Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


June 26, 2014

38th District race — All eyes on Virginia contest

— Much is at stake in Virginia’s upcoming special election to fill the 38th Senatorial District vacancy in Southwest Virginia. The election will be held just a little more than two months from now on Tuesday, Aug. 19. And we finally know who the candidates are. Democratic nominee Mike Hymes will meet Republican nominee Ben Chafin. Rick Mullins, a funeral home owner in Russell County, says he plans to run as an independent.

Hymes, a resident of Tazewell, is the current Southern District member of the Tazewell County Board of Supervisors. He was first elected to the Tazewell board in 2006 and then re-elected again in 2009. Hymes, a third generation coal miner, currently works as the corporate director of human resources at James River Coal Company. Chafin is a current member of the Virginia House of Delegates who also works as an attorney and is the owner and operator of a beef-cattle farm in Moccasin Valley. Chafin currently represents the 4th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates and is chairman of the board of First Bank and Trust Company.

All three men are hoping to succeed former lawmaker Phillip Puckett, who abruptly resigned earlier this month throwing Virginia’s political process for a loop in the process.

Before Puckett resigned, a bitter stalemate between the then Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House over whether to accept additional federal Medicaid dollars under the new Affordable Care Act law had left Virginia on the brink of a state-government shutdown. But when Puckett — a popular Democrat — quit after 16 years of service to the 38th Senatorial District, Republicans gained a slim majority in the Senate. And the GOP already had a majority in the House. Suddenly, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe had lost his  bargaining edge in the battle to expand the Affordable Care Act — dubbed Obamacare by critics — in the state.

Further complicating the already controversial picture, McAuliffe announced last week that he would veto parts of the Virginia state budget passed by the GOP-controlled General Assembly. Among the vetoes announced by McAuliffe was an amendment to the budget inserted by conservative Republicans that was aimed at ensuring the Democratic governor could not expand Medicaid without legislative approval. But members of the GOP-controlled General Assembly are arguing that McAuliffe does not have that power to expand the Affordable Care Act on his own and they are preparing to fight.

If that wasn’t enough — now the Associated Press is reporting that the FBI is investigating the circumstances surrounding Puckett’s abrupt resignation.

The political picture in Virginia — thanks to a single eight-county and two-city Senate seat right here in deep Southwest Virginia — couldn’t be more clouded.

But the good news is that voters right here in the coalfield counties will have the final say come Aug. 19. Their vote will decide which political party controls the General Assembly. And we can’t think of another time in recent history when the coalfield counties have been afforded such power in such a closely watched and important race.

It goes without saying that every registered voter in the 38th Senatorial District should cast a ballot come Aug. 19. In the meantime, we wish the candidates the best of luck as they begin hitting the campaign trail.

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