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General Assembly Candidates Face off at Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce Forum

September 19, 2023

By Christopher Six September 19, 2023

Moderator Mindy Carlin of Access Point poses a question to the candidates. (Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce)

WILLIAMSBURG — With early voting slated to begin Friday, The Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce held its 2023 Candidate Forum Monday at Colonial Heritage.

All 140 General Assembly seats are on the ballot in November after redistricting. Of the area’s current delegation, Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, chose not to seek reelection to spend time with his family and return to teaching. Redistricting also saw him in the same district as Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover. Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, first elected to the House in 2015, also chose not to seek reelection to spend more time with family. Redistricting had left him in a Republican-friendly district.

Republicans held a 52-48 majority earlier this year in the House of Delegates, and Democrats a 22-18 majority in the Senate. With all seats up for grabs, Republicans have the opportunity to take full legislative control. Conversely, Democrats could keep the Senate and flip the House. Or the government could remain divided. Regardless, the outcome will have a marked effect on what Republican Gov. Glenn Younkin will be able to achieve in the months ahead.

Locally, in the Senate, the City of Williamsburg, James City and York Counties will be represented by two members, while three members of the House of Delegates will represent the area after the Nov. 7 election.

The candidates for Senate District 24 are incumbent Democrat Monty Mason, who formerly represented Senate District 1, and Republican Danny Diggs, who served as Sheriff of York County and the City of Poquoson for 23 years. In Senate District 26, McDougle, who formerly represented Senate District 4, is facing off against Democrat Pamela Gardner of Gloucester.

In House District 69, Republican Chad Green, a member of the York County Board of Supervisors, is running unopposed. House District 71 sees incumbent Republican Amanda Batten, who formerly represented the 96th District, challenged by Democrat and political newcomer Jessica Anderson. In House District 86, former 91st District representative A.C. Cordoza, a Republican, faces Democrat Jarris Taylor, the current director of Hampton University Online.

Left to right, Angela Bezik – Legislative Affairs Committee Chair and program sponsor: Principle Advantage Government Relations, Republican Candidate Chad Green, Democrat Challenger Pamela Garner, Democrat Senator Monty Mason, Democrat Challenger Jessica Anderson, Democratic challenger, Dr. Jarris Taylor, Mindy Carlin, Access point, Terry Banez – Chamber CEO, Republican Delegate A.C. Cordoza, Republican candidate Danny Diggs, Republican Delegate Amanda Batten, Republican Senator Ryan McDougle, Emily Reynolds – Access Point, Cassidy Taylor – Access point. (Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce)

The full slate of local House and Senate candidates took the stage for the forum, offering local business leaders an opportunity to hear from each on a wide variety of topics including business regulation, right-to-work, affordable housing, offshore wind, and transportation.

The forum was a largely civil affair and candidates respected the time limitations. The newcomers — Garner, Anderson and Taylor — used the forum to introduce themselves to the local business leaders, as did McDougle, who despite his long career in Richmond, found himself in front of a new crowd thanks to redistricting.

Many of the incumbents touted their ability to work across the aisle and their accomplishments — in particular, the recent compromise that ended a six-month stalemate over amendments to the two-year state budget. That compromise combined short-term tax reductions with investments in education, behavioral health and pollution reduction.

“I was very happy to go back and vote on a compromised budget. Last year, as you know, we provided about $3.8 billion in tax relief in the first year of the budget. This year, we’re focused on putting that money towards education, but in a compromise fashion,” Mason said. “We decided to have a tax rebate as well… but at the same time applying about $700 million towards K through 12, including a lot of flexible money to allow the school systems to focus on some of the learning loss we’ve seen. We also applied a lot of money — $189 million — in mental health, and then some college affordability and higher education money.”

The sharpest differences were between Mason and Diggs, in what pundits see as a very tight race that could help Republicans flip the Senate.

“Let’s not kid ourselves. There’s a stark contrast between me and my opponent, especially on the topics of taxes, public safety, education, and business,” Diggs said. “As your state senator, I will fight to lower our taxes. My opponent hasn’t found a tax he isn’t willing to hike. He has voted to double the gas tax, supported putting tolls on Interstate 64, and is actively fought Gov. Youngkin every step of the way of reducing other taxes.”

