Candidates for the Republican nomination for 56th District House seat make their case

By Heather Michon

Former Congressman Tom Garrett told an audience of Fluvanna Republicans on Friday (Jan. 27) that he was going to talk about some tough subjects during his portion of a candidate’s forum for Virginia’s  56th District House seat – so tough he suggested parents might want to take their children out of the room.

Garrett grew up in Louisa County, graduated from the University of Richmond, and spent six years in the Army. He was elected Commonwealth’s Attorney for Louisa in 2008, State Senator in the 22nd District in 2011, and the 5th District seat in Congress in 2016. 

In that 2016 Congressional race, Garrett carried Fluvanna County by 58 percent. Besides Garrett, Appomattox attorney Kevin Bailey and Goochland-based marketing consultant Jennie Wood are vying for the nomination. The 56th District includes about one-third of Fluvanna County.

But as Garrett explained in an often emotional speech on Friday, throughout this political rise, he dealt with a drinking problem that often left him suicidal, and finally led him to take a break from politics. 

In 2018, rumors circulated that he had misused his Congressional staff for personal matters –  claims which he disputed – and in May of that year, he admitted his issues with alcohol and announced he would not seek reelection. 

“I am an alcoholic,” he said on Saturday. “I just haven’t had a drink in four years, eight months, and three days.”

He said faith has played a critical role in his recovery. “God got Tom Garrett sober,” he said, “because Tom Garrett tried everything he knew to control how he drank and he couldn’t.” 

Garrett said some of his friends had encouraged him not to enter this race because it would inevitably dredge up painful issues from the past. He talked specifically about a photo that had circulated on the internet some years ago that showed him holding a gun to his head – “a cry for help,” taken at a moment he was at his lowest.

But he said he knows he’s “in the right place” and wants to serve the people. “Let them show the picture. Let them say what they want to say. He [God] is going to use me how I’m supposed to be used. It may be in the General Assembly, it may not be.”

Asked about his specific philosophy and positions, he said he was running on his record and the thousands of votes he had cast in both the legislature and Congress. 

Garrett’s remarks came between two other candidates for the Republican nomination for the House seat in the 56th District. Bailey and Wood are both newcomers to the political scene.

“I’m just a regular guy,” said Bailey. “I’m a family man, a farmer, a lawyer.” He said he decided to run for delegate because people had encouraged him to do it, but also because “I care deeply about protecting my life, my family’s life, my kids’ lives. I care about protecting our liberties.” 

On the issues, Bailey said “I don’t think anyone in Richmond will fight harder than me to protect the unborn,” asserting his beliefs in protecting 2nd Amendment rights, and in taxpayer-funded support for private schooling. 

Jennie Wood said she was running “because, like many of you, I’m sick of seeing America and Virginia being destroyed at the hands of radical activists and politicians.” 

“I’m a business owner,” she added. “I understand what it takes to create a plan and execute that plan in order to produce the change that is needed. I’m also a practitioner of Brazilian jiu jitsu, so I have the drive and the fight to see things through to the end.”

Wood said she was a supporter of broadband expansion and was in favor of localities taking a “balanced and measured approach” when it came to the debate between economic development and maintaining an area’s rural character. She also believes that “our tax dollars follow our children” when it comes to choosing between public and private schooling.

The event on Saturday was held by the Fluvanna County Republican Committee at the Fluvanna Public Library. A video of the entire forum is available on the Tom Garrett for Delegate Facebook page. 

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