In a highly-watched move, Democrat State Senator John Edwards announced this week he will not seek re-election after his current four-year term ends in January, ending his 40-plus-year run as a politician. Edwards, who will turn 80 in October, has been the subject of much speculation as to his intentions. Reportedly, he hosted a fundraiser just this past January and public records show he has a campaign war chest north of $100,000. Those aspects indicate his decision to retire to be somewhat mystifying.
However, with President Biden being less than one year older than Edwards but with glaring displays of cognitive decline and Americans increasingly on-edge regarding those gaffes and the president’s ability to function in a time of the Ukraine War, Edwards’ running for re-election as an octogenarian under increased scrutiny may have carried significant liabilities.
A native Roanoker, Edwards was born in the Star City in 1943, the son of the late Judge Richard T. Edwards. Growing up and attending school during the Jim Crow Era, Edwards graduated from the then all-white Patrick Henry High School in 1962, because the school had not integrated yet. (source)
According to Edwards’ campaign website, which is still up, “he was the first president of the student government [at PH]. He was a record setting pole vaulter and state high-school champion and voted by his classmates as ‘most likely to succeed’.”
Edwards graduated from Princeton University in 1966 cum laude. After graduation, he attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City for a year, and later graduated in 1970 from the University of Virginia Law School. Ironically, at UVA Edwards was a writing instructor assistant to Professor Antonin Scalia, who later became a well-known conservative Supreme Court Justice while Edwards went politically to the left.
Edwards served his country during the Vietnam War in the U.S. Marine Corps as a Captain from 1971 through 1973 as a JAG officer based first in Japan and later in North Carolina.
In 1980 President Jimmy Carter (D) appointed Edwards United States Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
In 1993, Edwards was appointed to fill a vacancy on Roanoke City Council and was elected in 1994 to a four year term and as Vice-Mayor. In 1995, Edwards defeated a Republican incumbent to win a seat in the Senate of Virginia, representing the 21st District. He was re-elected in 1999, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. In a few of those races, he faced no or only token opposition.
In a story covering Sen. Edwards’ retirement, The Roanoke Times referred to the 21st District as “a Senate district that leans Democratic.” However, demographics and the district map suggest that characterization is misleading.
As explained in this 2021 column “End the Johnnymander!” The Roanoke Star was seemingly alone among other news outlets to point out that the 21st District was grossly-gerrymandered. By including the Democrat-heavy areas of Roanoke City and Blacksburg in one region and excluding the GOP-leaning communities around it, the lines were set to almost guarantee the victory of a candidate with a (D) behind his or her name. The bizarrely-shaped district lines can be seen here.
There has been much heated back and forth debate on the topic of “rigged elections” recently, but largely eluding headline attention is the fact that, a heavily-gerrymandered district can be seen by some as a kind of “rigged election.”
Correcting that long-standing error, about one year ago the Virginia Supreme Court drew new district lines that will take effect in the upcoming elections in November.
The new 4th District should be much more competitive because it will include all of Roanoke City with the more Republican County, Salem, and eastern Montgomery County. Voter patterns from recent elections have given the newly-formed District the label “trends Republican.”
The redistricting would have placed two incumbents together to square off: Edwards and Sen. David Suetterlein (R). Upon hearing Edwards’ news, Suetterlein released this statement:
“Senator John Edwards has dedicated his life to serving our community as a US Marine Corps JAG, United States Attorney, Roanoke City Councilman, and for 28 years in the Virginia Senate. He and I have very different views on many issues, but, more importantly, a shared love of the Roanoke Valley that allowed us to work together. One of the most recent examples of that shared love is the new neonatal intensive care unit being developed right now in Salem to help our youngest Virginians. I have great respect for Senator Edwards, and thank him for his dedication to the Commonwealth and his service to the people of our region.”
Misspelling Mrs. Edwards’ name, Democrat Del. Salam “Sam” Rasoul (Roanoke City) texted: “Layaly and I wish all the best to John and Cathy[e] in their next chapter.”
The American South has been so strongly Democrat since before the US Civil War, it earned the nickname “The Solid South.” However, as the modern Democrat Party has lurched further leftward, alienating many in the Southern Appalachians, Edwards, though personally affable and soft-spoken, had an extreme voting record increasingly out of step with the region.
Southwest and Central Virginia are strongly pro-life, as evidenced by the three Congressmen our region sends to Washington: pro-life Republicans Ben Cline, Morgan Griffith, and Bob Good. In contrast, Sen. Edwards had a decades-long strong pro-abortion voting record. Despite recent advances in medical technology that prove the life of an unborn child in the womb and that such unborn babies have a heartbeat and can feel the pain from an abortion, Sen. Edwards was unyielding. Ironically, Edwards long had an influential seat on the state Senate’s powerful Health and Education Committee which earned the grisly nickname “Where pro-life bills go to die.”
Across many issues, Sen. Edwards usually followed Democrat Policy discipline and had a leftwing voting record. The nonpartisan Virginia Family Foundation ranked him with a 10% on what they call their “pro-family voting record scorecard.”
Edwards was also a consistent opponent of school choice. Recently he voted to keep 1% grocery tax till January instead of giving Virginians the tax-break starting in July 2022. He helped kill “Sage’s Law” which was designed to respect parents’ rights and reduce sex trafficking and youth genital mutilations. He voted to create and then keep Virginia car owners tied to emissions standards that are set by bureaucrats in California.
Edwards also voted to shut down Virginia’s coal-burning power plants that were a reliable and affordable source of electricity without helping offset the skyrocketing utility bills, and then killed a bill to develop nuclear energy for our area. Most recently, he followed the lead of Sen. Tim Kaine’s wife, Mrs. Anne Holton, and joined other state Senate Democrats to boot a Hindu immigrant BIPOC mother, Suparna Dutta, off the influential State Board of Education.
This is why many have opined that, since the region’s politics are trending red and Sen. Edwards and Del. Rasoul are the last Democrats in the General Assembly from Southwest Virginia, Edwards may have faced a challenging re-election.
The Virginia House of Delegates has a narrow GOP majority while the Senate has a 22-18 Democrat majority. In the case of a tie, pro-life Republican Lt. Governor Winsome Sears can break the tie. Therefore, Sen. Edwards’ announcement not only resonates across Southwest Virginia but may possibly have statewide implications if the GOP succeeds in flipping the seat.
Currently Sen. Edwards’ Chief of Staff is Luke Priddy (D), who won the special election to Roanoke City Council last November. Priddy is to finish the remaining two-years in office for disgraced former council member Robert Jeffrey Jr. (D) who was indicted for felony embezzlement.
With Sen. Edwards’ announcement to retire from politics, the next big question is which Democrat will run for that seat. In an email, the Roanoke City Democrat Committee stated “We recognize Sen. John S. Edwards, who recently announced his pending retirement from the Virginia Senate.” However, neither the email nor Del. Rasoul made any statement about Rasoul throwing his hat into that ring.