Today, we are going to speaking with 4th House of Delegates District candidate, Will Wampler. Mr. Wampler is running for the seat that is currently being vacated by Delegate Todd Pillion, who is running for the Virginia State Senate. Mr. Wampler is one of the youngest candidates this year for the Virginia House of Delegates. Mr. Wampler is from a political family; his grandfather was a member of the US House, while Will’s father was a member of the Virginia State Senate. We spoke with Mr. Wampler about his candidacy for the House of Delegates.
MH: Mr. Wampler, you are one of the youngest candidates for the House of Delegates running this year. What does someone like yourself bring to the table as a candidate?
WW: I care very much about the future of Virginia and my home here in Virginia’s Great Southwest. I understand Virginia law and the state budget. I understand how both can affect people and their businesses in our Commonwealth. I’m looking to use my experience studying and developing education and economic development policy at the state-level in a way that directly benefits the people of Southwest Virginia. We, as a region, have to create more economic opportunity for people here.
MH: Tell us what it was like growing up in a Republican family with such storied political history. Your grandfather was Congressman when the Byrd Machine controlled Virginia; your dad was a State Senator, What was that like growing up?
WW: Believe it or not, my family never really talked about politics around the dinner table while I was growing up. In many ways, I’m learning more about my Grandfather’s and my Dad’s service through my own campaign than I ever heard from them personally. I’ll be running around, knocking doors on roads where some people wouldn’t think to campaign because it’s not “efficient” from a time-standpoint, and folks will say, “I haven’t seen a politician at my door in 50 years. Last one that came to talk to me was Bill Wampler – the Bald Eagle of the Cumberlands!” I’ll smile, reintroduce myself, and listen to the stories.
MH: What core political issues drive you to run for office?
WW: Under all of the “political” issues out there, the only core beliefs that really matter in public service are (1) a desire to help others and (2) a love for the place you seek to represent. Outside of those drives, I’m running for office because Southwest Virginia needs help pivoting, from an economic standpoint. Historically, Southwest and Southern Virginia used to drive the economy of the Virginia – with exports of coal, timber, salt, and tobacco here in Southwest Virginia, and in Southern Virginia, a once-booming furniture and textile industry paired with tobacco and other agriculture. While Southwest Virginia is still rich in natural resources and minerals, we have to diversify our economy in a way that encourages new development, new investment, and new industries being a part of our industry mix here. To achieve this, I think I can help focus state, local, and regional resources to improve our transportation and broadband infrastructure, build our portfolio of commercial and industrial sites, assist our educators in providing workforce training in high-need fields, and build an economy here that takes advantage of our natural assets – great people, hard workers, and the second-to-none beauty of the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains.
MH: One of the things I know about you is that you did practice law in other parts of Virginia and then decided to move back to Southwest. What made you want to come home and practice small town law in Abingdon?
WW: I’ve spent significant amounts of time different parts of Virginia. I grew up in Bristol. I lived in Lynchburg while in law school. I’ve spent time visiting my parents when they lived in Martinsville for a time. I got my first job out of law school in Richmond and enjoyed my several years there. I visit Northern Virginia and the Hampton Roads area frequently for work and pleasure. But there’s nothing like home.
MH: From what I can gather, you seem to be an avid sportsman. Talk to us about what the 2nd Amendment and gun rights mean to you? And also, what’s your gun of choice (yes you can divide this up between hunting gun and the pistol you carry)?
WW: There aren’t many other things I enjoy more than spending time hunting and fishing. I started hunting when I was 10 years old. (My dad bought me a single-shot 20 gauge from GreenTop in Richmond.) Before my very first hunt, a close family friend gave me a safety briefing that I will never forget. I was told, “guns were made to do one thing and one thing only — and that is take life. When you have one in your hands, you can take a life in an instant and so you have to treat them with the utmost care and respect at all times.” That has always shaped my outlook on guns. When it comes to the federal and state governments’ involvement with gun ownership, I look to another Virginian and Founding Father, James Madison. In Federalist Paper No. 46, Madison explains that the right to bear arms is an essential right of Americans to protect themselves and each other from government overreach and afford them the ability to protect themselves. I believe his concerns were justified then and they are still relevant now. I am always cautious of attempts to restrict our rights to own guns. Said more succinctly, I will always stand up for our ability to own guns and will never back down on the Second Amendment.
