Delegate forum

Del. Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) of the 58th District and his Democratic challenger, Kellen Squire, gave mostly diverging opinions on several questions posed by moderator Bob Gibson, communications director at Weldon Cooper.

Francis Stevens, Democratic challenger to Del. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) of the 65th District, also shared his thoughts on the widespread issues raised in the forum. Ware did not attend.

Roughly half of the geographic area of Fluvanna belongs to the 58th District, including Lake Monticello and the Palmyra and Cunningham areas. The other half falls into the 65th District, including the Fork Union and Columbia areas.

Bell, an Albemarle lawyer and the incumbent delegate, pointed in his opening statement to some of the accomplishments he has attained so far in the General Assembly, including a new and tighter stalker law, which he said made it “easier for the victim to decide when it’s gone too far, [when] it’s not just annoying – it’s scary.” 

Squire, an emergency department nurse at Martha Jefferson Hospital, said that he decided to run for office because he realized “I could sit around and bellyache about it or I could stand up and try to do something about it.”

Stevens, a 12-year Capitol police officer, said he wants to help those less fortunate. “I grew up not having much in the Philippines, and because of this, I know what poverty looks like,” he said.

Gibson posed several questions, many of which were submitted by the audience as the evening progressed. Each candidate had two minutes to answer and the order in which the candidates responded alternated. All three stayed on topic, delivering cordial, passionate and occasionally funny responses. The Fluvanna Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters sponsored the forum.


Gibson asked the candidates what they liked most and least about President Donald Trump’s performance.

“He targeted the folks that needed to help him win, and that was smart of him,” said Stevens. “We didn’t do a good job on the other side doing that. We missed some states that we should have gone to.”

On the flip side, said Stevens, “He’s a racist. He really is… When he announced he was going to run for office he was so negative toward the Mexicans… He’s undisciplined. He doesn’t know what the heck to do up there, and it shows.”

Squire kept his positive comments brief. “If it was not for Donald Trump I would not be in front of you today,” he said.

“The man is unfit to be the president of the U.S.,” he continued. “The problem I think we have with the Republican Party today is that they are unable to do anything but pledge fealty to him.”

Bell pointed to the Supreme Court. “I like the appointment of Neil Gorsuch. I think he’s going to be an addition to the court for decades, probably. I think that he’s very smart, very committed, and believes in the Constitution,” he said.

On the other hand, said Bell, “I fundamentally disagree with everything Trump has said about eminent domain with regards to transferring property from one person to a developer.” Bell sponsored a successful constitutional amendment that made it illegal for individual property to be seized for private enterprise. “President Trump has made it very clear he takes the other side on that and I disagree with him,” he said.


Gibson asked the candidates for a solution to redistricting reform.

“I’ve heard that Virginia is one of the most gerrymandered states in the U.S.,” said Stevens. He proposed taking the redistricting process out of the hands of the legislature and into the control of “an unbiased panel or group of people…without interest to one particular party.” Republicans and Democrats have both been guilty of gerrymandering, he said. “Now is the time to do away with that and let’s just be fair…and let’s let the people who are non-partisan draw the district, and then let the voters decide who they want.”

Around 2010 gerrymandering “turned from incumbency protection…into something malicious,” said Squire. Those in charge used data to “draw districts maliciously to make it a hyper-partisan electorate,” he said. “I think it needs to be taken out of the hands of the General Assembly.”

When drawing districts, there are multiple goals that are not reconcilable, Bell said, including compactness, competitiveness, and communities of interest. “If you think you can do all of it, no – they’re excluding opposites,” he said. Charlottesville “is one of the bluest places in the state. If you want to make the City of Charlottesville have competitive elections, you have to break it into three or probably four parts… You can do that but you can’t do that and also say we’re going to respect the boundaries of Charlottesville and we’re also going to keep [the districts] compact.” 

Gun laws

Gibson asked the candidates what they thought could be done to improve gun laws for the safety of the public.

“I would do away with the open carry law that we have in Virginia,” Stevens said to loud applause. He said that open carry in the case of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville was about intimidation.

Squire said he wants training and permitting. “You’re not going out hunting, I promise you, with a 30-round magazine,” he said. “So given the threat to public safety I think it’s just common sense that they need to go.”

“I think we need to do a much better job enforcing the laws we have on the books,” said Bell, referring to bump stocks as a way to get around the automatic weapon restriction.

White supremacists

Gibson asked the candidates what should be done about the white supremacists “invading our community.”

