The only Virginia legislator in modern times to be jailed on federal corruption charges once had a lock on the 93rd House of Delegates district, but it has since been the General Assembly's yo-yo seat.
Now, Del. Monty Mason, D-Williamsburg, hopes his high-energy style on issues ranging from seniors to pre-school to transit will break that pattern and win him re-election.
His challenger, Republican Lara Overy, has a life story she thinks will resonate. She worked her way through college as a single mom when her oldest daughter's father died shortly before her birth. She says she'd be more like the legislator Mason unseated in 2013, pushing the workforce development and business issues he did and with a better success rate than Mason has had.
Mason introduced 14 bills this year, including measures to make telephone fraud a felony with extra penalties when victims are elderly and directives to community colleges and the state veterans agency to do more help veterans make the transition into the civilian labor market.
"I don't think my opponent has been very effective," Overy said, noting that none of the bills Mason sponsored this session were enacted.
"My name may not be on a bill, but the things I ran on are in the Code of Virginia," Mason said.
Mason's community college bill was sidelined by Republican legislators who enacted a nearly identical bill sponsored by Del. David Ramadan, R-Loudoun. Mason was on the conference committee that negotiated the compromise that both House and Senate approved.
He and Del. David Yancey, R-Newport News, had identicial bills on recognizing military credentials, and when Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the measure into law, he made a point of handing one pen to Mason and one to Yancey to acknowledge both legislators' work on the issue. Mason's bill on extending the time period for emergency custody orders to give mental health workers more time to help people in a crisis was rolled into a similar bill sponsored by a Republican which passed.
Overy said she was particularly glad one of Mason's initiatives has gone nowhere. Mason has proposed gradually trimming the tax credit businesses and people get when they donate to a state-approved neighborhood organization from 65 percent of the money, property or services given to 50 percent.
"I work with a lot of nonprofits and I know how hard it is to raise money," said Overy, who is on the board of the Girl Scouts and the Virginia Symphony, and leads development efforts at Thomas Nelson Community College.
"This would make it so much harder," she said. "I think it shows he is out of touch."
Mason prides himself on being in touch. He spent much of the summer connecting College of William and Mary experts with Newport News city schools, seeking to tap federal grants, linking Thomas Nelson Community College with Fort Eustis to figure out ways to help employers recognize military skills and trying to get bus service to Lackey Free Clinic, so people needing services don't need to make the three-mile walk from the nearest stop in Lee Hall.
Both candidates have staked out issues that don't usually come up in the General Assembly.
Overy wants to concentrate on workforce training, including increasing resources for community colleges so they can get the technology, equipment and instructors for new programs that better meet employers' needs for skilled workers. She thinks the state needs to do a better job letting students know about those jobs, too.
For Mason, the needs of older Virginians are a focus. In addition to his telephone fraud bill — a subject he knows about from his work in fraud prevention for Visa — Mason wants to push for programs to help seniors get in-home services so they can keep out of nursing homes if they want, and supports efforts to give them breaks on property taxes.
Mass transit is another focus for Mason. He argued unsuccessfully for a budget amendment to set $1.9 million aside to study transit needs in Hampton and Newport News, particularly looking at potential rail systems.
Transit is an area where he says a legislator's work doesn't stop with the General Assembly session. He's proud of working with local officials, Hampton Roads Transit and Williamsburg Area Transport Authority to expand transit service. He is working on a proposal to provide direct bus transportation to Lackey Free Clinic.
On education, he wants to see an expansion of preschool programs, and he successfully worked to get a representative of Colonial Williamsburg on the Standards of Learning Commission.
Overy would like to see Virginia push forward on virtual schools, charter schools and merit pay for teachers, all measures she says Mason has opposed.
The district, which stretches from Williamsburg south to the Lee Hall area of Newport News and areas around the Kiln Creek area in the city and in York County, votes strongly Democratic in national and state elections, giving Sen. Mark Warner 55 percent of votes cast in 2014 and Gov. Terry McAuliffe 54 percent in 2013.
Turnout could be the key this November. Mason won by a margin of more than four percentage points in 2013 on an unusually heavy turnout of 33,000 voters.
Republican Mike Watson won with a nearly four-point margin in 2011 when, like this year, only General Assembly and local races on the ballot. That year, turnout was less than 16,000.
The district boundaries were redrawn for that election, to take in Williamsburg and to drop much of Denbigh and a swath of Newport News between Kiln Creek and Harpersville Road, after Democrat Robin Abbott defeated longtime incumbent Phil Hamilton after charges he used his office to secure a state job surfaced. Hamilton is now serving time on for violating federal corruption law.
Ress can be reached by telephone at 757-247-4535.
Occupation: Senior director at Visa Inc.
Education: B.A., College of William and Mary
Elected office: House of Delegates, 2014-present.
Family: Wife Pam; two daughters, 7 and 5.
Occupation: Director of development, Thomas Nelson Community College
Education: B.A., College of William and Mary
Elected office: First run
Family: Husband Rick; three children — a son, 23, and two daughters, 17 and 12.