Edwards Kicks Off Campaign in Roanoke

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U.S. Senator Mark Warner with VA State Senator John Edwards at the fundraiser.
U.S. Senator Mark Warner with VA State Senator John Edwards at the fundraiser.

by Valerie Garner

Control of the Commonwealth’s Senate hangs in the balance pending the outcome of the 2011 November elections. Republicans have their sights set on capturing it after redistricting and reshuffling the political deck in efforts to secure party seats.

“If the Senate of Virginia goes Republican, that would be a bridge too far …  We cannot let that happen,” said incumbent Democrat Senator John Edwards.

Traveling through downtown Roanoke, the 21st Senate district incumbent’s headquarters is hard to miss. Last Friday, he officially opened his Roanoke campaign headquarters on the corner of Campbell Avenue and Williamson Road.

Democratic leaders, officials, friends and supporters filled the room as Edwards made his announcement. The headquarters campaign kickoff was followed by a fundraising luncheon at the Shenandoah Club with U.S. Senator Mark Warner as guest speaker.

Education and transportation are two of Sen. Edwards’ prized topics. Edwards said the goal is to “ensure children starting as early as age four get an appropriate education.”

Edwards recognized Cabell Brand at the fundraiser as “one of his heroes.” Brand is chairman of the non-profit Cabell Brand Center that focuses on the environment, alleviating poverty and enhancing quality of life through education.

Population shifts to the north have reduced Senate seats and “we’ll just have to work harder for Western Virginia,” said Edwards.

Edwards echoed U.S. Senator Warner’s theme that “you just can’t get things done unless you’re willing to compromise.” He said there used to be a time in the Virginia Senate when Democrats who were in the minority and the moderate Republicans would work together “to get things done.”

Edwards took the opportunity to deride his opponent, Republican Delegate Dave Nutter. Nutter was quoted as saying “there is no panacea fix” for transportation. “There is no panacea unless you’re willing to bite the bullet,” said Edwards. He said his opponent has “no plan whatsoever” to fund transportation.

“Construction money is going to road maintenance and 38 percent of bridges are deficient,” complained Edwards. “My opponent’s answer is that there is no answer,” he said.

Despite a tight budget, Edwards was able to secure $150,000 for the SmartWay bus that travels from Roanoke to Lynchburg, carrying passengers to the Amtrak train northward.

“You can’t cut your way to prosperity … the Republicans want to cut, cut, cut,” said Edwards at the fundraiser. He said if it had not been for the Democratic controlled Senate, public education would have been slashed even more by his opponent in the House of Delegates. He estimated that the Senate saved 12,000 teachers’ jobs in 2010, according to the Virginia Education Association.

Edwards also credited the Senate for holding the line in Medicaid cuts that would have cut reimbursements to doctors and hospitals.

He said that they also saved the Commission for the Arts and killed ten out of twelve of the immigration bills that were unreasonable. He chided his opponent for wanting to abolish embryonic stem cell research. Edwards called that “a 19th century mentality.”

“Creating jobs comes from investing in education and infrastructure. Public/private partnerships will stimulate the economy,” he said. One example in this area is the Roanoke Higher Education Center. The Higher Education Center was a hallmark of success for Edwards.

Sen. Edwards has a private law practice in downtown Roanoke. He was first elected in 1995 and for several election cycles he has been unopposed. Republican Delegate Dave Nutter defeated Roanoke businessman Tripp Godsey to earn the right to face Edwards in November.