EDINBURG – Candidates vying for the state senate seat to represent Virginia’s 26th District sparred Wednesday evening about issues ranging from climate change to gun control.
The forum at Charterhouse School Edinburg was hosted by the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce, the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County and the Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley.
Minute differences showed the breach in philosophical differences marking the Republican and Democratic parties in 2019, both at the state and national levels.
Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, has represented Shenandoah County in Richmond for 15 years and opened the evening with a promise to continue to run a race based on “issue and principals, not name-calling or attacking character.”
Democrat April Moore, of Bayse, noted that she likes Obenshain as a person. However, in his tenure as a senator, Moore argued Obenshain “has chosen to be a party man.” Her view that Obenshain is representing monied interests over constituents drove her to run an uphill race in the deep-red district, she said.
Though running against each other in the Nov. 5 election, Obenshain and Moore managed to find some common ground on a range of issues if not completely meeting in the middle.
Economic development for the county, both candidates conceded, will require investment in protecting agriculture.
“The entire Shenandoah Valley is an area where agriculture is king,” Obenshain said. “We need to make sure our agricultural economy remains strong. That we are not losing family farms.”
Moore echoed her opponent on leaning into what is popular and what is working for Shenandoah County.
“Experience and research show that the best way to improve the economy … is to invest in areas that are already strong,” Moore said. “We are very strong in agriculture and we are very strong in tourism.”
Both candidates voiced support for improving teacher pay as well as expanding trade and technical schools as an alternative to obtaining a four-year degree. However, agreements on issues such as ballooning tuition costs were met with opposite solutions.
Obenshain argued the state couldn’t afford to continue “pumping money” into universities that are allowing tuition costs to get out of hand.
Moore contended the issue is not too much state funding but not enough. If the state would pick up more of the bill for students, fewer of them would be forced with the decision of whether to attend a university or not, she said.
Amiable disagreements turned heated when high profile issues centering around climate change policies, gun control and gun violence cropped up, driving the largest wedges between the candidates.
While Moore tepidly embraced the idea of using nuclear energy on the way to expanding greener renewables such as solar, Obenshain praised the affordable energy fossil fuels and touted progress in cleaning up plants that produce it.
“In Virginia, we have done a good job of cleaning up the emissions coming from power plants,” Obenshain said. “If you cut out fossil fuels, if you cut out coal, if you cut out natural gas, you will not be able to affordably heat your home.”
Moore rejected jumping on the Green New Deal bandwagon of abandoning fossil fuels immediately but said she wanted to take as much action as fast as she could to address climate change.
In a pinch, while renewable energies are catching up, Moore said she could get on board with using more nuclear power — not because nuclear is so good, she said, but because climate change is so bad.
The evening closed out on a lengthy discussion about gun control and gun violence. Obenshain briefly answered a question about expanding mental health services in schools before using his remaining time to hammer home his position in the support of the Second Amendment and opposition to popular legislation such as universal background checks.
Moore used Obenshain’s time in the Senate against him, pointing out the role his committee played in keeping a debate about gun legislation off the Senate floor during the last session.
Addressing him directly, Moore said Obenshain, “used [his] position as chair of the justice committee in a way that stifled debate on important gun issues by not letting these issues out of committee.”
“I think we really need to debate these issues,” she continued. “We have to work harder on this and not kill these bills without an adequate hearing.”