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12th Senate District candidates debate issues, address past controversies

Incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, faced off against challenger Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, in front of an audience of about 60 people at VPM, the local PBS affiliate.

Capital News Service



By Morgan Edwards

It may have been Friday night lights around Virginia for high school football, but in the political field, the two candidates competing for the Senate District 12 seat took to the stage to debate key issues.

Incumbent Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, faced off against challenger Del. Debra Rodman, D-Henrico, in front of an audience of about 60 people at Virginia’s home for Public Media’s station in Chesterfield County.

Having won the coin toss to determine opening statement order, Dunnavant introduced herself to the audience.

“I do not believe in using political advertising to scare people. I don’t believe in taking credit for other people’s accomplishments,” she said, alluding to a TV attack ad that said Dunnavant, a practicing OB-GYN, wrote the bill to allow insurance companies to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions, and a mailer that called her a “quack” for writing the bill.

The Rodman sponsored ad and campaign mailer were rated false by Politifact Virginia based on the language — insurance companies could already write short-term policies omitting pre-existing conditions, Politifact said — and the premise that it would affect any Virginian, when it would affect around 21%.

In her opening statement, Rodman said she ran for office in 2017 to help bring the peoples’ voice to the General Assembly. She also underlined her record on health care since joining the legislature.

“The truth of the matter is I’ve delivered more health care to more people in the first two months of my term than she’s done in her whole political career,” Rodman said.

This back and forth out of the gate and throughout the hour wasn’t unexpected for a campaign defined by stuffed war chests and frequent TV ads, campaign mailers and over $30,000 spent on social media messaging. The Virginia Public Access Project’s latest numbers show that in 2019 Rodman’s campaign has raised $1,849,866 in cash and in-kind contributions. Dunnavant’s campaign has raised $998,414. Last month, Capital News Service reported that the 12th District race was the first to spend over $1 million on media buys.

On education

Moderator Craig Carper delved quickly into the big-ticket issues, first asking the candidates their stances on education.

“It’s good to hear. It’s good to care. It’s good to listen,” Dunnavant responded. “You have to act to actually get things done.”

“We can’t just say ‘return funding,’” Dunnavant continued, in reference to Rodman’s call to return education funding “taken away by Republicans.” “We have to say what that funding is going to be used for.”

In 2017, Dunnavant supported legislation to ease the creation of charter schools, that passed both Republican-majority chambers and was vetoed by former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Rodman said now that the economy is no longer in a recession the state needs to start better supporting teachers and schools.

On health care

On Medicaid expansion, Rodman argued that Medicaid is an essential program, acting as a rising tide lifting all boats by increasing the number of insured Virginians. Dunnavant said Medicaid/Medicare only helps 30% of people in the state while the other 70% still receive health care through their employer.

On gun violence

When the debate pivoted to the topic of preventing gun violence, the shadow of the Virginia Beach massacre that killed 13 people in late May loomed.

Rodman said she has supported common sense gun legislation from the beginning. She said a five-minute background check for gun purchasers could go a long way in saving lives and preventing dangerous people from buying weapons. Rodman finished by leveling one of her first pointed criticisms of the debate at Dunnavant.

“Moreover, my opponent’s response to gun violence is an app,” Rodman said. “An app for a hotline that already exists. And even if you call that hotline because you’re afraid that a loved one will hurt themselves or others, there’s no teeth.”

Dunnavant accused Rodman of feeding into the “acrimonious” nature of Virginia politics. She said fixing the mental health crisis in the country would decrease mass shootings.

Rodman said that conflating mental illness with gun violence stigmatizes those with mental illnesses. She said studies have shown that individuals with a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence rather than perpetrators.

On hate crimes

Dunnavant jumped on a question from the audience about hate crimes and denied an alleged claim that she didn’t believe they were on the rise. Dunnavant contended that Rodman had misrepresented her past statements on the matter.

“Yet as we speak you are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a mailer and on TV to perpetuate rhetoric against the trans community and sending transphobic messaging. “I think it’s irresponsible and I think it’s cruel,” Rodman said.

Dunnavant further explained her view on gender reassignment surgery.

“That ad is not about transgender. It’s about tax dollars being paid for elective procedures. It’s very clear and it’s emphasized in the ad,” Dunnavant said to applause from her supporters. The referenced ad calls Rodman “radical” for her stance.

Rodman then suggested that Dunnavant talk to her constituents about their feelings on funding the surgery, earning her own applause.

In closing

Despite some pointed comments throughout the debate, the candidates never raised their voices or resorted to ad hominem attacks. The calm body language of both Dunnavant and Rodman was noticeable.

Dunnavant talked about bipartisanship in her closing remarks, but included a dig against her opponent for using “extreme” messaging.

Rodman talked about why she decided to run for Senate.

“We have made a difference in the past two years in a minority party; imagine what we can do in the majority,” Rodman said. “I’m going to continue to work hard for my community and fight for what matters and I will do that for you on Nov. 5.”



