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Republicans will hold a firehouse primary at three locations from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Sunday, May 5, 2013
Botetourt County is looming large in the race to choose the Republican candidate to succeed Del. Lacey Putney, the independent from Bedford who has been a conservative stalwart in the Virginia House of Delegates for more than a half century.
Four men, two from Botetourt and one who grew up in the county, are bidding for the party’s nod in a firehouse primary Tuesday evening. Two other candidates, also from Botetourt, withdrew last month — and threw their support to the one person in the race with no direct ties to the county.
The reason: One of the candidates is a longtime Botetourt County supervisor, and there still are bitter feelings among at least some county Republicans over last year’s increase in the real estate tax rate.
The supervisor, Terry Austin, is running on his record and his promise to keep a pragmatic focus on the district’s problems, while keeping taxes low, cutting regulation and supporting gun rights.
Running against him are Jim McKelvey, an organizer of the Smith Mountain Lake Tea Party who made an unsuccessful bid for Congress, and two young candidates making their first bids for elected office — one of whom, Zach Martin, has ex-Gov. George Allen’s backing while the other, Zachary Hatcher, is a member of the state milk commission.
McKelvey, Martin and Hatcher cast themselves as firm conservatives and sharp critics of Austin, opposing any tax increases, including the transportation program passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
They each say their focus is defending Virginia from federal encroachment, with McKelvey and Hatcher calling for repeal of the 100-year-old 17th Amendment to the Constitution, providing for direct election of U.S. senators.
The one issue on which the three split is term limits, with McKelvey saying it is a central element of his platform, and two saying the amount of time elected officials serve should be up to the voters.
Getting the nomination probably means winning the seat. In the 2011 election, Putney and conservative GOP challenger Jerry Johnson between them took 73 percent of the vote, with Democrat Lewis Medlin running a distant third. So far, no Democratic candidate has emerged.
Botetourt voters account for the largest part of the 19th, with roughly 7,400 turning out in 2011 compared with about 6,800 in Bedford County and Bedford city, 5,600 in Alleghany County and 1,700 in Covington.
Here’s a rundown on the candidates:
Terry Austin, a Botetourt County supervisor for the past 16 years, has owned and operated an electrical contracting business for more than three decades.
A resident of Buchanan, he’s emphasizing his track record as a supervisor with a focus on financial management and job creation. He cites as accomplishments the establishment of the county’s school capital reserve fund, its recent bond rating upgrade and bringing the Altec Industries plant to the county.
“My position has been very clear,” he said. “I was elected to represent all the people in Botetourt, Republicans and Democrats … I’m not really that political.”
What he is, he says, is pragmatic. He thinks people in the district are, too. His view is based in part on how Botetourt residents reacted in 2012 when the loss of a major business cost the county $500,000 a year in revenue.
“We went out and said: ‘we can cut these services, shut this down, raise that revenue,’ ” Austin said. In the end, the supervisors and school board made some deep cuts and raised the real estate tax rate by 7 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Austin said one of his top priorities is making sure the planned expansion of U.S. 220 between Eagle Rock and Iron Gate remains on track. He wants to rein in unfunded mandates imposed by the state on local governments and said he will push for better compensation for sheriff’s deputies.
Austin says he would work to improve schools and push for measurable standards so parents can assess how well their schools are doing. He says he would keep taxes low, supports gun rights and is an opponent of abortion.
Zachary Hatcher, pastor of Mount Bethel Church of the Brethren in Eagle Rock, serves as consumer representative on the Virginia Milk Commission, which regulates the amount of milk that farmers and dairies produce in order to support prices.
Hatcher says he believes government needs to be reined in.
He says he suspects his vocal opposition at Botetourt supervisors’ meetings to any tax increase may be one reason the board now limits public comments.
“They call themselves Republicans, but I don’t see that at all,” Hatcher said.
His top priorities if elected would be to recapture lost liberties, reform taxes and to improve education by promoting school choice and a free market approach.
“A bigger government is not the answer, nor is the mentality that more spending will solve our problems,” he said. “I, like the voters in the 19th District, believe that we need a limited government that leads to more liberty for individuals and communities. This is the answer to our problems.”
Hatcher grew up in Daleville, became a real estate investor at age 23 and worked for a bank for four years. He said he decided to run after participating in a group that has for several years prayed for godly men and women to enter politics.
He now works as an account executive for a wholesale firm. He has a degree in economics from Radford University and is going to graduate school at Virginia Tech.
Bedford County resident Zach Martin, business development director for Moore’s Electrical and Mechanical, has won former Gov. George Allen’s backing in his bid for the legislature. Martin is an elected member of the Republican Party’s state central committee.
He said the politicians who have promised change to his generation have disappointed young people eager to start their own families.
“Young people are starting to see that the country they love won’t be there if they don’t do something about it,” Martin said. “I want to be one of those young people.”
Martin said the transportation funding plan that the General Assembly passed this year isn’t the answer to the state’s road and rail needs, but called it instead the largest tax increase in state history. He also promised to fight President Barack Obama’s health care reform, which has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
He opposes any negotiation on gun rights and says he is an abortion opponent and an unapologetic defender of marriage.
Faith and family values guide his political stands, he said.
A former leader of Liberty University’s College Republicans club, he says he has a track record that shows he can get things done — and isn’t afraid to filibuster to block too-hasty adoption of proposals, as he did when Liberty’s student government tried to push through a new constitution a few years back.
A former member of the Troutville Volunteer Fire Department, Martin considers Daleville his hometown.
Moneta businessman Jim McKelvey, who made an unsuccessful bid to be the Republican candidate for the 5th Congressional District race in 2010, helped form the tea party chapter at Smith Mountain Lake and shares the view that government is too big and taxes too high.
Taxes, in fact, are his top concern.
“Jobs are leaving this area. They’re going to Washington, D.C. Government is out of control,” McKelvey says. “We’re being taxed to death, and for me the straw that broke the camel’s back was the transportation bill. It was the biggest tax increase in Virginia history.”
McKelvey said he wanted to cut the number of state government office workers by 10 percent.
He said he would push for term limits and to repeal gun control measures. He said he wanted to promote school choice and home schooling, and to give parents who opt out a tax rebate.
He opposes Agenda 21, the voluntary program proposed by the United Nations Conference on Economic Development in 1992 as a way to reduce world poverty and improve the environment. Some tea party activists see the program as an effort to usurp property rights.
McKelvey says the fact that he doesn’t want to make a career in politics, and would expect to leave the House of Delegates in eight years, means he will be free to push for legislation the district wants.
“Mine will have teeth in them,” he said.
The two Botetourt residents who dropped out of the race, Jim Crosby, former chairman of the 19th District Republican Committee, and Jerry Johnson, the GOP candidate in 2011, have both endorsed McKelvey.
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