and keep their employees and patients safe. But I’ve got no intention of introducing legislation to force them to do so.”

School shootings are on the rise. What plans did you have for better gun control laws to keep our children safe?

Freitas

“ I think the question assumes the premise which is to say that if we put in more gun control laws, which are presumably going to affect citizens that have never done anything wrong, that somehow that will make our children safer. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe that people have an inherent right to be able to defend themselves. Now when it comes to somebody that has violated the law, especially someone who has acted violently, we have laws on the books…we just need to enforce them properly. That would significantly reduce the problems. Now when it goes to school security… when somebody decides that they’re going to go into a gun-free zone and start hurting innocent people because they think they won’t be able to defend themselves, that poses a problem. But if they know that there are going to be school resource officers, that there’s going to be processes in place to where children can be protected, it disincentivises that sort of perverse behavior. So I don’t think the solution is going to be found in punishing like the General Assembly attempted to do last year where it could have put you in jail for up to a year for each 15-round magazine or put you in jail when you get an AR-15. I don’t think that’s making our schools safer. I think what we need to do is actually be having strict punishments for people that engage in violent acts against the innocent.”

Hyde

“I support the Second Amendment and I support the common sense gun safety laws that were passed in the General Assembly, one of those laws that was passed, was making it a first-degree misdemeanor instead of a third-degree misdemeanor if an unsecure loaded firearm was left within reach of a minor, 14 years of age and younger. If you leave an unsecured firearm around in your house and you have a child that uses it. Since that child is not 18 years old, you’re responsible for that child using that gun. And you should face jail time. I want to regulate ghost guns that are popular with criminals. We also need to ensure that domestic violence offenders are never able to obtain firearms. That’s why extreme risk protection orders are so important. So many gun violence victims are women at the hands of abusive partners. It’s time to finally address this long standing trend.”

How do you define critical race theory? And do you believe it belongs in the curriculum of our public schools?

Hyde

“First of all, critical race theory is not being taught in our public schools.

We shouldn’t censor history classes, because it’s uncomfortable. What I will not do is allow some members of this Commonwealth to weaponize, twist and falsify this issue so that it fits the needs of the deflectionary and dishonest politics. All students should learn from multiple viewpoints so the mistakes of the past won’t be repeated in future parents who trust their children to be smart, and strong enough to learn about what the world really is… All children, no matter the color of their skin, their zip code, their gender, their sexual orientation should be respected and feel safe in ours. And I believe that teachers need to teach history, the truth—not just the things that are comfortable. Most of our children can handle that.”

Freitas

“So you heard it, ‘critical race theory is not being taught within our public schools.’ So let me go ahead and see if I can find a resource that will confirm or deny whether or not that is so. How about the Virginia Department of Education website?”

He then listed a variety of support materials and said all teachers, as part of their licensure, are required to go through anti-racist teaching training. “We have this one from the Smithsonian: United States systems of oppression, like systematic racism are woven into the very foundation of American culture, society and models. We have another site where it says without critical race theory, there would be no raising race-conscious children. So this idea that it’s not being taught in our schools, let me tell you what they mean by that. What they mean is that there will be nothing on your child’s syllabus that says CRT 101. Instead, what will happen is they’ll do what they’re doing in Virginia, they’re making this training a requirement for your teachers in order to get their license or renew their license. And so we will end up having a CRT not being taught like a theory competing with other theories, we’ll have a CRT being a lens through which your teacher teaches your child any subject. And quite frankly, I can’t think of a more abusive way to teach children then to tell them the moment they walk into the classroom, and they are part of an oppressor or press class based on their skin color… So when the Virginia Department of Education has this on their site, don’t tell me it’s not going into our schools.”

Given a chance to offer closing statements, the two candidates summed up their campaigns with remarks that echoed their opening remarks and their answers to the questions submitted.

Hyde

“No matter your race, economic standing, urban or rural, the General Assembly should be concerned about your ability to thrive and succeed. You’ve heard where I stand on these issues and how I want to make all of our lives better. Our Commonwealth was built on rural Virginia, and our voices must be heard. I need your help to make it a reality. We’re here because our rural communities deserve a better tomorrow. Join me so I can bring your voices to Richmond and make them part of every bill that passes before me.”

Freitas

One thing I can tell you is that regardless of who wins the election, you’re going to have somebody that really cares about the 30th District, but this is really a decision between two very different philosophies with respect to the role of government. And that’s ultimately the decision that you get to make. That’s why we have elections. I put a great deal of faith in individuals to be able to make decisions for themselves and their families for their communities. I think when people operate in voluntary cooperation, we get a lot better results than when we have decisions made for us. That’s why I’m skeptical and that’s why I continue to fight as I have for the past six years. And one thing I can say proudly is that, like it or not, I have definitely stood by what I said I would do when I got to Richmond with respect to the values that I believe in. I hope those values are representative of the people that are sending me there because my job is representing everyone in my district.”

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