Republicans have kept a firm hold on the two state Senate seats decided by Lynchburg-area voters, but they’ll be meeting in a statehouse that’s flipped blue.
In his first regular election cycle race, Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, held his position from first-time Democratic challenger Dakota Claytor. In District 22, 62.8% of residents voted for the incumbent over 37.1% of voters supporting Claytor.
Celebrating his win at his home in Lynchburg, Peake said he was confident his reliable accessibility and visibility to voters in eight counties and Lynchburg would resound with voters. He counted his successes in sponsoring education bills allowing for more flexibility in teacher licensure and recognition from the Virginia Education Association, “which doesn’t happen very often with Republican legislators.”
“There are a lot of partisan issues and I’m involved in some of them but to the best I can, I just want to represent everybody in the 22nd District,” he said.
Peake was elected to his seat in a 2017 special election to replace Tom Garrett, who moved on to serve a single term as a U.S. Representative. He said he wants to focus on improving teacher pay, law enforcement pay and transportation, but anticipates expansion of government-funded health care will cut funding available to those ends.
Claytor, a 23-year-old Amherst County native and hairstylist, said he was honored to receive support from voters and volunteers.
“We did a really great job with this campaign — almost 22,000 votes and not all the votes have been counted,” he said. “I think that that’s amazing for the race that we’ve run and the district and the way the lines have been drawn.”
He decided to take on Peake in part based on Peake’s vote against Medicaid expansion, and said he hopes to see Democrats in the statehouse enact positive systemic change in health care.
Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford County, ran uncontested for his seventh term in the District 23 seat, which spans part of Lynchburg and Campbell County and most of Bedford County. This was the second race in a row he’s run uncontested, getting votes from 93.9% of constituents.
He said he believes his 28 years representing Virginians and leadership position as president pro tempore of the Senate are manifestation of voter faith in him.
Newman said he’s kept focus on balancing the state budget, including providing alternate options to Obamacare.
“The last few years we have had some pretty great success in getting tax reform done, making sure that our budget is not only balanced but also very favorable for Central Virginia,” he said.
Both senators voiced dismay at how often the Virginia Department of Elections website went down on results throughout the night — especially with a large election turnout looming in 2020.
And both senators foresee changes on the horizon.
Peake said he anticipates a number of freshman state candidates he called “the most radical element” will be juggernauts in pushing issues like abolition of Virginia’s status as a right-to-work state, something echoed by Newman. Peake also anticipated carbon tax legislation “that is going to make us even less friendly to do business in,” tax raises and loosening of abortion laws.
“I’m very concerned about law enforcement, that you could see a big movement toward the left that would not be supportive of, or protect, our law enforcement,” Newman said. “There’s a lot at stake.”
He said he anticipates the Virginia Senate remaining a “collegial” body of legislators.
Rachel Mahoney covers courts for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5554.