Mason pointed out that monies raised from taxes went back into the community, and that they were a big part of how the I-64 projects were getting done.

But, despite party ideological differences, the candidates often found themselves in agreement on priorities, and the need to represent the region with some degree of unity in Richmond.

“Some folks show up in Richmond because they have absolutely the very best idea that is going to revolutionize everything in Virginia, and they are there to make sure that that happens. And, maybe they do have the best idea. And some folks are there because they are very wed to your party ideology and there’s nothing wrong with that either. We all certainly represent our respective parties,” Batten explained. “But having worked as a legislative aide for legislators in this area for a number of years, I think I bring a different perspective to Richmond. I look at everyone in this room, the organizations that you represent and that you serve, and I carry those ideas with me to Richmond. I strive every day to listen very carefully to what the folks in our community really want. I recognize that we are unique in relation to all the other areas of the Commonwealth.”

Per the Virginia Department of Elections, the first day of in-person early voting at your local registrar’s office is Friday, Sept. 22. The deadline to register to vote, or update an existing registration is Oct. 16. Voters may register after that date through Election Day, however, their ballot will be provisional. The deadline to apply to have a ballot mailed to you is Oct. 27. The request must be received by your local voter registration office by 5 p.m. Voter registration offices open for early voting on Saturday, Oct. 28. The last day of in-person early voting at your local voter registration office is Saturday, Nov. 4, at 5 p.m.

See who is on your ballot by viewing the candidate lists.

You can register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot online using the Citizen Portal.

Learn more about your district and redistricting at VPAP.org.

Del. Amanda Batten seeks another term — this time in a redrawn district

August 9, 2023

By BEN SWENSON | Virginia Gazette correspondent

PUBLISHED: August 9, 2023 at 9:50 a.m. | UPDATED: August 9, 2023 at 10:26 a.m.

Del. Amanda Batten said she is eager to serve constituents for a third term in the House of Delegates. Challenger Jessica Anderson believes the formerly-safe Republican seat is much more competitive because of statewide redistricting.

Every 10 years, officials redraw districts for all 140 General Assembly seats based on U.S. Census figures. Until her term expires early next year, Batten represents the 96th House District, which includes parts of James City and York counties. General Assembly elections on Nov. 7 will fill seats in the redrawn districts.

Batten resides in the new 71st House District, which no longer includes York County, but instead comprises portions of James City County, New Kent County and Williamsburg.

Batten said losing York County is unfortunate, but she’s ready to represent new constituents.

“I live geographically almost dead center” of the redrawn district, close to New Kent County, Batten said.

Batten believes Williamsburg is a logical addition to the redrawn district, and while everyone thinks their own community is special, she said the Historic Triangle is truly a unique place.

According to Batten, she initially ran for office in 2019 to serve her neighbors as a legislator, having gained ample experience behind the scenes as a legislative aide.

Four years later, she said, she’s running on the strong record of her first two terms. Her elevation to leadership status among House Republicans — she is now caucus chair — will help her more effectively serve constituents, she said.

Batten said that she’s deeply committed to the priorities that constituents bring to her, and to determining the needs of the community and advocating on their behalf.

Anderson, meanwhile, believes that she brings to voters a resonant story and message that will give her the upper hand in November.

“I can speak to the issues in a very real way that (Batten) can’t,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, the catalyst for her foray into politics was the end of her first marriage and, prior to her remarriage in 2017, navigating the subsequent fallout as a single mother. She had to access the social safety net, an experience she describes as humbling.

“The system is not set up to want people to be successful, to grow and get off the system,” she said.

Anderson said her work in the public school system has given her a firsthand look at many other families in similar circumstances for whom legislative decisions are harming.

The Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol compelled Anderson to be more conspicuous in her political advocacy, she said. She began speaking out in public forums and racked up substantial followings on politically-themed social media accounts.

Both campaigns are busy fundraising and door-knocking in the 71st House District. The candidates both say they welcome the opportunity for a vigorous political contest.

