Ed. — This story originally ran in the Sunday, Jan. 31, print edition. Jeffrey Feld, a podiatrist who ran unsuccessfully for School Board last year, announced his candidacy as a Democrat in the 81st House District after this story was published. Information about his candidacy to challenge state Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, is scheduled to appear in the Sunday, Feb. 14, print edition of The Independent News.
BACK BAY — State Del. Barry Knight, a Republican who has represented the 81st House District since 2009, says he is seeking reelection to help keep the state budget in check, college affordable and the business climate throughout Virginia friendly.
“Locally, I’d like to try to look at the flooding issue and our transportation issues because of flooding,” Knight said on Tuesday, Jan. 26, naming Indian River, Pungo Ferry and Sandbridge roads as examples of arteries affected by wind-driven flooding that occurs in southern Virginia Beach.
And he stressed the importance of his work in appropriations, including as a leader in the budgeting process despite the minority status of the GOP in Richmond.
“I understand how to navigate the process up there in the General Assembly,” he said. “To me, the most important thing for why I was sent up there is the dollars and cents. It’s for the money issues up there and being on appropriations for so many years.”
Knight, a longtime farmer, served on the Virginia Beach Planning Commission, including as chair, before winning a special election in the 81st District after the resignation of former state Del. Terrie Suit during a term.
The district includes a number of rural communities and its fair share of conservative voters. Knight has defeated Democratic challengers even when Democrats have made gains statewide and in other districts that include parts of Virginia Beach.
Two years ago, Knight won reelection while control of the state legislature shifted from red to blue. Knight defeated challenger Len Myers, 52.1 percent to 47.7 percent in the 2019 election, according to official returns, and the win came though the 81st was among the state legislative districts affected by a redistricting court decision that the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project found narrowed his GOP advantage.
It is not clear who Knight may face as a major party challenger this year – and, he noted, there is some uncertainty about how redistricting could impact the 81st District.
For now, he faces Jeff Staples, an automobile mechanic who has sought state legislative offices as an independent candidate and on the Green Party line. Staples is running in the 81st for a second time. Knight defeated him six years ago, when Staples, then running on the Green Party line, was the only challenger. Staples said he is running as an independent candidate this year.
Staples has announced his candidacy in the 81st House District – and the redistricting case from 2019 is why Staples is able to run again this year after he had moved out of the old 81st. Staples in an interview noted that he was vastly outspent in the 2015 race when he was on the Green Party line.
“For a candidate to raise 1 percent of the money Barry Knight had, I came in with 30 percent of the vote for a minor party candidate,” Staples said during a telephone interview on Tuesday, Jan. 26. “I’ve been looking forward to a rematch.”
Staples lived in Hickory before he moved to another part of Chesapeake outside the district in 2016. He now lives in Brentwood neighborhood in Chesapeake, and he remarked that the horseshoe-shaped 81st became a bit odder when it was redrawn in 2019 due to the court case. That brought him back to the 81st after he had run other campaigns in other districts.
“This district has always been crazy,” Staples said, speaking about its shape. “It’s like a big horse-shoe thing.”
Staples described himself as a progressive populist who does not subscribe to either major political party.
“I’ve run against Democrats, too,” he said. “When I see what I think is corporatism in some-body’s office, it doesn’t matter much to me whether they’re Republican or Democrat. In fact, they have pretty much the same donors. If we can break that then the rest of things will fall into place. They’ll have to start paying attention to the people rather than the checks that are rolling in.”
Staples said he is running, in part, to protect rural communities in both cities represented in the district. He said priorities include limiting the influence of big money in legislative elections by increasing the salaries of lawmakers who opt into a plan limiting the size of corporate and individual donors. Among other things, that might help level the playing field for candidates who could not win election due to the cost of seeking office.
He also aims to introduce legislation to slow down development, such as preventing building permits to be issued within school zones that are over capacity or served by overburdened roads. And he wants to require solar panels for new local and state government buildings and for some older buildings in which they can be used.
Knight said during an interview at his district office in Back Bay on Tuesday, Jan. 26, that he wants to continue his work. “I really enjoy helping my neighbors because we have a whole lot more constituent issues than anyone would ever realize,” he said.
Knight said there are daily constituent issues his office deals with, which is an important part of the job. “Sometimes I can help them out statewide, but sometimes I have a little bit of a pulpit here, you know, where I can call the congresswoman’s office or I can call the locality,” he said.
Knight said he values his continued roles in the appropriations process and as a budget conferee, one of two for the minority party while the majority has five. Last year, Knight filled that role alone for the minority.
He also knows that what happened two years ago with Democrats gaining power in the General Assembly was a “tremendous” sea change for Virginia government. He said he is concerned some legislation being sought by the majority will hurt Virginia’s reputation as a place to do business.
“They’re putting way more onerous regulations on, and they want to [increase] the minimum wage,” he said. “They want to put in some hiring preferences, preference some minority contracts, a lot of things that translate into a higher cost to do business for the state, and they’re passing these mandates to the localities, also.”
Knight said that will make contracts take longer to issue and become more expensive.
“I absolutely believe in protections for the workers and for the environment,” he said, “but we don’t need to overreach, and I believe that they have tremendously overreached.”
Knight also said there is concern that the commonwealth will lose its right to work status. And he said he will fight for law enforcement, criticizing efforts to take away qualified immunity, for example.
“What policeman, under the threat of being sued personally, would want to go into that profession?” Knight asked.
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