Gun of choice: Benelli Super Black Eagle, Glock 23.
MH: As a follow up to the previous question, Governor Northam just called a special session to address the tragedy in Virginia Beach. What are your solutions to the problems of gun violence while still keeping our 2nd Amendment rights in mind?
WW: I do not believe that restricting law-abiding citizens’ right to carry a gun solves the problem of gun violence. Increased availability and support for mental health services, paired with more research and information for citizens on how to interpret signs of mental instability that lead to violent acts would have positive results to lower rates of gun violence, I think.
MH: Okay, that last question was a hard one, so I will throw a softball question. Other than practicing law and turkey hunting, what do you like to do? What do we not know about Will Wampler?
WW: I could swim before I could walk.
MH: Back to the tough questions. Delegate Pillion, the man whom you want to replace in the General Assembly, has been very successful passing legislation to addressing the opioid crisis in Southwest Virginia. What would you do to continue Delegate Pillion’s work on the opioid crisis?
WW: Delegate Pillion’s work on opioids is something that makes me glad that he is one of my representatives in Richmond. I think it is a real credit to his ability as a legislator. He addresses real problems with effective and focused legislation. I hope I can continue to work with him to rein in the availability of opioids and hold people accountable who over-prescribe.
MH: Being a young Republican is something that is rare in this day in age. Talk to us about why even though our generation may not be as conservative as our parents, why is being conservative still important in 2019?
WW: I think the most important thing for young people is to focus on being thoughtful in a day-and-age where there’s not a lot of time set aside for that. Discover your own convictions rather than letting others drive your understanding of the world. And hopefully after all that searching, you will find a path that leads you towards helping people rather than tearing them down. For me personally, I have found that the Republican Party reflects my belief system. Republicans consistently vote for bills that promote economic growth, preserve the rule of law, and protect the freedoms granted to Americans in the United States Constitution.
MH: You seem to be getting a broad range of support across the Republican Party in Southwest Virginia. What do you chalk that up to?
WW: I’d like to think it’s a combination of a compelling vision, hard work, and sincerity. It might be my opponent. Either way, every time I get an endorsement from a prominent party figure or convince someone at their door to vote for me – it makes me work harder knowing they are behind me. I think people appreciate that I don’t just talk about myself and what I can do. I talk to them about the concerns they are interested in and propose new ways to fix some of our recurring issues.
MH: Favorite thing to do in the Abingdon/Bristol area?
WW: When you visit, stop by South Holston Lake. Go below the dam and fish some of the best trout waters on the East Coast. Ride the Creeper Trail. Hike Grayson Highlands or Brumley Mountain. Jump in the North Fork of the Holston or Clinch River. Come for Rhythm and Roots. There are a lot of things to enjoy here, you just have to put your phone down and get off the beaten path a little.
MH: Due to lack of funds, hospitals in Southwest Virginia — specifically in Lee and Patrick County — have recently closed. What must we do to keep our rural hospitals while fighting the rising cost of healthcare?
WW: There have been a few good bills the last few years, including Tim Hugo’s legislation for insurance coupons that I think moved things in the right direction, but I think the most important aspect to lowering the cost of healthcare is being transparent about pricing, and allow consumers to shop around if they are able — especially for voters in my district, where we border both Tennessee’s and Kentucky’s insurance markets. A lot of the hospitals in the region were built to serve populations that are no longer here, so right-sizing our healthcare facilities is other potential solution.
