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Democrat Monty Mason and Republican Danny Diggs are facing off to represent District 24 in a fiercely contested race that could help determine which party controls the Virginia Senate.
The district includes Poquoson, Williamsburg, York County and parts of Newport News and James City County.
Mason joined the Senate in 2016 and previously served in the House of Delegates. Diggs served as the York County-Poquoson Sheriff for more than 20 years, retiring last year to run for office. The two men faced off at a forum last month hosted by the Virginia Peninsula Chamber of Commerce in Newport News. Both candidates strove to present themselves as moderates capable of representing a diverse constituency.
The campaigns have become heated at times, with no shortage of attack ads.
Chapman Rackaway, chair of the political science department at Radford University, said he believes the race will be a toss up.
Recent redistricting left Mason in an area that Rackaway considers to have a slight Republican lean. But he said Mason has outraised his opponent, which gives him an advantage. Mason and Diggs have raised $3,256,426 and $2,033,862, respectively as of Sept. 30, according to reports from the Virginia Public Access Project.
“The race will boil down to which base will turn out strongest,” Rackaway wrote in an email.
In interviews with the Daily Press and The Virginian-Pilot, the two weighed in on taxes, abortion and public safety.
Abortion has become a major focus of this year’s elections after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin has said he will push to ban abortions after 15 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest or when the pregnant woman’s life is at risk.
“That is a middle-of-the-ground solution to this abortion issue,” said Diggs, who supports the governor’s stance.
Diggs added he would “unequivocally” not support any efforts that sought to place restrictions on abortion access prior to the 15-week mark.
“That’s what I have committed to, 15 weeks,” he said. “I’m not doing anything that is more restrictive than that.”
Under current state law, abortions are allowed during the first and second trimester. Abortions are also allowed in the final three months of pregnancy if three physicians agree the pregnancy will lead to the woman’s death or irremediably impair her health.
Mason said protecting abortion access is among his top priorities. He said new restrictions in other states have created gray areas for doctors who are afraid of facing legal repercussions. Some medical professionals are subsequently leaving or avoiding those states, he said.
“They are getting out so they can follow their training from medical school and the Hippocratic oath and not have to worry about balancing a line from a law written by somebody who does not understand the practice of medicine,” Mason said.
NPR reported this year on a survey of more than 2,000 current and future physicians that found 76% would not apply to work or train in states with post-Roe abortion restrictions.
Mason recalled reading about a woman in Oklahoma who was unable to get an abortion even though she was having complications from a nonviable pregnancy.
“She said it felt like they wanted her to go sit in the parking lot until she got sick enough that she could come back in and they could act,” he said. “You never want a patient or a medical professional to be in that sort of circumstance — and that’s what these laws lead to.”
Mason said he would work to reduce gun violence by protecting measures such as red flag laws, which the General Assembly passed in 2020, and pushing for other legislation that balances the right to own firearms with public safety concerns.
Red flag laws allow people to petition a court for the temporary confiscation of an individual’s firearms if that person is deemed to be a risk to themselves or others.
“I will defend your right to own a firearm to the end of the earth, but there are legitimate restrictions and obligations and requirements that go with that and I think all responsible gun owners agree,” said Mason, who has identified himself as a gun owner.
Amid a string of high profile shootings in Virginia, Democrats in both chambers this year introduced a slew of bills intended to prevent gun violence. Republicans killed all but one that allowed a tax credit for the purchase of safety equipment.
Mason supported many of the measures, including a bill requiring new gun owners to take a safety class and another intended to prevent impulsive violence by enacting a waiting period on gun purchases.
Diggs said he does not support any new measures to restrict firearms and is also against red flag laws because he believes they are unconstitutional.
He said tougher penalties for criminals and supporting efforts to improve mental health care — like Youngkin’s Right Help, Right Now initiative — were better ways to prevent gun violence. The initiative, which had support from both sides of the aisle, is investing $230 million to bolster mental and behavioral health care.
If elected, Diggs further stated that he would not support Democrat-backed initiatives to allow prisoners to be released early due to expanded earned sentence credit programs.
Earned sentence credit programs allow those in prison to have their sentences reduced if they demonstrate good behavior by staying out of trouble and participating in programs, such as anger management or parenting classes, intended to help them become better citizens.
“When those people were sentenced, they went before a judge or a jury,” said Diggs. “(To reduce the sentence) is not fair to the judge or the jury or to any of the people who worked on those cases, or especially to the victims of those crimes who expected a certain punishment.”
Diggs said only the Parole Board should have the authority to reduce a sentence.
A recent poll from the Wason Center for Civic Leadership at Christopher Newport University found the economy and inflation was a top issue on voters’ minds heading into the Nov. 7 election.
If elected, Diggs said he will work to reduce taxes.
He said he supported Youngkin’s push this year to enact a $1 billion tax cut package and blamed Democrats for holding up state budget negotiations.
“The blue brick wall held up the budget for seven months because they didn’t want to approve the governor’s tax cuts,” Diggs said.
Youngkin pushed to build on last year’s tax cut package by lowering the corporate income tax rate from 6% to 5%, increasing the standard income tax deductions for individuals and joint filers, and expanding tax exemptions on veterans’ pensions by eliminating age requirements.
House Republicans backed the governor’s plan, while the Democrat-held Senate wanted to nix some of the tax cuts and give about $1 billion to fund school divisions. The negotiations stalled out until a compromise was reached last month.
Mason said he is proud of Democrats for pushing for more education funding.
He added that taxes are sometimes needed to help the state with projects, like the widening of Interstate 64 or the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel expansion, both of which he believes will have a “transformational” effect on the region.
“It is super easy to run for office and say ‘I am going to cut all the taxes’ but then you cannot say you are supportive of these projects,” Mason said. “You cannot have it both ways.”
Katie King, firstname.lastname@example.org