“I have a legislative record — votes I’ve cast and legislation I’ve carried,” Batten said.

“When someone asks me a question, I answer it,” Anderson said. “I don’t play games or speak political jargon.”

___

Del. Amanda Batten, Republican (incumbent)

Age: 44

Residence: River’s Bend at Uncle’s Neck, James City County

Family: Husband, Richard; one son

Occupation: Delegate for the 96th District since 2019

Political experience: Has served two terms in the House of Delegates; formerly a staffer for Sen. Tommy Norment and then Del. Brenda Pogge

Education: Bachelor of Arts in social science (Ashford University); Associate of Arts (Frederick Community College, Frederick, Maryland)

Website: amandabatten.com

___

Jessica Anderson
Jessica Anderson

Jessica Anderson, Democrat

Age: 41

Residence: Westmoreland, James City County

Family: Husband, David; three daughters; one stepdaughter; one stepson

Profession: Administrative assistant, Matthew Whaley Elementary School

Political experience: First run for public office

Education: Associate of Arts in business administration (Thomas Nelson Community College)

Website: jessicaandersonforva.com

Ben Swenson, [email protected]

James Pest Control Recognized by Virginia General Assembly

June 30, 2023

Pest Control Technology

By Brad Harbison

The company was presented with Virginia General Assembly Resolution No. 567 in recognition of 50 years in business and its contributions to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Pictured (left to right) are Sonia and John James, Virginia delegate Amanda Batten, Shara James Ware and administrative assistant Tawny Bartelt. Photo courtesy of James Pest Control

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – On June 14, Virginia delegate Amanda Batten visited the office of James Pest Control to present the company with a copy of Virginia General Assembly Resolution No. 567,  which honored the company for 50 years in business and its contributions to the Commonwealth of Virginia. (Click here to download the Resolution No. 567).

The resolution was passed by the House of Delegates and Senate of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

James Pest Control was founded by Sonia and John James, former president of the Virginia Pest Management Association (VPMA) and the Tidewater Pest Control Association. In 2005, John James was recognized by VPMA with a Lifetime Stewardship Award in recognition of this efforts to enhance the standards and protocols of the pest control industry in Virginia.

The resolution also commended James Pest Control for “supporting the economic vitality of Williamsburg and surrounding areas and the businesses the call it home through its involvement with the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce.”

Today, James Pest Control is led by CEO Shara James Ware, daughter of Sonia and John James. Shara joined the business after graduation from Longwood College School of Business.

Triggered by doughnuts?

May 26, 2023

Fox News

On “The Ingraham Angle”, Virginia Republican state Del. Amanda Batten says she tried to “show appreciation to teachers,” but the local teachers’ union criticized her gesture.

A Republican lawmaker delivered doughnuts to teachers. Then came a political food fight

May 23, 2023

Virginia Mercury

By Graham Moomaw

Critics object to Del. Amanda Batten’s teacher appreciation gesture funded with campaign money

Earlier this month, Virginia Del. Amanda Batten, R-James City, bought almost 1,000 doughnuts and set out to give them to public school teachers working in her Williamsburg-area district.

She marked the occasion with a Facebook post showing her carrying armfuls of doughnut boxes in a multi-school delivery that she said amounted to 996 doughnuts, or 83 dozen.

“The end of the school year is in sight, and I’m grateful to our hard-working teachers as we recognize Teacher Appreciation Week,” Batten’s May 12 post read. “Thank you for all you do!”

The doughnut deliveries to 19 schools in the Williamsburg-James City County and New Kent County school districts were accepted. But — in a sign of the intensity of Virginia’s political debates over K-12 public schools — some in the Williamsburg-James City County system saw an ulterior motive hidden beneath the glaze and sprinkles.

One of the photos posted to Batten’s Facebook page showed a custom doughnut-box label with an important line in smaller print: “Paid for and Authorized by Friends of Amanda Batten.” That phrase signals an activity was funded by money from a political campaign; Batten confirmed the doughnut expenditure was made from her campaign account.