“I think to the extent that they are breaking laws we should enforce them,” said Bell. “There was a period of time in which law enforcement lost control of a main public street in a community 20 miles from here… If you break our laws, we will arrest you,” he said of white supremacists. “If you run back…we will extradite you.”

“It’s not against the Constitution to have horrible ideas like they do,” said Squire, “so it’s a tough spot the City of Charlottesville was in because they can’t tell those people that they can’t come for that reason… If they want to go out and parade out there, let them to the extent that the Constitution says we have to, and we’ll show the world that we are better than they are.”

Stevens suggested a partnership between the community and law enforcement to keep tabs on white supremacist groups so as to be better informed of their movements and not taken by surprise by their gatherings. “We need to enforce the law and arrest those that break the law,” he said.

Confederate statues

Gibson asked the candidates what should happen to Confederate statues in Charlottesville and elsewhere in Virginia.

“I think the statues should stay,” said Bell. “I voted for a bill a couple years ago that would have said that the locality cannot take them down. The bill passed the House; it passed the Senate; it was vetoed by Gov. [Terry] McAuliffe… I’m open to people with other views on what the statues stand for or mean, or putting up other information. I know Fluvanna’s looking at that very issue.”

“I think it should be unequivocally left up to the locality,” said Squire. He said he thinks the statues may have a darker meaning. “I don’t think they went up for history, y’all,” he said, pointing out that many were erected long after the end of the Civil War and placed near historically black communities.

Stevens acknowledged that he didn’t grow up in the South, but said that he believes the statues should be put in a museum. “That’s what history is for, to learn about what happened in the past,” he said. “It seems like these statues have become so divisive.”

Minimum wage

Gibson asked the candidates where they stand on increasing the minimum wage in Virginia.

“There are immediate impacts of raising the minimum wage,” said Bell. “It makes it much more expensive to hire people… Simply saying by fiat that the government can come in and raise minimum wage, I think, understates the impact it would have on employment. It would also, I think, inevitably lead to those employers that have a major part of their cost being wages, either raising prices or laying people off.”

“Raising the minimum wage is a good first step but we need to look across the board to see what we can do to address income inequality,” said Squire. “It’s a systemic issue and anybody that tells you they can slap a Band-Aid on it and fix it – not right.”

“Minimum wage laws are meant to help those with much more rudimentary skills, who will be concentrated among the poor,” said Stevens. “Those are the types of people we need to help.”


Gibson asked the candidates where they stand on abortion and “invasive” ultrasounds.

“I think there are profound moral issues raised by the abortion issue,” said Bell. He pointed to a Virginia law passed in 2012. “The first version that caused the controversy said that the ultrasound would be performed according to the medical standard in the community. We then changed that when it became clear that that was the ‘vaginal ultrasound bill.’ We changed it to an abdominal ultrasound.”

Squire pointed to birth control as a way to reduce the unintended pregnancy rate. “If you want to call yourself pro-life and you want to reduce abortion rates, that’s great, let’s get it done, but it’s got to be through…access to birth control, access to health care. That will unequivocally get it done, and we don’t have to make it illegal, and we don’t have to shame women.”

Stevens kept his answer short, pointing to his agreement with what Squire had said. “It’s none of my business or anyone’s business up at the state legislature to regulate what you do with your body,” he said.

Medicaid expansion

Gibson asked the candidates where they stand on Medicaid expansion.

Stevens said he believes in expanding Medicaid, and referenced a heart attack he had a year and a half ago. He said he hadn’t thought of health insurance much before that, but then “got to thinking about those that were not as fortunate” and who had no health insurance when health crises arose. “I don’t know how we’re going to pay for it but I believe that we need to take care of those who are vulnerable,” he said.

Squire said that people without health insurance end up in the emergency room either because that is their only place to receive care or else they have waited until their conditions are bad enough that they have reached a state of emergency. “We’re all paying for it right now… That’s why when you get the hospital it’s always, like, $964 and things like that,” he said. He referenced the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act of 1986 that requires emergency rooms to treat whomever comes regardless of their ability to pay. That law “is good,” he said, “because we don’t want people to die in the streets, but consequently it’s the biggest unfunded mandate in the history of probably the world.”

“We have expanded Medicaid…by 263 percent,” said Bell. “It used to be 5 percent of our budget; it’s now 22 percent… Absent some fundamental reforms to Medicaid, this system is unsustainable… Everybody says, ‘This is more important than money.’ That money that we spend on Medicaid means there’s less money for other things you will now, I’m sure in the next stack of questions, say that you also want.”

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