Moore, Obenshain face off for Senate seat

Mark Obenshain

The state Senate election in the 26th District between Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and April Moore is a contest in which the candidates not only disagree on most issues but often differ on what they consider to be the most important matters facing the district.

Some of the sharpest divisions involve global warming, the environment and the economy. Moore has cited the need for governments at all levels to take swift, decisive action to stem a worldwide rise in average temperatures caused by greenhouse gases.

Obenshain, 53, while not denying the existence of global warming, has scoffed at making it a high priority for the state government. Instead, Obenshain said, state government needs to stay focused on its traditional priorities of transportation, public safety and education.

Obenshain said he is committed to policies that encourage job creation, which in his mind include low taxes and government regulations.

“When my opponent makes global warming the centerpiece of her campaign, it represents a philosophy that ignores the day to day problems and the year to year issues that we’re dealing with here in Virginia,” Obenshain said. “We have to make sure our kids are receiving a world class education. We have to make sure our economy is strong. We have to make sure our communities are safe. She has different priorities.”

April Moore

Moore, 63, lives in the Orkney Springs area. She said becoming a grandmother last year spurred her to run against an incumbent who has held his seat since 2003 and ran unopposed in 2011 in a district with a history of voting heavily Republican.

The 26th District includes Harrisonburg and part of Rockingham County and Warren, Shenandoah, Page and Rappahannock counties.

“We have a crisis here,” Moore said of global warming. “There’s something for everybody to do. Everybody who cares about the next generation, and I often talk to young people, I feel that my generation has a responsibility to the younger generation. I grew up on a planet that was relatively healthy. Things are changing rapidly, and I feel like young people, and my two young grandchildren, really have a right to a healthy life on a healthy planet. And to say the state has no role to play is ridiculous.”

Moore has criticized Obenshain for rejecting the opportunity to expand the Medicaid program under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. The refusal to expand Medicaid has not only denied health care to 400,000 state residents, 10,500 of them in the 26th District, it is also hobbling the economy, Moore said.

Mark Merrill, the president and CEO of Valley Health Corp., said in early 2014 that his company would lose $28.2 million if Republicans in the General Assembly rejected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s call for Medicaid expansion. The Virginia Employment Commission lists Valley Health as the second largest employer in Warren County and the eighth largest in Shenandoah County.

Obenshain insists that Medicaid expansion is doomed to fail in those states, including some with Republican governors, that have adopted it. The program is already straining state budgets, and the federal government’s promises of future support are unreliable, he has said.

Obenshain, an attorney, is co-chairman of the Senate’s courts of justice committee, which has jurisdiction over most legislation pertaining to the courts and legal system. He ran for attorney general in 2013 and lost to Democrat Mark Herring by 165 votes out of 2.2 million cast.

Since the last election, Obenshain has been seen by many political activists and politicians as a future candidate for governor, but he recently ruled out a statewide campaign and declared he would remain in the Senate. Obenshain’s decision cleared the way for Ed Gillespie, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee who ran a close race against Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Warner in 2013, to seek the Republican nomination for governor.

Moore and Obenshain have also sparred over campaign financing. As a well-known incumbent, Obenshain has had little trouble running up a big advantage over Moore in campaign contributions.

As of mid-October, Obenshain had raised $528,554, compared to $72,261 for Moore.

Top Obenshain donors included Walter Curt with $27,500, the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association with $20,000, the Richmond law firm of Allen, Allen, Allen & Allen with $12,500 and Dominion Virginia Power with $10,000. The Virginia Public Access Project website lists Curt’s employer as Power Monitors Inc. and his industry affiliation as “miscellaneous energy.”

Moore’s biggest contributor is Katherine Morrison, the campaign’s field director, who has given $17,081. The second highest contribution comes from Sherrie Good with $2,400. Good’s employer is Sherriegooddesign and her industry affiliation is listed as “haircare, drycleaners, etc.”

“Our legislature in some very important ways is not serving the people well,” Moore said. “A part of that is the role of big money. We’ve always had corruption. It’s nothing new, but the scale of money in politics is just obscene.”

Moore added that she sees Obenshain as “part of the problem” and cited contributions to his campaign from Dominion Virginia Power as an example.

Obenshain said he is also offended by the expanding role of money in politics but he points a finger at the Democrats. He cited Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and prominent gun control advocate, and several billionaires as examples of the problem as he sees it.

“That’s where the money in politics this year is coming from,” Obenshain said at a recent candidates’ forum. “It’s national money that is pouring from liberal interest groups into Virginia in an effort to buy Senate seats. That’s wrong.”

Moore, who is retired, lists almost 20 years as a writer, researcher, project manager and executive director for several public interest organizations as part of her work history. She moved to the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1990s to raise her children as a “stay-at-home-mom.”

Her husband is Andy Schmookler, who ran as the Democratic candidate against U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Roanoke, in the 6th District three years ago.

Since moving to the area, Moore has worked for Shenandoah County Public Schools as a substitute teacher and has been a volunteer with the school system’s gifted and talented program. She is also on the board of the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River.

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