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Former state senator: Valley could lose influence in Assembly

H. Russell "Russ" Potts Jr. (Buy photo)

By Alex Bridges

With no clear challengers, two newcomers stand to take seats and represent Northern Shenandoah Valley districts in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Whether supporters of Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester, stage a write-in campaign this fall as a re-election bid remains uncertain.

Former state Sen. H. Russell "Russ" Potts Jr., a longtime Sherwood backer, said Wednesday he has no involvement in any write-in campaign but voiced concern over the shift in the Republican Party and the candidates chosen by the voters.

"I'm not involved in any such effort," Potts said. "I had heard speculation about that. If there's any such effort, I don't know of it. But I was obviously disappointed that Delegate Sherwood lost."

Mark J. Berg defeated Sherwood in the primary to run for the 29th House District on Nov. 5. Dave A. LaRock defeated May to run for the 33rd House District seat. Berg serves as the secretary of the Apple Valley Tea Party, according to the organization's website.

The wins for Berg and LaRock marked a shift among Republican voters -- one that Potts said does not bode well for the party.

"I think it focuses even more on the incredible problems and challenges the Republican Party, particularly in Virginia, face," Potts added. "I mean, it appears to me that we're headed toward driving off a cliff in terms of electability."

But some area Republicans fear the defeat of Sherwood and Del. Joe May in the June primaries to two newcomers means the region will lose political influence in the General Assembly.

Longtime Republicans Sherwood and May serve on influential House committees and subcommittees, including the powerful appropriations committee. Potts said he sees Sherwood as a likely candidate for the committee chair if the delegate were to be re-elected. Sherwood already has served as a budget conferee.

Sherwood serves as chairwoman of the committee on agriculture, Chesapeake and natural resources. She also serves as a member of the committee on rules and on militia, police and public safety.

May serves as chairman of the transportation committee and as a member of the science and technology committee.

Without the representation on the influential committees, the Northern Shenandoah Valley stands to lose the ground it made in the House of Delegates, Potts said. It takes a long time for a delegate to rise up the ranks to serve as house speaker, he explained.

"So our district had a tremendous amount of influence in the General Assembly, which we now trade for a person with zero experience and zero influence, and who espouses a political philosophy that's totally not mainstream," Potts said.

Potts blamed voter "apathy" and low turnout at the polls for handing May and Sherwood defeat at the primaries.

"So I'm terribly disappointed in those thousands and thousands of citizens who did not go vote," Potts said.

Potts also called Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli "the weakest candidate for governor" in the state Republican Party's history. Potts claimed that former state senate colleagues would agree with him on Cuccinelli. Potts pointed out that, when he was a state senator, Cuccinelli introduced more legislation seeking to restrict abortion rights than any senator in the history of Virginia. Cuccinelli killed funding for the Christopher Reeve stem cell research bill, Potts said.

"This is one of the most pro, public education districts in Virginia," Potts said. "He's anti-public education. Now we see all these initiatives that he wants to have for home-schooling and charter schools. Hey, how about some initiatives for the public schools?"

Potts said the Virginia Republican Party continues to shift to the right, away from the mainstream.

"So the Republican Party, we're off the rails," Potts added. "I want my Republican Party back. I didn't leave the Republican Party; the Republican Party left me."

Having candidates running for the House of Delegates whose views are closer to the far right could hurt the Republican Party in the general election, Potts warned. Successful Republican Party candidates have to not only gain support at the polls from their own constituents but they also need to attract independents and conservative Democrats, Potts said.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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