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Virginia House, Senate Republican incumbents debate Democratic challengers at debate

Republican incumbents fighting to keep seats in the 10th Senate and 66th House Districts debated Democratic challengers Wednesday night. Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, elected to the district in 1989, faced opponent Sheila Bynum-Coleman. Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, in his first Senate re-election campaign, debated challenger Ghazala Hashmi. 

Capital News Service

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By Jason Boleman

Republican incumbents fighting to keep seats in the 10th Senate and 66th House Districts debated Democratic challengers Wednesday night. Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, elected to the district in 1989, faced opponent Sheila Bynum-Coleman. Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Richmond, in his first Senate re-election campaign, debated challenger Ghazala Hashmi.

A crowd of around 100 people filled Studio A of Virginia’s home for Public Media, and more tuned in to hear the debate live on-air. The candidates answered questions submitted by the audience in addition to ones written by hosts ChamberRVA and VPM.

Cox, who was elected unanimously as Speaker of the House in 2018, and Bynum-Coleman, now in her fourth political bid for a House district win, fielded questions on a variety of issues including budget priorities, housing, health care, gun control, climate change and civil rights.

Bynum-Coleman, a small business owner, said she was inspired to run for office by her son, who has a learning disability.

Bynum-Coleman and Cox agreed that education is a top legislative priority. Bynum-Coleman seeks to increase teacher pay as well as funding for schools and trade programs.

Cox, a retired teacher, also wants to raise teacher salaries to the national average. He added that he would focus on building the state’s cash reserve — currently over $1 billion — in the 2020 budget session.

“We have worked extremely hard to build that reserve against the recession,” Cox said. “I would like to build that reserve further.”

Both candidates agreed that Virginia should remain ranked No. 1 for business but Bynum-Coleman emphasized that the state should focus on workers.

“I’m a small business owner, and we also have to make sure that Virginia is No. 1 for workers,” Bynum-Coleman said. “We’re talking about corporations versus people.”

Both candidates voiced support for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections. Cox said “discrimination should be against the law,” even though bills such as HB 2067 and HB 2677 to end anti-LGBTQ discrimination in work and housing did not make it past Republican-led House sub-committees in the regular legislative session. Cox said that state employment decisions should be merit-based.

On the same issue, Bynum-Coleman said legislators should put measures in place so no one is discriminated against based on gender or sexual orientation.

Candidates were asked if they believe in climate change. Cox did not directly respond yes or no, but did say the state needs to be smart about alternative sources, that he has worked very hard on clean water and coastal flooding issues and that he’s against taxpayers absorbing costly energy tax policies.

Bynum-Coleman said she believes in climate change and wants the state to go beyond federal government requirements to ensure clean water and clean air. She talked multiple times about “stopping the chemicals that are going into our water.”

In response to defining common sense gun legislation and gun regulation, Cox recognized that gun violence is a “serious problem” but sidestepped a direct answer to the question on restrictions. He pointed to the “constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens” and that Virginia has a lower crime rate than states with “more aggressive measures” for gun control.

Bynum-Coleman, whose daughter was shot in 2016, “wholeheartedly” wants universal background checks, which she said has support across the political spectrum and even among “a group of National Rifle Association members.” She also said she wants to ban bump stocks.

About two-thirds of the crowd remained for the second debate between Sturtevant and Hashmi. Sturtevantbegan by stating that his main priority is “continuing to be an independent voice for this district.” Sturtevant referenced a $25,000 donation that Gov. Ralph Northam made to Hashmi’s campaign via The Way Ahead PAC, saying that the donation “bought her silence” during the governor’s blackface scandal earlier this year.

“Governor Northam is not on the ballot in November 2019,” Hashmi said. “If we’re going to make decisions on who is right for this district, about who is right for Virginia, we need to be focusing on the issues that concern the voters in this district.”

Hashmi and Sturtevant had different views on whether Richmond’s Confederate statues should remain in place along Monument Avenue. Sturtevant supports leaving the monuments but adding historical context.

“I don’t think that just tearing down statues is the right way forward,” Sturtevant said. “Future generations will forget what was done here — and why — and America’s original sin of slavery.”

Hashmi, a professor at Reynolds Community College, countered his point by saying she teaches history through facts, but she doesn’t “teach history through Confederate monuments.”

“What kind of a message do we send to visitors to our city when we have edifices that glorify a Confederate past?” Hashmi said.

The Senate candidates differed on Medicaid and gun control but both acknowledge climate change.

Sturtevant cited taxes as a reason he was opposed to Medicaid expansion, but he does not support rolling it back. Hashmi said expanding access to Medicaid is “an important first step” on lowering the costs of health care and wants to ensure access to health care “for all Virginians.”

Sturtevant said gun control is a mental health issue. Hashmi wants common-sense gun safety and action in the General Assembly

“I actually don’t believe in climate change … I believe in the climate crisis,” Hashmi said. Sturtevant said he also believes in climate change, but said that there is no need to “destroy Virginia’s economy” while addressing climate change.

The 66th District was one of 25 House districts redrawn earlier this year after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the previous map was racially gerrymandered. Chesterfield County voters account for 78% of the district, which also includes the cities of Colonial Heights and Richmond.

The 66th District is projected to be 32% more favorable to Democrats than in the past, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Republicans have held the 10th District — which voted for Democrats in the 2018, 2017 and 2016 elections — since a special election in 1986 — 33 years. Chesterfield and Richmond’s voters make up the bulk of the district, in addition to Powhatan County.

Cox has accrued the largest war chest of all House candidates, raising over $1.1 million. Bynum-Coleman has raised $470,308 in the same period.

