Berg faces Collins in 29th District GOP primary

Mark Berg

Mark Berg launched his political career two years ago with an insurgent campaign against a long serving member in the 29th District of the House of Delegates.

After narrowly unseating Beverly Sherwood in the Republican primary and easily winning the general election, now it is Berg’s turn to defend his seat. The winner of the Republican primary Tuesday between Berg and Christopher Collins will be unopposed in the general election barring a late entry by an independent candidate.

Democrats and independents are eligible to vote in the primary. The 29th District includes Winchester, most of Frederick County and part of Warren County.

Collins, a criminal defense attorney from Winchester, has promised to be more responsive to constituents than Berg, whom he has criticized for lackluster communication with local government officials and other community leaders.

Collins was a member of the Frederick County Board of Supervisors from 2010 until February. He announced his candidacy a month later.

Christopher Collins

Collins said his work on the Board of Supervisors nudged him toward running. Local governments need someone in the General Assembly who will curb the tendency of lawmakers to pass bills that place too many burdens on local government, Collins said.

Collins said he came away dissatisfied with Berg on a visit to Richmond with other members of the Board of Supervisors. Berg was the only member of the local legislative delegation who did not meet or otherwise communicate with the Frederick County supervisors, Collins said.

“We never heard from Del. Berg nor did he appear nor did he communicate with us,” Collins said. “We received responsive emails from the other representatives. We never got anything back from Del. Berg’s office.”

Berg said he always tries to meet with visitors when he is in his office. He said he could remember only one time when he was at his desk and did not meet a visitor. Berg said he was working on an urgent task at the time.

“I make it a policy to talk to everybody when they come down, whether they have an appointment or not,” Berg said.

“People who didn’t meet with me, I hope they try again,” he added. “I hope my legislative assistant offered them some other time, but I’m not privy to the exact details when they showed up.”

Berg said he prefers to speak in broad philosophical terms about his record in the General Assembly instead of spending a lot of time discussing the details of future legislative proposals.

“There is going to be hundreds of bills and hundreds of issues that I’m going to face that I couldn’t possibly tell people how I’m going to vote, Berg said. “But I can tell them this is my underlying value system and my underlying principles.”

Berg’s website, public commentary and literature repeatedly tout his commitment to conservative principles, principles that made opposition to President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and Gov. Terry’s McAuliffe’s attempts to expand Medicaid among the centerpieces of his first term in office.

Collins describes himself as a “staunch conservative” and, like Berg, counts himself as a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and gun ownership rights.

Collins graduated from James Madison University and worked as a deputy with the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office before enrolling and graduating from the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Collins also served in the Virginia and Maryland National Guard.

Berg graduated from Allegheny College in Pennsylvania and earned a medical degree from Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York. His medical career includes work as an emergency room and primary care doctor. He has been active in a variety of conservative causes since he stopped practicing medicine in 2008. His website lists stints as the secretary and bylaws chairman of the Apple Valley Tea Party and 10th District representative on the Republican Party’s state central committee.

Collins has snared endorsements in the closing weeks of the campaign from the Fraternal Order of Police Ole Fredericktowne Lodge #12 and three sheriffs – Les Taylor in Winchester, Robert Williamson in Frederick County, and Daniel McEathron in Warren County. Campaign finance records show Frederick County Commonwealth’s Attorney Ross Spicer has contributed $900 to Collins’ campaign.

In a news release issued by the Collins campaign, Williamson said: “I have known and worked with Chris for many years. Between his time as a deputy and his current job as a defense attorney, Chris has shown time and time again that he has an incredible work ethic. He is extremely involved in the community, and I believe that he is interested in representing the district as a whole rather than a small select group.”

Berg didn’t dispute Williamson’s assertion that Collins’ background in law enforcement and the legal profession has helped him win endorsements.

“It’s understandable why he has those endorsements, and that’s just the way it is,” Berg said.

The candidates enter the last days of the campaign with Collins holding a fundraising advantage. The Virginia Public Access Project website shows Collins raised $35,686 between April 1 and May 27 and spent $26,106 during the same period.

Berg raised $6,311 and spent $10,294 between April 1 and May 27.

The cash on hand totals also showed Collins with an advantage of $20,822 to $14,387 for Berg.

Berg’s top donors included $34,010 from the Middle Resolution PAC, a conservative advocacy organization headquartered in Mechanicsville. Berg also received $13,897 from himself, $3,000 from the Virginia Dental Association and $2,600 from Jay L. Marts.

Collins’ biggest sources of money were $7,500 from the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, $7,329 from himself, $3,754 from Philip A. Lemieux and $3,543 from Collins for Frederick County Board of Supervisors.

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com