MH: What solutions do you have for those who do not have insurance in Commonwealth of Virginia? Healthcare is such a divisive issue in Southwest Virginia. What is your solution to bridge the divide in healthcare coverage?
WW: Part of retaining our workforce in Southwest Virginia also means attracting more doctors and medical professionals here; as a Delegate I will work on a program to assist in relocating critical professions like doctors, nurses, and dentists to areas where they are in short supply. I will also support efforts like the health wagon, the RAM, and other programs that assist those who live far away from hospitals or without means to receive high quality care.
MH: Okay, those last two questions were really hard to answer, my apologies. Name your favorite place to turkey hunt?
WW: Good luck getting that info.
MH: One of the issues facing Southwest Virginia is casino gambling, specifically close to, but narrowly outside of your district. What is your position on this issue?
WW: Someone once told me when I said I wanted to try gambling, “Buddy, you might as well light your money on fire.” It was sound advice, and I would not recommend gambling as an investment strategy. I think it’s important for the people to realize that the General Assembly could have rammed this legislation through, and the casino project would already be underway in Bristol and in the other parts of the state that are seeking to build a casino, but they chose not to. They left it up to the people of Bristol and other areas to vote on whether they want a casino or not. I think this was a smart legislative decision. Let’s just say that IF it gets built, I hope it is the nicest casino between Atlantic City and Vegas, creates high-paying jobs, draws additional investment, visitors, and provides tax revenue to the region so we can reinvest into other projects.
MH: This year in the General Assembly, Delegate Kathy Tran and Governor Northam made terrible comments about the abortion issue. Myself and many conservative Virginians were horrified at what Delegate Tran and Governor Northam said about this. What is your position on this issue?
WW: I oppose the state funding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and will vote against Governor Northam and Kathy Tran’s infanticide legislation.
MH: Let’s talk about job creation. What is the solution to this difficult issue?
WW: There are many individuals and organizations who are working to tackle this issue. It takes cooperation and coordination between local governments, educators, business leaders, and legislators to really make a wave in economic development. We have to build a collective vision that everyone can identify and work towards. Shotgun blast recruitment strategies don’t yield results. We need to recruit and organically create high-tech industry hubs across Southwest Virginia and the Coalfield Region. Technological advancement is a safe bet, has been for thousands of years; we just need to be in a position to take advantage of new tech growth. Prospective companies need quality office space, or in some cases a commercial site, trained workers who want to work, access to high-speed broadband, and thriving communities to raise their families in. I’m going to work on improving the availability of all of those if elected, then layer that with a positive message. Right now, the message coming out of Southwest Virginia is that we don’t have enough jobs here, young people are having to leave to find work in the cities, we have a drug problem (reality check – so does everywhere else), and our cities are struggling. That doesn’t make anyone feel good about moving their company here. We have to tell a compelling message that makes people want to be here.
MH: Let’s also talk about rural broadband. How are we going to get the internet to the rural communities in Southwest Virginia?
WW: I will continue to support last mile efforts, but with advances in technology-localized broadband, this may be closer than we think. Internet infrastructure is an economic development issue and often a barrier to companies locating here, so I will put my effort into working with companies and local leaders to continue to expand these efforts.
MH: What is your solution to funding Interstate 81?
WW: Interstate 81 is in good shape down here, in my opinion. It’s the state and local roads that I’d like to see some improvements on. While we have a smaller population than say Northern Virginia or Hampton Roads, we can’t afford to be looked over and have the large majority of transportation funding go towards these regions based on population and congestion alone.
MH: Lastly, if given the opportunity to serve, what would you do differently to change Southwest Virginia?
WW: Big changes rarely happen because of the efforts of one person. I plan to find as many people in Southwest Virginia that want to work together to improve our communities and I will try to put some structure behind our efforts. This is the best place in the entire Commonwealth to live; if I’m given the opportunity to represent this region, people will pay more attention to what we have here.
The Primary for the 4th District of the House of Delegates is this Tuesday, June 11.