Democratic lawyer challenges Cantor

For Wayne Powell, Virginia’s 7th Congressional District “isn’t personal, it’s Cantor.”

Powell, 62, is challenging Republican incumbent Eric Cantor of Henrico County for his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Powell is one of the three candidates running for the spot on the Democratic ballot this fall.

For Powell, a self-styled progressive Democrat, the issues for the district are not just jobs, economy and education. He said a primary issue is Cantor himself.

“I can’t think of any positive thing he has done since he has become a congressmen,” Powell said.

Powell was born and raised in Richmond and graduated from the University of Richmond with a dual degree in Spanish and French. He later obtained a degree in law from the university and opened a law firm, Powell and Parish.

Powell was in the news recently when he agreed to give free legal representation to the 31 protesters who were arrested on the steps of the Virginia Capitol during a demonstration against legislation they view as an attack on women’s rights.

Powell has never been a politician. He served in the military for 30 years and as an assistant attorney general for the state. While in the Army, he was mobilized to command an intelligence unit after Sept. 11 and retired from active duty as a colonel in 2002.

Cantor has served as the 7th District representative since 2001 and has been the majority leader in the House since 2011. The district stretches from the Richmond suburbs north to Culpeper County and east to New Kent County. It has been a solidly Republican district, consistently electing GOP candidates in federal, state and local elections.

Ray Allen, senior strategist for Cantor’s campaign, said Cantor’s focus this fall would be to help small businesses. He called such businesses “the engine that can pull us out of the economic troubles.”

“The congressman is focused right now on what we can do to help small businesses create and retain jobs,” Allen said. For example, Cantor has proposed a 20 percent tax cut for small businesses.

For Powell, the issues are economic reform, infrastructure, renewable energy and education. While his campaign targets the Henrico congressman, there are several issues he emphasized as key to his platform.

“First and foremost, we need to repair the infrastructure,” Powell said. “There are 97 bridges just in the 7th District alone that need to be repaired.”

Powell said he wants to see higher taxes on Wall Street businesses, such as hedge funds, to offset costs of tax credits on things such as renewable energy.

“We need to subsidize, like we already do for big oil, renewable wind and solar energy,” Powell said.

He also wants to make higher education affordable by tying it to national service.

“I’m a product of public schools and college loans,” Powell said. “First and foremost, I think we should provide a four-year education for service to the country. You give us two years; we give you a four-year education.”

Outside of the issues, Powell is trying to make a presence for himself through social media. He refuses to take money from “super PACs” (political action committees); instead, he is using social media to promote his campaign. The Powell campaign has used several social media platforms including Twitter, Facebook and Web aggregator Reddit to reach voters.

“I can’t be bought,” Powell said. “I’m a latecomer; I didn’t have a computer until I was 40. But I think it is important to be available and transparent. I plan to remain a part of that when I go into Congress. I’ll still go on social media such as Reddit and do frequent town halls.”

Powell is one of three seeking the Democratic nomination for the 7th District seat. The other two candidates are David Hunsicker, a retired Air Force member and real estate broker, and Jim Phillips, an attorney and college professor. The Democratic caucuses will be held in April.

“I think they are both good Democrats, and anyone is better than Cantor. However, the biggest thing that separates me from Phillips is my military and small business experience,” Powell said.

“With regards to Mr. Hunsicker, I don’t know much about his résumé, but I think the nature and breadth of my military work separates me from him. Also, me being born and raised in the 7th District, and I think that differentiates him from me.”

Caucuses will be held in each county on April 14 or 16. Then a convention will be held April 28 to announce the nominee.
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