The pushback, which included the local teachers’ union taking aim at Batten’s voting record, was so strong school officials told Batten similar doughnut drop offs would be declined in the future due to their “political nature.”

In an official statement on the matter, the Williamsburg-James City County Education Association, which represents local teachers, took aim at Batten’s record of voting for more alternatives to traditional public schools and against collective bargaining rights for teachers.

Alynn Parham, the president of the local teachers union, said Batten’s visits sparked an email from an anonymous group of teachers who “addressed concerns about Batten’s presence in the school district.”

“The union felt that we needed to also make a response recognizing that her presence triggered some members and employees,” Parham said.

The school division ultimately sided with staffers who felt the doughnut delivery was inappropriate.

“While we certainly appreciate the gesture of thanks, several members of our staff have indicated the purpose of the gift appeared to champion the Delegate’s campaign and/or be an attempt to solicit votes (ex. flyer indicated gift was ‘paid for and authorized by friends of Amanda Batten’),” Kara Wall, the school division’s strategic communications director, wrote in a May 15 email to Batten.

In an interview, Batten said there was nothing political about the note that came with the doughnuts. Adding the campaign disclosure, she said, was an attempt to “err on the side of transparency” and show the $1,672 doughnut purchase wasn’t made with taxpayer dollars.

“I don’t know if that’s an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars or not. We had the campaign funds to do it,” Batten said. “Had I left off what I think is a legally required disclaimer, that somehow would have been more acceptable? That’s odd.”

Asked if she considered using her own money, Batten said she saw the expenditure as no different than other routine uses of campaign funds “to support community events and outreach.”

“I just think it’s sad that anyone would object to the observation of Teacher Appreciation Week by a legislator,” Batten said. “Or the default would be to politicize doughnuts.”

Batten is running in a redrawn district with a slight Republican lean against Democratic candidate Jessica Anderson, who works as a receptionist in a Williamsburg-James City County elementary school.

In a statement, Anderson called the doughnut delivery and accompanying social media post a “political stunt” and “photo op” by a candidate who has “voted against teachers’ best interests.”

“No candidate for public office is above the rules,” Anderson said.

In the school division’s response to Batten, Wall pointed to a division policy putting restrictions on the “distribution of information/materials” in schools. That policy says advance approval is required “before any materials may be distributed or made available at the request of non-school organizations.” A section on “political communications” says students cannot be required to “convey or deliver any material” calling for the election or defeat of any candidate or advocating a position on political matters.

“Non-political information or materials may be submitted to me for consideration and approval,” Wall wrote.

Batten, a former legislative aide first elected to the General Assembly in 2019, said she did doughnut drop offs in other school systems, including neighboring New Kent County, without controversy.

“I’m not aware of any school division other than Williamsburg-James City County that has told anyone they were prohibited from dropping off baked goods simply because of the source of funding for said baked goods,” she said.

Virginia has no law requiring campaign funds to be spent only on campaign purposes, despite years of failed efforts to create such a rule. 

General Assembly members regularly spend money on community goodwill efforts that could potentially enhance their standing in the eyes of voters but are less overtly political than a typical campaign ad. 

Those expenditures often include direct donations to charitable groups and nonprofits, as well as banquet tickets and sponsorships for local events. It’s not uncommon to see campaign funds being spent on school-related items like ads in football game programs and other school publications, contributions to scholarship funds, donations to athletics and band booster clubs and sponsorships of homecoming ceremonies, graduation parties and prom nights.

Due to the limited campaign finance information candidates are required to disclose, some expenditures show up only as money transferred from campaign accounts to public schools with no detail listed about a specific purpose.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, campaign money has been used in the past to supplement activities affiliated with Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools. For example, Senate Minority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, contributed $100 to “Jamestown High School After Prom” in 2009 and has made three other $100 contributions with the school listed as the recipient. In 2013, former Republican Del. Brenda Pogge made a $30 payment to “Warhill High School Track.”

Batten said she saw nothing unusual or untoward about the doughnuts.

“I don’t think it’s a stunt to thank teachers,” she said.

