Ed. — The following are responses to questions posed by The Independent News to candidates for 8th District of the Virginia Senate in the election on Tuesday, Nov. 5. Answers to our questions in this series generally are not edited, aside from obvious punctuation issues, spacing and formatting, or for clarity. Our full voter guide is now on stands. DeSteph is the incumbent.
BILL DESTEPH (R)
Residence: Broad Bay Point Greens
Military Service/Education Completed: United States Navy, both as a chief petty officer and as a naval special-warfare intelligence officer
Endorsements: Virginia Professional Fire Fighters, Police Benevolent Association, National Federation of Independent Business- Virginia
Phone: (757) 321-8180
Social media: @destephforva on Facebook, @BillDeSteph on Twitter, @billdesteph in Instagram and, on LinkedIn, visit linkedin.com/company/bill-desteph-for-senate
What are your specific qualifications for this office? I am proud to currently serve as the senator for the 8th District and humbly ask for your support for re-election. I recruited hundreds of thousands of state-dollars in transportation funding for our area, including expansion of the 1-264/64 Flyover, increasing I-64 to three lanes in both directions, and $3.8 billion to widen the HRBT. Under our conservative financial leadership, Virginia rose to become the #1 state for business this year according to CNBC. Before the Senate, I served in the House of Delegates and on City Council. I’m an entrepreneur and know the economic climate needed for businesses to thrive.
What, to you, is the most important issue facing your district and how will you address it in office? My goal is to continue making Virginia a place where families and businesses can thrive. That means ensuring you and your family have good paying jobs, that your businesses enjoy conditions where you can innovate and bolster the local economy, and that we bring down the rising costs of healthcare so you can keep more money in your pocket.
What are your three main legislative priorities? A top priority is bringing down healthcare costs. This session I was the chief co-patron of several bills which became law: autism coverage is now available for individuals of all ages when it previously only covered ages 2-10; we enhanced the safety net for those facing a lapse in coverage, now if you have short-term insurance plans extending or renewing is guaranteed; small business owners can pool their buying power to provide quality health care for their employees at a lower rate; we made sure all health care payments go toward your yearly deductible. We expanded care, lowered costs, and increased access for more Virginians.
Another top priority is ensuring our children receive a quality education. I voted to increase teacher pay by 5% this year to keep and attract the best teachers in our public schools.
The most important priority of government is public safety. I’m a proud supporter of law enforcement, and I will continue to fight to ensure they have the resources necessary to keep us safe. We must fully enforce gun laws and add tougher penalties for those who possess or use guns illegally, while protecting the rights of law abiding citizens.
What priorities do you have that will help support the agriculture community? How have worked (or how will you work) on issues impacting this industry? I was honored to recently be endorsed by the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation based on the recommendations of local committees of farmers, who said I “demonstrated a clear understanding of the needs and challenges farmers are facing.” I’m proud to support our rural and agricultural communities. I’ve worked on programs to balance water quality improvement objectives with the economic survivability of our farms. I know that farmers are often frustrated with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries Board over responses to the effect of wildlife on agriculture, and I support expanding nuisance laws so farmers can protect their crops.
How will you support local efforts to address sea level rise and recurrent flooding? As chairman of the Hampton Roads Caucus, I know firsthand how the issue of recurrent flooding is a concern for our region. I supported legislation to create the Joint Subcommittee on Coastal Flooding and the Commonwealth Center for Recurrent Flooding. These endeavors provide an infrastructure through which the state can thoughtfully develop policies to mitigate the effects of Coastal Flooding, including $10 million in state funding for Virginia Beach to purchase and protect Pleasure House Point.
Additionally, I’ve worked with the private sector to bring money in to the Virginia Shoreline Resiliency Fund, established in 2016, to form a public-private partnership to address the issue of coastal flooding. We need to reform the Virginia Pooled Financing Program to allow infrastructure projects to address sea-level rise. The Virginia Pooled Financing Program, administered by the Virginia Resources Authority, is well-positioned to work with local governments to help facilitate sea-level infrastructure projects around Hampton Roads.
