Republicans, Democrats ready to race to fill open House seat

When Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, announced on March 18 that he would not run for re-election, local Republicans and Democrats prepared for a fight, ready for the race to fill his seat.

Massie, who said in his announcement on Facebook that his time in the House of Delegates had been “the greatest honor of (his) professional life,” had served the 72nd House district since 2008. He said he prayed before making a difficult decision.

Eddie Whitlock, the chairman of the Henrico County Republican Party, praised Massie’s record in the House. But Whitlock, who announced Saturday that he would seek the GOP nomination for the 72nd District seat, said he would work to carry on Massie’s legacy.

“He was a leader in financial issues and educational choice issues,” Whitlock said. “I will be advocating that same agenda.”

Whitlock is running against Ernesto Sampson, a local financial adviser, in the Republican primary.

On the other side, Schuyler VanValkenburg, a government teacher from Glen Allen High School, is currently running unopposed for the Democratic nomination in the 72nd District race.

VanValkenburg said he hadn’t been focused much on Massie or his decision. But he had a different perspective on the delegate’s legacy.

“It’s really not about him, it’s about the district,” VanValkenburg said. “Republican beliefs aren’t lining up with the district’s values. Families and businesses move here because there’s opportunity for all. People move here because it’s a high quality of life and your kids can go to good schools and get into good universities, and I don’t think Republicans as a whole represent those values, and that includes Jimmie Massie.”

VanValkenburg, who has taught in Henrico for 12 years, said that he brought a unique perspective to the race.

“I am employed in the public school system, which is kind of the jewel of Henrico County,” he said. “As a teacher, you see all types of people and you can’t wish them away. You need to compromise and accept that the world isn’t black and white. When you do that, you can get a lot of things done.”

He said that his work in education had inspired him to take a leap and enter politics.

“I teach the Constitution and I’ve tried to inspire my kids to be idealistic,” VanValkenburg said. “I’ve taught them about the ability to go out there and be someone who can make a change, someone who can matter. And I need to put my money where my mouth is.”

Whitlock also emphasized the importance of his background.

“I’m one of these people who’s lived in the district all my life,” Whitlock said. “I went to the University of Richmond, for undergraduate and law school. I grew up here, I went to school here, and now I’m raising my children here.”

Whitlock said that in his experience working with the local Republican Party, he had been concerned with government spending. He said he would seek to minimize the government’s involvement in citizen’s lives.

“I have something called the Whitlock test, and it has three parts,” he said. “First, spending should only be made on core functions of government. Second, the government must be able to do it better than private industry. And third, that spending should be at the minimum necessary level to accomplish the task.”

Whitlock described himself as a constitutional conservative. He expressed concern about VanValkenburg’s “progressive” agenda.

“He has a totally different vision of what government should be,” Whitlock said. “He has a Bernie Sanders vision of government, and I have a Ronald Reagan vision. I believe in a small government. He believes in a large, expansive government. I don’t believe that the government is the solution to every problem.”

VanValkenburg rejected Whitlock’s comparison.

“It’s easy to make stuff up,” VanValkenburg said. “I have a Tim Kaine style of governance, if we want to put it in terms of people. I am pragmatic. It’s not all about the government, but the government is part of the equation. But ultimately, it’s about making people’s lives easier.”

VanValkenburg said the transition from teaching to politics had not been difficult.

“In a lot of ways, it’s very similar,” he said. “I’m a teacher, so I have to get up in front of people every day who are skeptical, and I have to convince them.”

VanValkenburg said the county was changing, as evidenced by Hillary Clinton’s success in the 72nd District in the general election. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Clinton won the district with 48.6 percent of the vote in November.

“I think Western Henrico has been a changing community for a while,” VanValkenburg said. “I think that the people of Henrico are starting to realize that their values line up with what the Democrats are talking about.”

Whitlock said he was not concerned. He called Clinton’s victory in the district an anomaly.

“I don’t think that Trump played very well in Virginia,” Whitlock said. “But if you look at the Senate race just two years before, that was won by a Republican handily. If you look at the governor’s race, the district voted Republican. If you look at the 2016 election result, you might think that the Henrico map is turning blue, but I don’t think the district has changed very much in the last five years.”

But VanValkenburg was optimistic. He said he would be out in the county every day until the election.

“I’m going to get out there and have a positive message,” VanValkenburg said. “Nobody’s going to out-hustle me. I’m going to knock on doors and tell people I’m a pragmatic Democrat, and I’m fighting for opportunity not just for our generation but for the next generations. I think that’s what Henrico is about, I think that’s what Virginia is about, and I think that’s what the country is about. And I think we have a great chance to win.”
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