The three Republican candidates for the 23rd House of Delegates seat highlighted their experience and governing philosophy in a forum Wednesday, each hoping to distinguish themselves ahead of next month’s primary.

Throughout the hourlong forum, which was hosted by the Lynchburg Republican City Committee, the candidates largely agreed with each other on policy matters. Each pledged to defend Second Amendment rights and each said they favor strong restrictions to abortion, though Ron Berman, a conservative activist, was the only candidate to call for its outright abolition.

Similarly, the candidates agreed to cut regulation and taxes if elected. They also said they would work to reign in wasteful spending by the state government. And each pledged to support the eventual nominee in the general election this fall. Republicans will choose their candidate in a June 11 open primary, meaning any registered voter can participate despite party affiliation.

Wednesday’s forum at the Lynchburg Public Library on Memorial Avenue attracted about 25 people. Chris Faraldi, the director of government relations for the Lynchburg Business Alliance, served as moderator.

The three candidates are hoping to succeed Republican Del. Scott Garrett, a Lynchburg surgeon, who will retire at the end of his term this year. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election and Republicans are counting on holding the 23rd District seat to maintain their slim majority in the House.

At the forum, the candidates attempted to separate themselves from the field by outlining their experience and guiding principles.

Turner Perrow, a Lynchburg City council member, said his 10-year tenure on council makes him the most qualified among the three candidates. The 44-year-old Amherst County native also said his relative youth could allow him to eventually join House leadership and hold significant power in Richmond for several years as a representative of Central Virginia.

“I’m doing this because we need to make sure that the Virginia that I grew up in, the Virginia I love, is the same Virginia for my children,” he said.

Wendell Walker, a longtime GOP activist, said he would draw on a network of contacts made throughout his 30-year career with the party to help him legislate. Walker, 66, also said he could devote more time to the job since he is nearing retirement and because his children are now adults. Perrow and Berman both have school-aged children.

“I would be your servant in Richmond,” he said. “I would be your voice there.”

Berman, 48, said he would fight legislation that impedes constitutionally-guaranteed rights, including proposals from within the Republican Party. He blasted current party leadership for a series of “retreats,” especially for their failure to kill legislation which expanded Medicaid last year despite holding a majority in both chambers.

“I’m not running to be just a compromiser, just another negotiator,” Berman said. “I’m not running to be part of the leadership. Because I think our leadership, as it is, betrayed us. I don’t want to be a part of that team.”

The 23rd House district, which includes parts of Amherst and Bedford counties as well as parts of Lynchburg, is considered a Republican stronghold. Garrett faced only one Democratic challenger in his four reelection bids and won by double digits in each race. In 2017, he won nearly two-thirds of the total vote, despite strong gains from Democrats elsewhere in the state.

The eventual GOP nominee will face Democrat David Zilles, a Lynchburg engineer, in the Nov. 5 general election.

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Richard Chumney covers breaking news and public safety for The News & Advance. Reach him at (434) 385-5547.

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