How will you support Virginia Beach in its long-term recovery from the May 31 mass shooting, including the needs of survivors? During the Special Session, I filed 27 pieces of legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, strengthen penalties for crimes committed using a firearm, while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens. I’ve met with dozens of survivors and worked with the City of Virginia Beach since day one to get state counselors here to support survivors. In the long term, a lot of the legislation we’re doing provides for the sustainability of the United Way tragedy fund and other support structures; I’m coordinating with the Virginia Retirement System on behalf of survivors for whom this incident is a catalyst for retirement. I’m working everyday on behalf of survivors, the families of the fallen, and all of us impacted by this tragedy.
Do you support efforts to ensure nonpartisan redistricting? Why or why not? We need to make sure that Virginia redistricting includes fairly drawn districts that continue to represent the will of the people. I support the process laid out by Virginia’s founders in the Virginia Constitution, which calls for Virginians to be directly engaged in the redistricting process through their representatives.
Do you support access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion access? Give an example of legislation you might support or oppose on this issue. [The candidate did not respond to this question.]
MISSY COTTER SMASAL (D)
Residence: Virginia Beach
Occupation: Former small business owner
Military Service/Education Completed: Served in US Navy / Master’s Degree
Endorsements: Everytown for Gun Safety, League of Conservation Voters, Planned Parenthood
Social media: @MissyCotterSmasalforSenate on Facebook @MissyforSenate on Twitter
What are your specific qualifications for this office? From my service in the Navy, to my over ten years as a small business owner, to my time as a coach and a volunteer, I’ve been deeply invested in our community. Service and leadership were central to my time in the Navy. As a small business owner, I prioritized customer service, and being a mentor to many of the high school and college students to whom I gave their first jobs. I also advocated to improve local school safety and to have the city council support the ERA, and both experiences lead me to my candidacy for the 8th Senate seat.
What, to you, is the most important issue facing your district and how will you address it in office? People across our district want action to reduce and prevent gun violence, and our General Assembly has failed to take action. Virginians shouldn’t have to worry about gun violence in schools, at work, at church, or at the mall. I will stand for universal background checks, red flag laws, and protecting public safety.
What are your three main legislative priorities? Our three main legislative priorities are preventing gun violence, properly funding our education system, and protecting our environment. For too long, our lawmakers have been complacent on these issues.
When our legislators had the opportunity to reduce future gun violence, they shut down the special session in less than 90 minutes. For over a decade they have failed to adequately fund our public schools or pay teachers a livable wage. They have dragged their feet on addressing climate change and sea level rise, putting the investments we’ve made in our homes and businesses at risk. I plan to address all of these issues and take action on critical issues that face Virginia Beach families.
What priorities do you have that will help support the agriculture community? How have worked (or how will you work) on issues impacting this industry? Our campaign has received the endorsement of Virginia’s Sierra Club and the League of Conservation Voters. Responsible land conservation is essential for our agriculture community and to mitigate sea level rise and recurrent flooding. My opponent, Bill DeSteph, is a developer who repeatedly sought to develop land in the transition area, which would have exacerbated flooding for his own constituents. We must address sea-level rise and recurrent flooding, ban off-shore drilling on our coasts, and create economic opportunity in our community by creating more green jobs here in Virginia Beach.
How will you support local efforts to address sea level rise and recurrent flooding? I would take a comprehensive approach with long- and short-term goals. By signing onto the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, we can reduce carbon emissions and gain income to invest in coastal resiliency. We also need a plan for responsible land conservation so that flood waters have a place to go. We need the General Assembly to commit funding to coastal resiliency and to help us expand our economy with off shore wind and solar jobs.
How will you support Virginia Beach in its long-term recovery from the May 31 mass shooting, including the needs of survivors? I would take action immediately to address gun violence, including universal background checks, red flag laws, limited magazine sizes and monthly purchases. Survivors should also have access to counseling services and funds established for families and survivors should be granted a tax-free status.
Do you support efforts to ensure nonpartisan redistricting? Why or why not? Yes, and this is a central issue in the 2019 campaign. Virginians have been gerrymandered over the past decade, resulting in politicians protecting their power by drawn unfair districts. I support non-partisan redistricting and view it as essential to restoring faith in our electoral system.
Do you support access to sexual and reproductive health care, including birth control and abortion access? Give an example of legislation you might support or oppose on this issue. Yes. Reproductive and sexual health care are under constant attack, and I stand strongly in support of access to birth control and abortion care. I would work to repeal TRAP laws that unfairly target abortion providers and work to ensure greater access to birth control options.
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