Experience should carry the day in local elections

There is an old saw that all politics are local. That was never more true than this election season, when the top of the ticket stops with the governor’s chair.

The Virginia Gazette has long endorsed candidates seeking election to public office, and we do so again today.

Over the years, we have strived to endorse candidates based on the candidate’s positions, not party affiliation. Our position has been that we are placing the well-being of our community in the hands of hard-working citizens, not a political party.

That remains our position today.

These are our choice of candidates. We understand that others possessed with the same information may come to different conclusions; so the democratic process goes.

JCC Board of Supervisors

Election time means the Board of Supervisors is again at a crossroads: choose members who will continue to do the good, hard work of improving the county based on the strategic plan we all had an opportunity to participate in developing, or go back to figuring out ways to roll back the 2015 property tax increase that has made the county a cleaner, safer, more fiscally sound place to live and work.

Two of the five seats on the Board of Supervisors are being contested this year, and those elected will serve four-year terms.

Powhatan District: Michael Hipple

The Powhatan District election is a contest between Michael Hipple, a builder and incumbent who does his homework and is transparent in his decision making, and Richard Swanenburg, a former Realtor turned contractor who says he’s attended meetings for years and thinks its “time he had a shot at it.”

The Republican Committee rescinded Hipple’s membership back in January because he failed to re-up on time. So, he is running as an independent, which speaks to the heart of how he has managed the people’s business over the past four years.

He has failed to bow to party on the real estate tax increase, funding the fourth middle school, water options, staggered versus fixed terms and when meetings should start. In all areas, he has done his homework, listened to county staff and his constituents, and been very open about doing what he believes is best for James City.

Hipple is also chairman of Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, a group of elected officials from the region that determines how an annual budget of roughly $200 million for transportation projects is spent.

He worked hard to earn this spot and is an important voice for James City County when issues from the Hampton Road Bridge Tunnel to widening Interstate 64 are on the table. It’s a conversation we need to be part of.

While we appreciate Swanenburg’s seeming enthusiasm, being a member of the Board of Supervisors is serious business; the county is on the path to fiscal stability and managed growth. It needs to stay on that path and returning Michael Hipple to the board is a step in the right direction.

Jamestown District: Jim Icenhour

Rising Republican star Kevin Onizuk, current chairman of the Board of Supervisors, opted not to seek a second term, saying he wants to focus on his family and career. He appeared to enjoy the county work and his involvement with the big issues of government, and his willingness to look at information rather than politics will be missed.

But all is not lost; there is a good contest for the Jamestown seat.

Jim Icenhour, former county supervisor and retired Air Force officer and Delta Airlines captain, and Tom Phillips, a senior project manager with Lane Construction, both have attributes that commend them for election.

Phillips’ top selling point is his career spent mostly in the Mideast working on water and other infrastructure projects. While I’m sure his work in Saudi Arabia and its environs were challenging in ways you and I can only imagine, I’m not sure it’s a straight line to managing the needs of James City County.

Icenhour, on the other hand, is a known quantity, and while some see that as a minus, we see it as a plus.

Many of the same issues he previously dealt with are still topics on the board agenda, although they have moved down the road a bit.

The big one: growth.

With growth comes the need to solve water supply issues — he supports both the desalination plant at Chickahominy Riverfront Park and negotiating a better deal with Newport News Waterworks — to make sure growth doesn’t outstrip infrastructure, and to attract and keep business and so solve the challenges of empty storefronts.

He says he is disappointed the board, with the Forest Glen vote, missed the opportunity to influence the construction of truly affordable housing by advocating to build smaller houses with greater density.

If elected, Icenhour will likely not walk in lock-step with fellow supervisors — and that’s just fine — but his eye is trained on two important things that endure as specific issues come and go: keeping the county’s AAA tax rating and providing services citizens expect at the least cost to taxpayers.

We’ll vote for that and encourage you to do so as well.

W-JCC Jamestown District: Jim Kelly

There are three main jobs for members of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board: hire the superintendent, manage the budget and set policies. As elected officials, they also have a duty to be responsive to citizens and their concerns.

The School Board is a nonpartisan body and candidates run without party affiliation.

In the race for the Jamestown seat on the School Board, the two candidates are talking about many of the same things: bullying, bus-driver shortage, redistricting, equity among the schools, career and technical education.

It’s a good run of topics. And candidates Danon Middleton, a former teacher at Jamestown High School who now works at the Apprentice School at Newport News Shipbuilding, and incumbent Jim Kelly, an engineer at the shipyard and eight-year veteran of the board, have plenty to say about them. And, fundamentally, they don’t disagree all that much.

But when you get to the bottom of it, Middleton thinks the division isn’t managed as well as it should be, should be more welcoming of teachers and their concerns and, generally, should be more open and transparent.

Until February 2017, when Dr. Steve Constantino was finally replaced as superintendent, we would have agreed with him.

But the board smartly hired Dr. Olwen Herron as superintendent, and she is making changes and sorting things out.

Kelly was part of the board that hired her and buys in to her priorities and goals — and it’s going to take a while to get there. Adjusting pay scales for bus drivers, making meaningful changes to improve achievement gaps and putting equity among the schools into action is the work of years, not months.

