CHARLOTTESVILLE – Independent Elliott Harding went on the offensive as State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, defended his record and past campaign donations at a forum on Wednesday.
Harding is challenging Deeds in Virginia's 25th Senate District and the two met for the second time this election cycle in a forum hosted by the Senior Statesmen of Virginia.
The district covers part of Albemarle County, all of Charlottesville, Buena Vista, Covington and Lexington, and all of Alleghany, Bath, Nelson, Highland and Rockbridge counties.
Deeds has represented the district since 2001 after nine years in the House of Delegates.
Deeds went on the defensive when the candidates were asked if they would take any donations from Dominion Energy or return any they’ve received.
Harding has previously attacked Deeds’ contributions from the company and said the state has an “unholy alliance” with Dominion. Harding wants the General Assembly to end Dominion's reign as a sole energy provider.
“At the end of the day, they don't need to have that monopoly," he said.
Deeds received $109,950 from the company between 2001 and 2016, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. The donations covered his campaigns for the House, Senate, state attorney general and governor.
Of that, $80,000 went toward his campaigns for statewide office.
Deeds said he stopped taking Dominion donations in 2016, but he’s not refunding any of their money.
“I'm not making any apologies for not being independently wealthy," he said. “They fund everybody."
Deeds said that he has an “independent” record in the General Assembly on energy regulations.
Harding also attacked Deeds’ record on the death penalty and LGBTQ rights.
In 2005, while running for state attorney general, Deeds disagreed with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling limiting the death penalty and advocated for expanding it in other ways to include juveniles. Deeds also has spoken against same-sex marriage in previous races.
Deeds was given the chance, but didn’t directly respond to Harding’s challenges about his record.
“I can’t go back 28 years. I don’t know about everything he just challenged,” he said. “I hope that if I made mistakes in the past I’ve grown past those mistakes and I think I’ve shown in the past 28 years of service that I can get things done.”
Deeds said he still has a lot to do in the Senate, such as mental health reform, but Harding said if those topics were going to be addressed, Deeds would have done it by now.
“Eighteen years in the Senate … at a certain point it’s just not going to get done,” Harding said.
Deeds noted that he must get a majority of the chamber to support his measures to get them passed.
The candidates were asked several questions about tax reform and how to generate additional revenue for the changes they want to make.
Harding focused on legalizing cannabis, while Deeds discussed the need to reexamine tax credits.
Both candidates advocated loosening the Dillon Rule, which limits local government powers to those explicitly provided by the state government, but in different ways.
Harding said allowing local governments to create any laws they want would create confusion among residents passing from one jurisdiction to another. Instead, he advocated for a system that would allow local governments to opt out of certain decrees from Richmond.
Deeds said localities should have more authority to restrict firearms in public spaces.
Deeds and Harding had similar views on increasing investment in mental health services, but varied on firearm regulations.
Deeds supports universal background checks and so-called “red flag laws,” which allow for temporary removal of firearms when someone is deemed a threat to themselves or the public.
Harding supports allowing people under 21 who have a protective order against someone else to be allowed to carry a concealed firearm.
Harding also advocated for loosening the regulations for nonviolent felons to regain their right to a firearm. He also supports imposing a civil penalty for selling someone a gun without a background check if the buyer would have failed a background check and commits a crime.
Democrat Amy Laufer, who is running in the 17th Senate District, also participated in the forum. She is challenging incumbent Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, who was invited but didn't attend.
Harding and Deeds will face off again on Thursday in Earlysville.