CHATHAM — The two candidates sparring for the Republican nomination to replace Delegate Don Merricks went face-to-face on uranium mining, jobs, the role of government and other issues during a forum Thursday night.
Former Pittsylvania County Economic Development Director Ken Bowman and Chatham attorney Les Adams are running to replace Merricks.
Adams and Bowman will compete in the Republican primary June 11.
Thursday’s forum — sponsored by the Pittsylvania County Republican Committee — took place in the General District Courtroom in Chatham. The candidates responded to questions from Danville Register & Bee staff writer Mary Beth Jackson and Chuck Vipperman from WBTM.
The candidates were given one minute to answer each of the 10 questions and three minutes for opening and closing remarks.
Bowman pointed to his years as a York County supervisor and his tenure as Pittsylvania County’s economic development director as reasons he should be elected.
“I have a proven track record,” Bowman told forum attendees.
If elected, Bowman would be the only economic development director in the General Assembly, he said.
Adams touted his experience as a partner at the law firm Adams, Elmore and Fisk, PLC in Chatham, and as a prosecutor for the Pittsylvania County Commonwealth Attorney’s Office.
Adams said he would provide “principled conservative leadership” in the General Assembly.
“I’m a consistent conservative who can be trusted to stand for our shared values,” Adams said.
Both candidates said they were against lifting the 31-year-old, statewide moratorium on uranium mining in Virginia.
Despite suspicions of mining opponents, Bowman said he would not vote to lift the moratorium. Bowman said his biggest concerns are protecting the environment and water and containing mill tailings.
For Adams, private property rights are “essential for our form of government.” However, when use of those rights poses a risk to others who have no say-so in the matter, government must step in, he said.
Adams and Bowman said they were opposed to a mandated state expansion of Medicaid under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, as well as setting up state health exchanges under the law. Medicaid makes up more than 20 percent of the state’s budget, they pointed out.
Bowman expressed concerns about Medicaid fraud, while Adams asked what would happen to Virginia after federal funding for the expansion runs out after five years.
“If we’re left holding the bag, where will that money come from?” Adams said, adding it could lead to tax hikes or cuts in services to pick up the tab.
When asked whether he supported the 10th Amendment, Bowman said he had to look it up, but is in favor of it. The 10th Amendment requires that the federal government’s power is limited to that granted to it by the Constitution. Remaining powers are left to the states.
“I support anything that would curtail government overreach,” Bowman said.
Adams said, “I didn’t have to look it up,” and added that Virginia is not a subsidiary of the federal government. Powers not relegated to the feds go to the states, Adams said.
“I wish more elected officials would pay attention to it,” he said of the 10th Amendment.
Both candidates said they are in favor of a bill that would require photo identification to vote, and they support the Second Amendment guaranteeing the right to bear arms.
When asked what the biggest issue is in the campaign, Bowman and Adams agreed that jobs and economic development are paramount.
Bowman said he would ask the governor to put him on the Virginia Tobacco Commission to represent the 16th District if he were elected. The commission invests money from the 1998 tobacco buyout to attract companies to the former Southside tobacco region, and Delegate Danny Marshall is already a member.
Adams pointed out that government’s role is to create conditions under which the private sector can flourish, not “throwing taxpayer dollars at companies to lure them here.”
The 16th District includes most of Pittsylvania County, parts of Henry County and Martinsville. Merricks, a Republican, announced his retirement in March. He declined to run for a fourth term to focus on his small business.