Republicans prepare to choose Puckett’s replacement in the 38th

Not wasting any time, Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Colgan issued a writ for a special election in the 38th State Senate District last Friday.  Nominations are due by June 20th for an August 19th election. I will refrain from complaining about what a waste of money this is – holding a special in August when the legislature won’t return to session until next year – because that’s a subject for another post.

The Democrats have chosen Tazewell County Supervisor Mike Hymes. Republicans will meet tomorrow night at Nuckoll’s Hall at the Tazewell County Fairgrounds to select their nominee.

This special election is a very big deal for the Republican Party, because winning this seat ensures control of the State Senate.  While this is a Republican leaning district, it’s also squarely in the Fightin’ 9th, and that means your average Democrat (except in Roanoke) is about as conservative as your average Republican.  This is coal country, and it’s also a part of Virginia that I’m uniquely familiar with, as most of my family hails from Pulaski County, and I spent plenty of summers as a kid visiting family and swimming in Claytor Lake.

The Democrats chose one of the best candidates they could in Mike Hymes.  He’s a third generation coal miner, and works at the James River Coal Company.  He’s not somebody we will be able to attack as being aligned with Barack Obama and Terry McAuliffe on coal. 22% of the 38th District is in Tazewell County, so he’ll have homefield advantage in the biggest block of votes in the district.  This isn’t going to be an easy race where we just paint the Democrat as a liberal and call it a day. Hymes won with 62% in his last election bid in 2009.

There are three Republican candidates running in the 38th.  First to announce was Delegate Ben Chafin, who was just elected in 2013 to his first term in the House of Delegates.  Ben raised about $128,000 for his Delegate run, and since being elected has demonstrated he can get things accomplished in Richmond.  Chafin successfully carried nine substantive pieces of legislation that have been enacted into law, which is solid work for a freshman.  That, alone, demonstrates to me he is the best choice for replacing Phil Puckett in the Senate.

Tamara Neo, the former Commonwealth’s Attorney for Buchanan County has also announced.  She’s back in private practice after losing her reelection bid to Democrat Gerald Arrington in 2011.  That race seemed to turn on Neo’s not being native to the area and not hiring staff from Buchanan.  Regardless of whether that’s fair, it lead to a 9 point loss.  It seems likely, given Hymes’ history, that Neo would be open to the same attacks that cost her the CA election if she’s nominated tomorrow night.  She has been endorsed by former Senate candidate Adam Light, who was Phil Puckett’s last opponent in 2011.

George McCall, Senior Executive Vice President with First Sentinel Bank in Richlands, rounds out the Republican field.  McCall has been a big Republican donor, with over $10,000 in donations to Republicans since 1998 (in both state and federal elections), although he did give Phil Puckett $125 in 1999, according to VPAP.

I have always made my preference for folks with experience moving up when it comes to legislative jobs. Chafin has demonstrated he can handle himself in the legislative arena and I don’t care to leave anything to chance with control of the Senate on the line.  I know my colleague Justin Higgins prefers Tamara Neo and I’m sure there are folks lining up to support George McCall.  In the end, though, I think this race needs to turn on legislative experience, and Chafin is the only candidate in the race who has it.  Given Chafin’s success, both in being strong enough as a freshman candidate to scare off the Democrats from even nominating an opponent and his work in the legislature, the best way to ensure we keep this seat appears to be him.

This isn’t an endorsement – just my two cents.

We’ve spent far too much time lately arguing over who is “establishment” or anti-establishment, and we’re always spending too much time on party in fighting. Here’s hoping that the folks down in the 38th focus on what’s important when the meet tomorrow night, and that’s not choosing the “establishment” candidate, the “liberty” candidate, or the “tea party” candidate.

It means choosing the right candidate.  We need to get it right and maintain control of the State Senate.