We like where the board and division are headed and think Kelly’s experience with the district and his pragmatic approach to challenges he faces routinely at his day job suit the district well. We support him for another term on the W-JCC School Board.

W-JCC Powhatan District: Lisa Ownby

Lisa Ownby had been running unopposed for re-election to the seat she won just a year ago in a special election until very recently when Michael Giblin launched a write-in campaign for the spot on the board.

Regardless, we endorse the idea of having her in that seat another four years.

When we wrote on her behalf last year, we noted that seeking a seat on the Williamsburg-James City County School Board is not for the faint of heart.

The board has dealt with challenging issues — hiring a superintendent, dealing with recurring complaints about bullying not being handled satisfactorily, redistricting, flat SOL scores; the list goes on.

Ownby, director of operations at Landtech Resources and mother of four who has been involved in the schools and the district for years, has joined those debates and discussions as an informed advocate for parents and students. That’s a good place for her with good outcomes for us.

93rd General Assembly District: Mike Mullin

This contest between Democrat Mike Mullin, the incumbent and a criminal prosecutor from Newport News, and Republican Heather Cordasco, a former member of the Williamsburg-James City County School Board, is a repeat of the 2016 special election, and we heartily endorse a repeat outcome.

Mullin has gone to Richmond and shown himself to be more than up to the job of working with fellow legislators of all stripes to get meaningful legislation passed.

His background in the criminal justice system landed him a seat on the Courts of Justice Committee. From there, he successfully carried legislation that plugged a loophole that allowed some violent felons, when convicted of domestic abuse, to take advantage of the alternatives to prison Virginia allows first offenders. Previously, the only crime that kept a defendant from getting first-offender status was assault and battery against a family or household member.

In his efforts to get some children out of the school-to-prison pipeline, he advanced a proposal to let school principals consider alternatives to calling police in cases of assault or assault and battery without bodily injury. Mullin says remedies such as detention or suspension or a call to parents might work better. This didn’t pass, but he’s willing to take another try at it.

He also says the sexual battery statute needs to be revised to define sexual battery more like assault and battery. The law now says sexual battery — touching a person’s private parts — involves more force than does ordinary assault and battery.

But there is more to him than law-and-order issues: He worked with WATA and HRT to get bus service out to Lackey Clinic; he’s proud of the work the legislature has done extending the Deeds Amendment that guarantees same-day mental health treatment at select locations across the state, including some in Hampton Roads; and he worked with Williamsburg to make amendments to the City Charter regarding the housing authority.

All done in a short session, his first one. We think he has earned the opportunity to work a full term in Richmond and look forward to seeing what he’ll accomplish on our behalf.

For Cordasco’s part, she appears to be more educated on the issues each time she runs for elected office. But it’s the issue she won’t discuss — guns — that concerns us. Asked by the editorial board if she would consider a ban on bump stock modifications, and she demurred, saying her constituents weren’t talking about the devices, so why should she? During the campaign she also claimed to be a proud member of the League of Women Voters, but wouldn’t participate in their candidate forum.

96th General Assembly: Brenda Pogge

This contest between Republican incumbent Brenda Pogge and political newcomer Democrat Kelly DeLucia could have been scripted at central casting.

Pogge has been in the General Assembly for 10 years and has gone about representing the interests and concerns of her constituency, evolving as a quiet force to be reckoned with. DeLucia’s politics have been ignited by Donald Trump’s election and what she sees as the systemic scrapping of things she thinks are central to a civil society and their slow creep to the state level.

DeLucia says the most important thing state government does is provide a good public education delivered by properly supported teachers and staff. She opposes vouchers for private schools. She supports the Affordable Care Act, expansion of Medicaid and women’s right to reproductive choice. She supports independent redistricting and takes her opponent to task for declining to participate in the League of Women Voters forum. Finally, she is in favor of restoring limits on monthly gun purchases and supports owning guns for hunting or collecting.

Pogge meanwhile, has six priorities that she has consistently worked to advance: reducing burdensome taxes, strong property rights, better transparency in government, supporting Second Amendment rights, supporting the right to life and, finally, supporting high-quality education.

She is a strong advocate for Certificate of Public Need reform to benefit health care options in rural counties. She also has a strong record on critical state issues involving mental health, and she is willing to stand up for government transparency and a more vital state Freedom of Information Act.

Pogge sits on four committees focused on natural resources, education and finance. Those assignments keep her in touch with issues as diverse as the Chesapeake Bay and education funding.

While we agree with DeLucia’s take on some of the issues, we appreciate Pogge’s experience and connections in Richmond and support returning her there for another term.

In the meantime, DeLucia has struck a chord with constituents in the 96th District — a full-blown Democrat campaigning in a reliably Republican area — and we encourage her to use the time between elections wisely.

Statewide offices

On Tuesday, we also vote for governor, lt. governor and attorney general. We step away from endorsements in these contests as we were unable to meet with all of the candidates.

Bellows is editor of The Virginia Gazette. Reach her at pbellows@vagazette.com or at 757-345-2347.

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