Delegate Amanda Batten secures the Republican nomination in bid to seek re-election to the House of Delegates

April 6, 2023

Contact: Lauren Keiser | (757) 741-8866

WILLIAMSBURG, VA – Delegate Amanda Batten (R⎯James City County) is officially the Republican nominee for the 71st District in the Virginia House of Delegates.

“I’ve been honored to serve in the Virginia House of Delegates for two terms, and I look forward to continuing my efforts to represent our growing community,” stated Delegate Batten.

Delegate Amanda Batten represents the 96th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. The 96th District includes portions of James City and York Counties. Batten is currently serving her second term in the Virginia House of Delegates and is a member of the following House Committees: Education, Commerce & Energy, Public Safety, and Rules. Additionally, Batten also serves on the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation Board of Trustees as Secretary, the Commission on Civic Education, the Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission, the Online Virginia Network Authority, and the Governor’s Aerospace Advisory Council.

This year, Delegate Batten will run to serve the residents of the newly-redrawn 71st District, which encompasses much of the present 96th District. The 71st District will include portions of James City and New Kent Counties and the entire City of Williamsburg.

Peninsula lawmakers reflect on General Assembly session with community leaders

March 17, 2023

The Virginia Gazette

By Dominic Catacora

Local lawmakers met in Williamsburg to participate in a post-session legislative forum hosted by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

State Sens. Tommy Norment, Mamie Locke and Monty Mason and Del. Amanda Batten shared their insight with community leaders on the 2023 session of the General Assembly. Dels. Mike Mullin and A.C. Cordoza were unable to attend the event held in the Williamsburg Library Theatre.

The legislators cited the Dominion Energy bill as a prime example of a bill finding bipartisan support.

“It really required a lot of stakeholders to get together around the table and talk about what would be a workable compromise,” said Batten, R-Norge. “This would be the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, obviously leaders from the legislators, the patrons of those bills, all the stakeholder groups that are out there, the affected utility companies, but also the environmental groups and a number of other folks as well.”

Read the full article here.

General Assembly Post-Session Forum Follow Up

March 16, 2023

Williamsburg Yorktown Daily

By Stephanie Sabin

The forum, hosted by the Greater Williamsburg Chamber of Commerce, featured Sen. Norment, Sen. Mamie Locke, Sen. Monty Mason, and Delegate Amanda Batten. Delegates Mike Mullin and A.C. Cordoza were scheduled but unable to attend the session.

“We talk about the volume of legislation, and it can’t be overstated how intense the pace is during a ‘short legislative session’ where every day is jammed packed,” stated Batten, “One of the challenges we had this year was it was a campaign year. I think a lot my colleagues would share in Norment’s desire to have a very short session where we only do the budget. It was not a productive year.”

Read the full article here.

Daily Work of Justice series hosts event with public officials, community members

March 7, 2023

The Flat Hat

By Joseph Wehmeyer and Peerawut Ruangsawasdi

Thursday, March 2, the College of William and Mary Office of Community Engagement facilitated a community discussion about democracy as part of the Daily Work of Justice conversation series in, Sadler Tidewater A.

Virginia Del. Amanda Batten, R-James City, shared her thoughts after the event.

“I enjoyed it. It’s always interesting when it’s something that’s really structured. It was a little bit stilted, I think, at times. But I think the longer we sat there, the more natural it was to have a bit of back and forth,” Batten said.

Batten said she appreciated that the issue of housing was brought up during the conversation.

“That’s a hot issue around here, but it’s not necessarily one that is going to grab nationwide headlines,” Batten said. “But it’s still a controversial one.”

Read the full article here.

Threat assessment bills propose fixes in how Virginia colleges respond to violence

February 14, 2023

Virginia Mercury

By Nathaniel Cline

Virginia’s colleges and universities may soon be permitted to obtain criminal histories and health records of people seen as posing a “significant” threat on campuses under legislation that recently passed both the House and Senate.

The legislation, which was carried by Sen. Steve Newman, R-Bedford, and Del. Amanda Batten, R-James City, was filed in response to the November shooting at the University of Virginia that left three football players dead.

Read the full article here.