JMU College Republicans, in partnership with the Office of Civic Engagement, moderated a debate for the GOP candidates running for the 25th house district on Tuesday night. The candidates in attendance discussed several issues — including abortion, taxes, education and gun rights — as they vied for their party’s nomination for a rapidly approaching primary election.
As co-moderator and chairman of College Republicans, sophomore political science major Alexander Rodriguez introduced the candidates and explained their unique backgrounds. In attendance was Richard Fox, a fifth-generation farmer of Albemarle county, Marshall Pattie, an Augusta County supervisor and professor and Chris Runion, owner of a locally owned business in Rockingham County.
The first question of the night addressed each candidate’s motivation for running and what each one would bring to the General Assembly if elected, to which Chris Runion began the debate with his platform.
“I’m a product of the Valley. My values are developed from my lifetime here,” Runion said. “I believe in limited constitutional government, I believe in personal freedom and accountability, I believe in free enterprise and I believe in faith and family.”
The debate went on to discuss social issues such as the statewide concern of illegal immigration on which Rodriguez noted, “Virginia ranks 10th for states with the most illegal immigrants.”
The candidates collectively agreed on supporting citizenship as long as legal actions are taken. However, Fox expressed his concerns over the behavior of many of those individuals who, in addition to living in the Commonwealth illegally, are committing other crimes. He’s also unpleased by the lack of authorities’ efforts to deport those criminals.
“We’re dealing with this in Charlottesville where our jail board is thinking whether or not they want to report to ICE, and we’re talking about people who have been caught. They committed a crime in our community, and we don’t want to report them to ICE anymore?” Fox said.
Education was also a main topic of the night, ranging from college affordability to the Standard of Learning — or SOLs — in public school systems across Virginia. Fox continued with comments about the tuition of four-year colleges, explaining that students should only have to pay a set tuition price during their four years without worrying about an unaffordable tuition increase. SOLs also came under scrutiny, as Pattie expressed resentment and offered potential alternatives.
“The fundamental idea of SOLs is memorization,” Pattie said. “We live in a society where information is so accessible that memorizing facts and statistics doesn’t really matter. What we need to teach is creativity, we need to teach problem solving, we need to teach how to filter all the ridiculous stuff on the internet and try to figure out something like the truth.”
Toward the conclusion of the debate, the conversation turned to the economy — specifically the agricultural industry — given that the 25th house district comprises the agricultural areas of Albemarle, Augusta and Rockingham counties. All three candidates expressed strong support for farmers with reduced government involvement.
The candidates agreed that having a reduced government presence in the agricultural industry is crucial. However, Fox agrees the government still has the responsibility to be accessible to farmers who may need answers to basic questions like, for example, what their profit insurance is if they have a particularly bad crop yield in a given year.
“Right now, when you look at all the agriculture agents in the commonwealth, there are many counties where there is one extension agent for up to four counties,” Fox said. “So new farmers, the resources they’re seeking are extremely hard to get.”
Rodriguez ended the night by posing a question about the primary election, asking if the candidates would support whichever Republican wins the nomination. All of the candidates agreed they would. For Pattie, helping Republicans win in other districts would be a priority for him.
“I certainly will support any of the candidates that win here, but I'm more worried about other districts in the nearby areas,” Pattie said. “I would allow them to focus on this district and then help people out like Tony Wilt and help out people in northern Virginia and do some of the things I’ve been doing in the past as far as helping Republicans get elected and go to the areas in need.”
Contact Christian Lovallo at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.