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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Live Updates: Ongoing list and information on Richmond area institution and event closures, postponements

With new information and cancellations coming in by the hour, the below is our attempt to keep you up to date on the latest Richmond area closures, cancellations, and community information, with links to relevant resources for more. We’ll continue to update this article as we learn more. Feel free to leave your own in the comments or email to [email protected]




Note: We’re attempting to keep this list up to date as often as possible. Please submit any changes, additions, or corrections to [email protected] Want to support our efforts? Please consider making a donation to RVAHub at the link below.

Government & Community Organizations


Please note that this list is rapidly changing and we’re doing our best to keep it updated but we will at time have some outdated information. Please let us know if there has been a change.

In the interest of public health and safety, the administration of Mayor Levar Stoney recommends that all restaurants, bars, and other establishments that serve food and drink within city limits eliminate bar seating, move tables at least six feet apart and limit their on-site service to 50 percent of their normal capacity. If 50 percent of capacity exceeds the CDC-recommended limit of 50 people gathered, establishments should limit their service to 50 or fewer patrons. The recommendation does not affect any restaurant’s capacity to offer carryout and delivery. In order to support the residents and businesses of Richmond, the administration will introduce on March 23 an ordinance outlining a city amnesty program for all penalties and interest on most local taxes due between March 13 and June 30, 2020. This proposed program will exclude personal property taxes on vehicles, motor vehicle license taxes, and vehicle license fees, as required by ordinance. The city is also exploring options for a program to issue small, no-interest loans to support small businesses. More information on this will be provided at a later date.


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Councilwoman Gray hosting online Second District town hall, introducing two resolutions to help small businesses

Councilwoman Kim Gray (2nd District) issued a statement today calling for the City of Richmond to support small businesses, especially the hard-hit restaurant industry, during the COVID-19 crisis, through two draft resolutions.

RVAHub Staff



Councilwoman Kim Gray (2nd District) issued a statement today calling for the City of Richmond to support small businesses, especially the hard-hit restaurant industry, during the COVID-19 crisis, through two draft resolutions.

Gray’s first proposed paper asks the City administration for revised revenue estimates for FY 19-20 and FY 20-21, including any assumptions and methodologies used in the revised forecast, by April 3.

A second proposed paper calls for the Administration to find ways to administratively, legally or legislatively accomplish the following:

  1. Rescind the Richmond City meals tax for the months of February, March and April (March, April and May payments);
  2. Refund 50% of the 2020 Richmond Business, Professional and Occupational license taxes paid by restaurants prospectively to the City in January 2020 or later (given that estimates of future restaurant sales for the remainder of the year were based on normal operations, which is no longer a realistic assumption); and
  3. Re-forecast restaurant-related revenues for FY 19-20 and FY 20-21 to allow for timely amendments to the current and proposed annual budgets in order to offset any fiscal impacts.

Both proposed papers also call for the Administration to submit new budget recommendations based on the impact of the effects of COVID-19 to date.

“While the Governor is aggressively addressing the major health and education issues confronting our Commonwealth, City Council needs to prepare for the long-term battle and help pave the way for ultimate economic recovery,” Gray said in a news release. “First and foremost, we need to create a substantial contingency fund to address the many challenges that lie ahead. That will require a revised revenue forecast for the current fiscal year and the fiscal year that begins on July 1, 2020. Creating such a contingency will also require hard choices and due diligence on each and every expenditure by the City.

Equally important will be meaningful and immediate tax relief for our small businesses and especially our restaurants. Richmond restaurants face perhaps the highest tax burden of any industry in the City, and its workers have been the most immediately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, the City needs to build long-term COVID-19 prevention into every decision. The dismantling of the Camp Cathy encampment is a case in point: With no long-term plan for the housing of these individuals, they, as well as the community at large, are vulnerable to further transmission of the virus.”

City Council should not be forced to make what will likely be very tough budget decisions on the fly with outdated information,” Gray said. “We need the city government to come together to meet the needs of its citizens, and that may very well require additional tax relief to the most threatened families, individuals and businesses in the City.”

Gray will host a Facebook Live session tonight, Monday, March 30, at 7 p.m. to discuss the proposals and hear from Richmond residents. View her page here.



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Governor Ralph Northam issues statewide “Stay at Home” order

Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.

RVAHub Staff



Governor Ralph Northam today issued a statewide Stay at Home order to protect the health and safety of Virginians and mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19. The order takes effect immediately and will remain in place until June 10, 2020, unless amended or rescinded by a further executive order.

The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances. Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions, and others as outlined in Executive Order Fifty-Three, and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements.

The executive order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.

“We are in a public health crisis, and we need everyone to take this seriously and act responsibly,” said Governor Northam. “Our message to Virginians is clear: stay home. We know this virus spreads primarily through human-to-human contact, and that’s why it’s so important that people follow this order and practice social distancing. I’m deeply grateful to everyone for their cooperation during this unprecedented and difficult time.”

The full text of Executive Order Fifty-Five can be found here.

There is no enforcement clause; the largest tangible change from last week’s directive to stay at home is the closure of beaches and bodies of water to swimming. Fishing is permissible.

Last week, Governor Northam issued Executive Order Fifty-Three closing certain non-essential businesses, prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people, and directing all K-12 schools to remain closed for the rest of the academic year. A Frequently Asked Questions guide about Executive Order Fifty-Three can be found here.

For the latest information about the COVID-19 outbreak, visit or



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