When the 2021 session of the Virginia General Assembly adjourns today, a strong conservative voice for Southwest Virginia will be missing.

State Senator Ben Chafin, R-Russell, who represented Virginia’s 38th Senatorial District, died Jan. 1 of COVID-19 related complications. He was only 60 years old.

With Chafin’s death, the greater Southwest Virginia region lost a powerful voice and strong advocate in Richmond. His untimely passing occurred just a little more than a week before the scheduled start of the 2021 legislative session, which has raised obvious questions about when and how the Southwest Virginia-based Senate vacancy will be filled.

Some of those questions were answered Tuesday by Gov. Ralph Northam, who issued a writ of election declaring a special election in the 38th Senate District for March 23. That means Chafin’s vacancy won’t be filled until after the 2021 legislative session has concluded, which is unfortunate.

Those candidates who are interested in running for the special election will need to act quickly. The governor’s order indicated that the last day for candidates to file to appear on the ballot for the March 23 special election is January 22. Virginia law requires a special election rather than an appointment by the governor to fill a legislative vacancy. 

The far reaching legislative district is composed of all of Tazewell County, all of Bland County, all of Buchanan County, all of Russell County, all of Dickenson County, all of Pulaski County, all of the cities of Norton and Radford, and parts of Smyth, Wise and Montgomery counties.

We, of course, were saddened to learn of Chafin’s passing. He was a strong advocate for our region, and his death creates a great void in the General Assembly. It’s also a reminder of just how serious COVID-19 can be.

With hope a number of good candidates will step forward for the special election. Now that Chafin is gone, we need another strong voice for Southwest Virginia in Richmond.

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