A Democrat is running for the 96th District House of Delegates seat for the first time in a decade.
The incumbent, Del. Brenda Pogge, prides herself on being a conservative Republican. Her opponent, Yorktown native Kelly DeLucia, sees herself as a member of the resistance movement against President Donald Trump and those who align themselves with him. Although delegate seats are up for grabs every two years, Pogge has only faced a challenger twice: a Democrat in 2007 and an Independent in 2015. The district has consistently voted Republican for the past two decades.
For voters in the 96th District, which spans parts of James City and York counties, the choice will come down to whether they’re happy with the current state of affairs or eager for change.
DeLucia wants to set aside more funding for public schools, emphasizing the need for more and better paid educators, as well as other employees who help schools operate.
“Nobody wants to hear this, but we’ve got to find funds to adequately prepare our public schools,” she said. “It needs to run the gamut of all the people who make our public schools work.”
DeLucia praised the General Assembly’s efforts to direct more of the state’s lottery revenue to schools, but she wants to see even more funneled in that direction and sees opportunities to pull in money elsewhere.
As an example, she said there aren’t enough investigators making sure the state receives all the money owed to it. She wants to multiply the number of investigators who oversee details such as ensuring companies properly classify their workers as employees rather than independent contractors, which impacts how wages, overtime and record keeping are handled.
“Those are the types of common sense solutions that I look for,” DeLucia said. “I know there are no easy answers.”
Pogge, who serves as vice-chairwoman on the House Education Committee, is a proponent for alternative options to traditional public schooling.
“Charter schools are something that part of my side of the aisle have been pushing,” she said. “We’re looking at ways to reform. We’re looking at ways to bring education closer to the community and to the public.”
She also said House Bill 1578, the “Tebow bill,” which would allow home-schooled children to participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities, will likely be on the House’s agenda in some form.
DeLucia said she believes health care disparities among the states have a negative effect on the country as a whole. She thinks issues such as the overall health of the population are so broad, they should go to the federal government.
“We don’t want people choosing what state to live in because that’s the state where their child can live,” she said.
DeLucia also supports the idea of universal health care.
“I believe that everybody should have access to health care,” she said, comparing it to the mid 20th-century debate on Social Security. “We are going to get over the hump of making it a better program. I think when people look back they’re going to feel the same way about universal health care that they feel about Social Security.”
Pogge, a member of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee, emphasized the rising elderly population in James City County. In that vein, she praised loosened regulations for the state’s Certificate of Public Need program, but thinks more could be done regarding lingering red tape, which she said holds up investors.
“I’m very supportive of the eventual repeal (of the Affordable Health Care Act),” Pogge said, adding that it should be done slowly because many entities will need to restructure.
Pogge also said she supports medical marijuana and deregulating the state’s hemp industry, which can lead to using its oil for medicinal purposes and treatment of opioid addiction. It would also benefit farmers.
Colonial Williamsburg’s financial concerns made waves this summer, but neither candidate thinks it’s an issue at the forefront of most voters’ minds.
DeLucia acknowledged the organization’s significant impact in the 96th District, adding that steps should be taken to ensure it doesn’t fail, but that outside groups have historically not been much help. She also believes it’s important that most of Colonial Williamsburg remain open to the public.
Pogge said she doesn’t believe it’s up to taxpayers to subsidize bad business decisions, and she doesn’t think it’s something her counties are focusing on. But if it became the will of her district, she’s open to further discussion.
In the debate on whether Confederate monuments serve as archives of a complicated history or tributes to a racist ideology, the candidates offered opposing viewpoints.
“I feel that that’s a local issue,” said DeLucia, adding that it was an issue not on her radar until recently, calling that “a failure on my part.” She sees history as important, but that such statues belong in museums rather than public spaces. “I think that’s the proper context for that piece of history.”
Pogge said she would not consider sponsoring legislation to remove statues. Virginia code 15.2-1812 currently prohibits localities from removing monuments of any war or conflict once erected.
“I think it’s good to look at the mistakes of our past. It’s good to teach them to our children,” Pogge said. “Whether they’re celebrations is up to the beholder. It’s a testament to mistakes that America must own up to.”
Pogge raised $11,218.14 from July 1 to Aug. 31, according to her latest campaign finance report. She also received one large contribution this year of $1,000 from Hampton’s Pomoco on Oct. 3.
In the same period, DeLucia received $16,527 in contributions, with no large contributions to report. The Virginia Department of Elections classifies contributions of $1,000 or more as large for General Assembly candidates.
Pogge said she chooses to focus on asking for money at fundraising events and similar opportunities rather than asking people for money over the phone. She’s focused her money toward mail campaign efforts.
“I want people to be able to choose,” she said. “I’m a Christian. I trust in God.”
Pogge also emphasized that she doesn’t seek money from lobbyists.
“If I ask for money from lobbyists, then there might be a sense that I’m beholden to them,” she said.
DeLucia said she’s focused on earning grassroots support over that from businesses or other larger entities, with some donations coming in the form of in-kind support as people offer their services to help the campaign. She said volunteers and nonprofit groups are more important than simply raising money, something that she said would carry on if she’s elected.
“People spend so much time trying to raise money that they don’t have time left over to do the job they were hired to do,” she said.
The Democrat said she is focusing her efforts on going door-to-door and speaking with members of the community.
Why elect them?
Initially elected in 2007, Pogge offers experience with navigating the political climate in Richmond while serving on several committees, including the House Finance Committee and the Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee.
Pogge supports the Virginia Republican Creed. The party’s mantra values free enterprise, fiscal responsibility, constitutional limitations on the federal government and a strong national defense. It also sees faith in God as important.
“I see a moral decline across the spectrum,” Pogge said, pointing to the perceived normalization of cheating on exams and taxes alongside rampant government bribery as evidence.
Pogge emphasizes family values in what she calls the “deterioration of the family unit.” She is pro-life and in favor of foster care reform that offers better training for parents and improved background checks. She also aims to avoid raising taxes.
“Tax increases must be on necessities, not niceties,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that government is getting enough already.”
DeLucia offers a direct response to the election of Trump and the conservative direction in which the country is headed. Last November’s election sparked her interest in running for office.
“It made me fearful and it made me angry,” she said. “This is how I’m fighting back.”
Still, she acknowledges conservatives in the 96th are plentiful and said she’s adamant about reaching across the aisle.
“I’m not just going and talking to easy crowds,” she said, adding that she’s had her fair share of doors slammed in her face. But for DeLucia, that’s just a part of the political process. “You can almost always find common ground with folks. That’s my job.”
DeLucia lamented Virginia’s minimum wage laws lagging behind other parts of the country, and she doesn’t support the right-to-work law, which she called a right-to-fire law. She believes Virginia’s taxes also need reform.
“Virginia can’t stay stuck where it is with our current tax rates,” she said. “Our taxes have not kept in line with the needs of Virginians.”
DeLucia also doesn’t think the incumbent has proven effective during her tenure.
“Our incumbent isn’t really particularly known for anything,” she said. “I’ve already demonstrated in the last seven months that I can outperform the person who’s already in the position. I don’t think people are thrilled with her job performance, even the ones who voted to hire her.”
About the candidates
Family: Husband Roger and five children
Education: Alpha College of Real Estate
Work: Retired realtor
Age: Declined to give age.
Family: Wife Dee and twin sons
College: Bachelor’s of science in public administration specializing in environmental science from Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs
At this time, Pogge has not agreed to attend a League of Women Voters forum or any other debate with DeLucia, who said she is open to any such public discussion.
Birkenmeyer can be reached by phone at 757-790-3029.