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Next door in the 19th District – which includes Floyd County, Salem and parts of Bedford, Carroll, Franklin, Montgomery, Roanoke and Wythe counties – Republican Sen. Ralph Smith, a former Roanoke mayor, announced this spring he would retire after two terms. That race for an open seat also has turned into a three-way contest involving Democrat Michael Hamlar, independent Steve Nelson and Republican David Suetterlein, Smith’s legislative aide. The district’s demographics and past voting patterns make Suetterlein the frontrunner, but the unpredictability of campaign politics and the fact that the race is for an open seat create a fair amount of uncertainty. The candidates represent different philosophies on a variety of issues, as well as links – or not in the case of independents – to political parties that represent different alliances and potential benefits for Southwest Virginia. Most of the General Assembly’s work involves wonky policy tweaks that don’t split along party lines. On the few issues that do, however, the election of a Republican or Democrat makes all the difference. Perhaps the biggest ongoing issue of contention is whether to expand Medicaid to cover 400,000 uninsured Virginians with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is $23,850 for a family of four. The federal government would cover most of the cost, estimated at about $2 billion a year in Virginia. Gov. Terry McAuliffe and state Democrats favor the plan, which would bring federal funding as part of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. Republicans think the plan has too many strings attached, plus they don’t want anything to do with President Barack Obama’s signature law. That partisan dichotomy extends to the regional Senate races: Democrats Edwards and Hamlar, as well as independent Caldwell,

Democrat incumbent John Edwards has been in the Virginia Senate since 1996.

support Medicaid expansion. Republicans Dye and Suetterlein, along with independent Nelson, oppose it. State lawmakers don’t have much influence over the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, a natural gas transmission line that could travel through the 19th and 21st districts as it connects the Marcellus Retired physician Nancy Dye, a Republican, has made opposition to regulations part of her campaign.

Shale formation to a growing customer base in the Southeast and mid-Atlantic U.S. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will approve or deny the plan. However, the General Assembly can affect a number of related issues, such as how utilities interact with landowners along the route. Independent Nelson supports the Mountain Valley Pipeline. Dye initially supported it but has backed away from that position. She said in late July she has “no position” on the pipeline at the moment and is waiting for answers on a final route and other questions. Democrats Edwards and Hamlar actively oppose it, though they are vague about what they can do to stop it. Republican Suetterlein skirts the question, saying FERC has the ultimate authority but does say he’d be open to laws requiring more of utilities wanting to use the government’s power of eminent domain to claim private property. Caldwell, an independent, says the pipeline should be routed along the existing interstate but provides few details about how he could make that happen. In the 21st, Edwards is running as a longtime incumbent with seniority. He talks up his work helping to make the Roanoke Higher Education Center a reality in the ’90s and more recently enticing Amtrak to return passenger rail service to Roanoke, which is due to begin in 2017. He also lists the opening of Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Research Institute as a regional victory in which he played a part. Dye, a retired surgeon who with her husband also designed and manufactured medical devices, has brought a high level of energy and enthusiasm to a campaign based on her business experience. She wants to cut government regulations she sees as an obstacle to entrepreneurs and growing businesses. Dye lives in Rockledge, in a mansion on Mill Mountain that ROANOKE BUSINESS


Roanoke Business- Sept. 2015  
Roanoke Business- Sept. 2015  

COVER STORY: The changing fortunes of farming: Virginia's biggest industry is evolving.