Sturtevant has outraised Hashmi, $759,637 to $607,821, according to VPAP data from the end of August. New campaign totals will be released Oct. 15.

ChamberRVA and VPM will again partner for a 12th Senate District debate Oct. 18 at the VPM studio. Incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico squares off against challenger Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Majority of Virginia to enter Phase Two of reopening; Richmond to remain in Phase One for now

Richmond and Northern Virginia will remain in Phase One while surrounding localities can now ease restrictions on gatherings, indoor dining, and other uses.

RVAHub Staff

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Governor Ralph Northam today signed Executive Order Sixty-Five and presented the second phase of the “Forward Virginia” plan to continue safely and gradually easing public health restrictions while containing the spread of COVID-19. The Governor also amended Executive Order Sixty-One directing Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond to remain in Phase One.

Most of Virginia is expected to enter Phase Two on Friday, June 5, as key statewide health metrics continue to show positive signs. Virginia’s hospital bed capacity remains stable, the percentage of people hospitalized with a positive or pending COVID-19 test is trending downward, no hospitals are reporting PPE shortages, and the percent of positive tests continues to trend downward as testing increases. The Governor and Virginia public health officials will continue to evaluate data based on the indicators laid out in April.

“Because of our collective efforts, Virginia has made tremendous progress in fighting this virus and saved lives,” said Governor Northam. “Please continue to wear a face covering, maintain physical distance, and stay home if you are high-risk or experience COVID-19 symptoms. Virginians have all sacrificed to help contain the spread of this disease, and we must remain vigilant as we take steps to slowly lift restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

Executive Order Sixty-Five modifies public health guidance in Executive Order Sixty-One and Sixty-Two and establishes guidelines for Phase Two. Northern Virginia and the City of Richmond entered Phase One on Friday, May 29, and will remain in Phase One to allow for additional monitoring of health data. Accomack County delayed reopening due to outbreaks in poultry plants, which have largely been controlled through rigorous testing. Accomack County will move to Phase Two with the rest of the Commonwealth, on Friday, June 5.

Under Phase Two, the Commonwealth will maintain a Safer at Home strategy with continued recommendations for social distancing, teleworking, and requiring individuals to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. The maximum number of individuals permitted in a social gathering will increase from 10 to 50 people. All businesses should still adhere to physical distancing guidelines, frequently clean and sanitize high contact surfaces, and continue enhanced workplace safety measures.

Restaurant and beverage establishments may offer indoor dining at 50 percent occupancy, fitness centers may open indoor areas at 30 percent occupancy, and certain recreation and entertainment venues without shared equipment may open with restrictions. These venues include museums, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, and outdoor concert, sporting, and performing arts venues. Swimming pools may also expand operations to both indoor and outdoor exercise, diving, and swim instruction.

The current guidelines for religious services, non-essential retail, and personal grooming services will largely remain the same in Phase Two. Overnight summer camps, most indoor entertainment venues, amusement parks, fairs, and carnivals will also remain closed in Phase Two.

Phase Two guidelines for specific sectors can be found here. Phase One guidelines sectors are available here. Visit virginia.gov/coronavirus/forwardvirginia for more information and answers to frequently asked questions.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Five and Order of Public Health Emergency Six is available here.

The full text of amended Executive Order Sixty-One can be found here.

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Crime

Richmond Police, Mayor Stoney apologize after tear gas deployed before curfew on protesters

Protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday night and were met with a forceful response and the deployment of tear gas by Richmond Police – an action for which the department and Mayor Stoney later apologized.

RVAHub Staff

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Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Richmond again Monday afternoon and evening to speak out after the death of George Floyd. The group organized near both the Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart Monuments on Monument Avenue and remained mainly peaceful until police approached demonstrators at the Lee statue and deployed tear gas, as can be seen below from the below Twitter video from VPM.

Around the same time, reports began coming in that protesters at the Stuart monument were attempting to bring it down. A young demonstrator scaled the base of the statue and took what appeared to be a hack saw to the leg of the monument’s horse in an effort to bring it down. Police responded by calling on protesters to stand down, citing the weight of the monuments and their potential to crush bystanders.

Richmond Police and Mayor Levar Stoney later apologized for the deployment of tear gas on peaceful protesters – well below the 8:00 PM curfew – saying it was uncalled for and inviting protesters to City Hall at noon Tuesday to “apologize in person.” For its part, RPD said the officers involved had been “removed from the field” and would be subject to disciplinary action.

The protesters then continued marching down Franklin Street, then W. Broad Street, where things fizzled out around 10:30 PM near 14th Street.

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Business

Department of Public Utilities encourages reopening businesses to flush water before use

As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

RVAHub Staff

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The City of Richmond Department of Public Utilities (DPU) has been providing safe drinking water during the COVID-19 pandemic and it remains a priority. As businesses prepare to reopen on Friday, the utility encourages the flushing of internal pipes before any water use resumes.

With non-essential business being closed due to COVID-19 since March, water has been sitting in pipes. This water can lose the benefits of necessary disinfection, which could lead to bacteria growth and thus unsuitable for drinking, hand washing, or other uses. Additionally, turning on water after prolonged closures could disrupt plumbing materials and release contaminants into the water.

“To ensure fresh water is being used by newly reopening businesses, we strongly encourage them to flush the water in their systems. This is important to maintain the public health and safety of all residents and visitors,” says DPU Director Calvin D. Farr, Jr.

This process includes running water through all faucets, fountains, and other water treatment/enhancement systems with both hot and cold water for several minutes before using.

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