Candidate Forum Covers New Topics

Chris Head holds map of 17th HOD to help people know their district.

by Valerie Garner

Channel 7 News Anchor Hollani Davis moderated a forum with Republican Del. Dave Nutter and Incumbent Democrat John Edwards, who are vying for the 21st district Senate seat. In their first real forum for the 17th House of Delegates district, Democrat Freeda Cathcart and Republican Chris Head had a chance to differentiate themselves on the issues.

Two uncontested candidates, Delegate Onzlee Ware (D-11) and Democrat City Clerk of Court Brenda Hamilton, each got three minutes to speak about their accomplishments. About sixty people attended the forum held at William Fleming High School Auditorium. It was sponsored by the Roanoke Branch of the  NAACP and the Roanoke Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.

When it comes to employing ex-felons “you can’t tell employers what they can ask and what they can’t … but employers can be educated,” said Edwards. The governor is the only one that has the authority to restore an ex-felon’s voting rights. “We need to change that so that they will automatically get their voting rights restored under certain circumstances,” he said.

Cathcart believes that “keeping the [felony] question off of certain job applications would help ex-felons to reenter the workforce.” She too would seek a more expedient way to restore their voting rights.

Head addressed employing ex-felons from the perspective of an employer. He owns Home Instead, an elder care facility. He said it was “frustrating sometimes … all my employees have to be bonded.” A felony conviction may be decades old but still holds them back though they would make an “outstanding employee,” explained Head. “On our application we ask if [the conviction] was in the last seven years; that’s a more reasonable approach for businesses to take.”

Amtrack funding is on the budget chopping block. Amtrack funding enhancement “is not going to happen overnight,” said Nutter. The House and the Senate need to come together to find a way to make it work.

Edwards has consistently advocated for Amtrack service to Roanoke. Cathcart was concerned about the business effect if air service to New York City is eliminated. “We cannot afford to be isolated … we need to make sure we are connected – it provides jobs,” she said.

Head said, he was a “big fan of rail transportation.” It is very important for business to be able to easily connect with Roanoke. “It is a wonderful way to travel,” said Head. He encouraged everyone to travel by rail and to talk it up.

All candidates agreed that parent involvement was needed to combat youth “sexting.” “You can’t sue Internet search providers … I’ve tried that,” said Edwards. Nutter thought that the crime commission needed to get involved. Head said it was a “moral fiber problem.”

Cathcart added that she was concerned about bullying and youth suicides. “There is something we need to address in our society as far as our first amendment rights and also the right to protect our citizens that makes them so distraught that they would take their own lives.”

In closing statements each was asked to address candidate promises that are not kept once in office. Edwards touted his accessibility to constituents. Nutter said it “all comes down to the promise of jobs” and his 10-year General Assembly record of kept promises. Head promised to be accessible to constituents.

Cathcart closed by pointing to Virginia being the 7th wealthiest state in the nation, but ranking 38th in support for K-12 public education. She promised to address that disparity in Richmond and to create a foundation for businesses to thrive. “Our children and citizens need to own their own destiny,” she said.

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